Customer Habits Have Changed. Here’s How to Keep Up




PHOTO:
Niklas Ohlrogge | unsplash

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said that “change is the only constant in life.” The past year-and-a-half has proven that sentiment to be true over and over again.

If businesses learned anything from the pandemic, it’s that consumer needs can change at the drop of a hat, and maintaining a strong customer experience (CX) throughout any change is paramount.

We’re past the early days of the pandemic when hand sanitizer and toilet paper were hard to come by. But the pandemic has had a lasting effect on consumer behavior that isn’t going away anytime soon.

Customers have come to expect fast, convenient and personalized experiences that are far beyond what most companies provided pre-pandemic. This has also made digital channels more important than ever, as the majority of consumers still prefer to shop online despite businesses reopening their doors.

As we begin to ease out of the pandemic, companies should keep in mind the following points as they refine their CX strategy to manage shifting customer expectations now and in the future.

Aim to Understand Customers on a Deeper Level

One thing all companies who excel at CX have in common is a deep understanding of the customer. This goes beyond simply looking at analytics and behavioral trends. To truly understand the customer, companies must be clued into who they are, their needs, expectations, what influences them, and what motivates their behavior.

Companies who successfully navigate the ongoing challenges of the pandemic must have a strong connection with their customers and invest time in learning about them. By knowing how and why customers make decisions, businesses are better equipped to handle change proactively versus reactively. Strengthening understanding also builds empathy between the company and its customers, which leads to better CX and better business outcomes overall.

Related Article: Why You Need Real-Time Insights to Improve Customer Experience

… and Connect With Them in New Ways

Companies have had to get creative in finding new ways to connect with their customers. Since in-person focus groups and observation within a natural setting have become things of the past, what options do businesses have left for gathering customer feedback?

Remote solutions, such as video conferencing platforms, are proving invaluable in creating an ongoing connection with customers. With the right technology in place and the know-how required to get the most from it, companies can connect with customers quickly and easily. This can include remote focus groups, product walk-throughs and interviews. Even something as simple as asking a customer to hop on Zoom for a chat over coffee goes a long way toward these enriching relationships.

Related Article: Why Most Companies Stink at Customer Feedback

A Strong Digital Presence Is Fundamental to Successful CX

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for years, but companies who actually walked the walk in this area fared far better than their counterparts throughout the pandemic. While some businesses had strong digital channels and experiences already in place, others struggled to play catch-up as the world changed overnight and the demand for digital experiences soared.

Strengthening digital channels and creating unique and impactful digital experiences should be at the top of every business’ priority list. Companies like Alaska Airlines have done this successfully by overhauling their digital touchpoints and messaging to better reflect new and shifting customer needs. As companies work on bolstering their digital presence, it’s essential that customer understanding and empathy are at the core of any digital initiatives.

Customer Behavior and Expectations Aren’t Going ‘Back to Normal’

There’s a common myth that it takes 21 days to build a new habit. While this has been debunked (it’s actually closer to 66 days), most people have had more than enough time to form new and lasting habits since the start of the pandemic. Consumer behavior has changed in a big way, and there’s evidence it’s not going back. 

For example, the majority of consumers have developed a preference for shopping online. And even though many businesses have now reopened their doors, one report predicted that “total ecommerce sales in 2021 will be over $147 billion more than would have been expected prior to the pandemic.” This habit isn’t going away. In order to keep customers, businesses must adapt by meeting customers where they are — and that’s predominately online.

Although we’ve come a long way in learning how to deal with problems fueled by the pandemic, the future remains uncertain. Businesses aren’t out of the woods yet. By using the guidelines above to inform CX strategy, companies can tackle future challenges in a proactive way that sets them up for the best possible outcome.

Janelle Estes is chief insights officer at UserTesting. In that role, she is responsible for stewarding the future of Human Insight and setting the tone for the company’s thought leadership.



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