The COVID pandemic has created a crisis for many businesses. It has forced entire industries to change how they operate overnight and rapidly adapt to the ‘new normal’. Companies have had to adapt their customer service to an increasingly online audience, while overhauling their logistical operations to try and cope with a change in customer demand and behaviour.
While the pandemic has presented numerous challenges, perhaps one of the most pertinent has been trying to maintain standards of customer service. Supply chains have been disrupted, new digital solutions have had to be implemented, and safeguarding the health of employees (as well as customers) has presented a whole new set of problems in itself.
Businesses have had to innovate or risk losing out, ensuring the same standard of customer service is met with either robust digital solutions as well as creative PR and marketing. So, what are the takeaways from the last 12 months that businesses can use as a blueprint for any future crises?
1. Optimise online channels
As the virus spread seemingly uncontrollably, lockdowns forced the majority of high streets shops and local traders to shut. Online was suddenly the only channel for not only making sales, but for communicating and interacting with the customer base too.
Gym instructors and dance teachers, for example, had to find new ways to run their class online, while small independent retailers had to quickly invest in new e-commerce software to sell online. Restaurants and cafes were especially hit hard, which gave rise to cook-at-home meal kits that people could have delivered from their favourite eateries.
Many businesses were underprepared for a sudden shift to digital operations and those industries that were not naturally adept to serving online customers had to innovate quickly. Optimising online channels has been the key to success in the pandemic and will undeniably be so in any similar future event. Around 35% of all consumer spending has been done online in the UK during the pandemic and 40% of shoppers admitted to shopping more online during the pandemic.
2. Entertain & reassure your customer
In periods of public crises, entertaining and reassuring your customer base with effect PR and marketing campaigns is great way to maintain brand loyalty and consumer confidence. While your customers are working from home or being forced to isolate, they probably aren’t thinking about purchasing your product or service. These moments are a great time to communicate your brand in a non-pushy, non-selling way.
TV advertising, in particular, has found creative solutions to communicating with customers during the pandemic. 89% of advertisers reported a delay in ad campaigns because they appeared ‘tone-deaf. The pandemic has given advertisers and marketers a new set of rules for communicating with customers. Customers value professionalism, measurement and empathy during times of crisis, but they also want to be entertained too.
Your brands communications should be sympathetic to the situation of the customer, but should also attempt to provide slight escapism in the form of entertainment, comedy or drama. The Expedia advert was a particular fan favourite during the pandemic as was the Heinz to Home campaign that delivered back beans to your door. Take a look at other fan favourites on Marketing Week.
3. Demonstrate responsibility
Minimising the risk of spreading the virus is the first and foremost important responsibility of any business during a pandemic. All business operations must be adapted to ensure the safety of workers and customers, especially those in vulnerable groups. We saw this demonstrated by supermarket chains when elderly customers were given exclusive access during early trading hours.
Companies have also adapted their product range to sell health and safety equipment, especially hand sanitisers and medical grade face masks. Innovating your product portfolio or developing your service to meet customer demand demonstrates responsibility and shows that you understand the concerns and requirements of your customers. It has also been an essential strategy for maintaining revenue during the pandemic and those that have been slow to react will have lost business.
4. Financial pragmatism
The pandemic has created financial stress for great swathes of the population. 37% of working households reported a loss in disposable income and a third of all workers have resorted to cutting back on spending. Inevitably this has caused a huge shift in consumer confidence and spending.
To meet these challenges, businesses have had to provide flexible and innovative solutions to support a customer base in financial distress. In the automotive sector, especially, big name brands have presented a host of innovative solutions to help tackle a drop-in demand for new cars. Fiat, for instance, introduced the ‘Fiat Job Loss Protection Scheme’, which provided 12 months financial protection for any customer who lost their job and could not keep up with the finance payments on their new car.
Not only are innovative solutions like this a fantastic way to maintain business throughout the pandemic, it’s also an effective PR campaign that demonstrates empathy with the personal circumstances of the customer.
Kia and Ford are another two automotive brands showcasing empathy and financial pragmatism. Kia ran their ‘Thank You NHS’ campaign that provided complimentary servicing for Kia owners and Ford introduced extensions for their Ford Credit scheme to help out the many customers financing models like their Ford Fiesta.
5. Follow professional guidance & legal standards
Following guidance administered by industry bodies or legislated by Government is essential to maintaining customer confidence. Companies should actively communicate with central industry organisations as well as officials to understand the best course of actions to maintain business operations so that you keep serving customers safely and legally.
Companies who didn’t follow Government guidance have felt repercussions and those that outright broke the law were fined. Besides the financial burden, these situations will also damage public trust and confidence in your business and part of your customer base may simply outright reject your brand in the future. Maintain legal standard and professional advice is paramount to both the success of your business during the pandemic and to the safety of your employees and customers.