Despite these stressful and uncertain times, for many, there’s a strong feeling that we’re all in this together. It’s worth considering if, after the tsunami, you’ll be one of the brands that customers are still loyal to. And it all depends on the approach you’re taking. Are you staying customer focused and providing the experiences they expect even now?
We’ve seen a range of rapid responses which we’ve ranked in reverse order of great customer experiences – worth considering your brand’s approach.
- Price gouging
Those capitalising on difficulties and shortages to raise their prices will no doubt profit in the short term, especially in these early days of panic buying. But customers, even if they do engage with you now, will not forget easily that you’ve taken advantage of them. In the long term, this will have serious negative impacts on both your reputation and rates of advocacy in the future. More worrying should be advocates are far more likely to influence your potential new customers of the future than any marketing or PR you do later. Recently in the UK we’ve seen headlines about customer fury at those selling toilet paper for £17.99.
- Speak no evil
In the name of caution, some businesses are saying nothing to their customers, regardless of whatever actions they may be taking behind the scenes. These are the ones who are most exposed to their lines of communication being swamped and customers not returning. Customers will fail to support you if you do not acknowledge them or their needs now.
- Reassurance on safety and hygiene
Certainly in the early stages this has been the most prevalent approach. Airlines and hotels were at the forefront, communicating their ramped-up cleaning and disinfecting routines. This offers some reassurance as customers begin to understand that the air recirculation and purification in a modern aircraft is on a par with that in a hospital ICU. However, this is just part of the solution. They want to know more than just specifics about hygiene – can they safely book for the future? Anticipate some blow back about new deep cleaning protocols as well – while admirable, many customers had assumed until you told them that you routinely sanitised every tray table, blanket and room after each stay.
This is where most travel companies are right now. They want to be seen helping but are desperate to cling on to business. Some initial hardliners who were refusing change fee waivers for drastically rescheduled flight timings, have now softened their approach. The rapidly accepted norm is for change fee waivers for any re-bookings within the next 12 months. Some offer credit vouchers are available, but no refunds. Customers expect to be valued and recognised, especially your advocates. An experience like this signals that your value has limits.
- Customer first
These are the companies who put the decision in the hands of their customers. Rebook? Certainly, go ahead anytime in the next 12 months. There will be no change fees and we will honour your current price. Cancel but retain a credit voucher with us? This helps us and it helps you too. Complete refund? Sure. Customers feel valued and committed to staying with the brand or returning when they can. Again, this pays additional dividends as they share these experiences with others.
- Giving Back
Some businesses are not only looking after their customers but offering their assets to the wider community. While not everyone has the capacity or financial wherewithal to do this, this is the ultimate experience - to see a brand acting as part of the wider community. These are exceptional experiences for not just customers, but everyone involved and will resonate deeply. Best Western (UK) hotels took the lead here with an offer of 15,000 beds and more than 1,000 meeting rooms to National Health Service staff, care works, families, low-risk patients and over 70s to allow coronavirus patients to take up much needed hospital bed space. Further, it would consider turning some of its 270 properties into temporary hospitals.
It’s worth considering your brand behaviour - what kind of brand are you? And more importantly, what kind of brand do your customers expect you to be?
A practical list of considerations:
- Simple, clear communication
Be honest and transparent about procedures and decisions, especially with a clear explanation if no refunds are offered. Remember the 3 rights- the right message, but at the right time and in the right place – do you want to be the 4th or 5th headline with COVID-19 in their inbox today?
- Consider your purpose
Who are you as a brand? People choose brands for more than just products –let them know what you are doing for part time or contract staff who are at risk, supporting the government (eg switching over factories or spaces to make sanitiser and ventilators). If you can’t do big gestures, at least make it clear that you will do your best to support staff as long as you can. For those with loyalty programmes, this is critical. Those customers who have willingly engaged expect the same customer experience from you now as they did earlier – you may have to get creative, but be sure to stay connected and engaged with them by providing experiences they want and need. Extensions of status, points and rewards should be hygiene factors.
- Take advantage of technology
If customer calls are rising, use digital queuing tech to make things easier, or update websites, FAQs, social media feeds often and accurately. Take advantage of your chatbots and other automated messaging platforms to broadcast key messages.
- Be creative
Can you create different product experiences? How else can you engage your customer? If you are a travel brand, might you give virtual tours of your destinations? What about behind the scenes tours of your aircraft? Can you support your customers who are largely homebound and home schooling by letting your pilots, chefs, managers create online tutorials? Can you stream any part of your product experience? There may be content that you already have that can be re-purposed. London’s Royal Court Theatre is releasing a filmed version of their performance of Cyprus Avenue for free on their website, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube pages for one month.
- Evolve and expand
If you’re restricted as to what you can do, can you take this time to create a new line of business? We’ve seen restaurants turning into local dispensary store or turning into online entertainment and support: sharing cooking tips to help existing customers meals out of the basics or revealing the secret behind their signature dishes while you’re unable to visit. Entertainers have become teachers, coffee shops become lifelines for key workers on the front lines.
- Be honest about your position
Customers understand that like them, you may be worried about cashflow. It’s not price gouging if you can’t offer of your services for free or even at a discount. Be clear on what you can do and why. Many brands have extended points expiry periods, but also pushed their online commerce sites as this is great for both customers and business. Retailers and restaurants have offered merchandise and gift cards to support their business while under governmental restrictions. Those who are in a position to increase business via online shopping or delivery have done so but responsible brands have been careful not to present these moves as completely altruistic.
It is action now that will protect the future of any brand. If you keep customer focused, they will repay you when they can. As we’ve seen time and time again, in times of crisis, it is those brands that take the long-term view and invest in their customers that weather the storm and emerge stronger than ever on the other side.