The coronavirus outbreak (or COVID-19) is first and foremost a human tragedy, having now affected over one million people across the globe. It is also having a significant impact on the economy, leaving businesses large and small with massive uncertainty as to their path forward. And while many companies are scrambling to address the immediate challenges that this pandemic represents to their workforce, customers, revenue, and operations, brands that take proactive steps in providing peace of mind, accommodations, and non-opportunistic solutions for their customers will inevitably earn strong customer loyalty and reputational benefits that long outlast this global health crisis.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Customer Experience

For the last month, most of us have been unwitting recipients of countless emails from companies communicating their position on COVID-19 — from enhanced delivery services, to easement or relaxation of payments or policies. Notable among them: an empathetic tone and approach to easing the experience for customers during this uncertain time. Groups such as Marketing, Operations, Finance, and HR are coming together to holistically look at the accommodations that can be made to reduce unnecessary friction, confusion, or effort related to their brand’s current experience and processes. Unnecessary fees? Let’s eliminate them. More comforting language in our communications? Add it in. Simplify the process? Let’s make that happen. Give people more time? We should do that. While this global health crisis has been, and continues to be, catastrophic on many levels, what has emerged is a heighted state of awareness and agility — foundational elements to creating a more empathic view of customers and their multi-faceted experiences with the brands in their lives. For brands working through changes related to COVID-19, ask yourself:

  • Will customers have hesitancy about making commitments — financially or motivationally? What sort of concessions can be considered to lessen their financial or psychological uncertainty while reducing risk to the business?
  • Are there processes with intentional friction that can be relaxed to relieve customer effort and time? Consider current cancellation, refund, or verification procedures.
  • Are there unnecessary fees that can be waived? If those fees are relatively trivial to the business, do they need to be reinstated?
  • If large parts of your operation aren’t virtual or online today, how can this situation help accelerate more digital-first product development and experiences that allow customers to stay more connected to your brand?
  • If looking at your marketing and communications to adjust for more empathetic tone and positioning, challenge teams to consider why this messaging approach couldn’t be more universally applied.
  • If accommodations are being made for customers to allow for more time, more counseling, or more flexibility, consider the net benefit of these changes to more than the current situation. Will these changes also provide an overall better experience to those with disabilities or to older populations? Can these accommodations improve brand loyalty and engagement for all audiences?

The Impact of COVID-19 on Employee Experience

While product, marketing, and operational impacts play a key role in experience creation, brand reputation also hinges on employees that deliver the brand experience to customers. As more states move to “stay-at-home” orders, employees, just like customers, are feeling the effects of the global pandemic in how they work and stay connected. While many companies have telework capabilities, rapidly moving to a fully remote workforce will undoubtedly test a company’s system capacity and process agility. Companies and employees alike are navigating this new work reality, and time will tell whether a firm’s technology and digital capabilities, such as online meeting and collaboration software, VPN access, and platform stability, will enable improved or diminished productivity and morale with workers.

Outside of technology, many companies are relaxing their PTO policies, bolstering their wellness, telehealth, and mental health resources, and committing full pay to employees who may be adversely affected by closures or social distancing policies. Indeed, businesses that take care of their employees — inside and outside of a crisis — routinely see higher employee retention, loyalty, and brand consideration and satisfaction.

A New Era of Empathy

It’s clear that the global health pandemic has presented brands across industries and geographies with a new reality. Companies are being tested like never before to safeguard the health and well-being of their customers, their employees, and the communities in which they live and work. While it’s commendable that companies are enabling employee and customer accommodations and support during this unprecedented time, it remains to be seen whether these temporary customer experience “boosts” will be a flash in the pan or lead to greater corporate empathy and customer-centricity. One thing is certain: now is the time for solidarity and support, and an opportunity for brands to bring their mission to life through their actions, commitments, and care to the customers, employees, and communities they serve.

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