Why Personalized Customer Care is Essential in the COVID-19 Era
The COVID-19 coronavirus is being described as a defining moment for the world, and probably deservedly so. Whatever happens in the long run, there can be no doubt the pandemic has shifted the business-customer relationship in big ways. And in the process, some essential truths are emphasized, such as the importance of personalized customer care.
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3 Ways COVID-19 Has Changed Customer Care
1. People are shopping from home. Around the world, many brick-and-mortar stores are simply closed. To the extent that people are still shopping, they’re doing so not in person but at home, on their phones or laptops. And, while almost every business today is e-commerce-ready, the magnitude of this shift, and the urgency of the need, have caught almost everyone off guard.
2. Many people have lost their jobs or are about to. Most of the people who are still working are doing so from home and are facing major cuts in their hours or pay. Some are too sick to work. Many others—record levels, in fact—have lost their jobs entirely or live with someone else who has. Depression and stress are high; tension and uncertainty dominate daily life.
3. People have more free time…and less. Those lucky enough to be healthy suddenly have lots of time at home, with fewer sources of entertainment to fill the hours. They’re also free from the need to commute. But as we’re seeing, dealing with the personal, social and financial fallout of a pandemic can eat up just as much—or more—time and emotional real estate.
3 Ways Personalized Customer Care Can Help During the COVID-19 Crisis
So, you can assume that everyone you speak to has been affected by COVID-19 in some way or other. But while it can be difficult, and unwise, to promote your business during a crisis, that doesn’t mean that all communication should cease. Far from it. This is, in fact, a key time to get better at personalization and building more empathetic relationships with customers.
#1. Enhancing empathy with analytics.
Engaging customers during these difficult times means offering empathy—not generic gift card aphorisms, but real talk. Standard marketing language isn’t going to cut through right now. And even if it could, it isn’t really the best way to deliver the kind of communications the current situation demands.
“Empathize with those affected by COVID-19, and spell out the steps you are taking to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders,” advise Ted Waldron and James Wetherbe at the Harvard Business Review. “Your company’s social media sites and customer mailing lists are ideal vehicles for doing this.”
Empathize with those affected by COVID-19, and spell out the steps you are taking to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
The extent to which you’ll interact on each channel will vary considerably depending on each situation, from arranging a delayed utility payment via email and phone to tweeting out your new customer service hours. The upshot is that you’ll be doing a lot of communicating in the weeks and months to come—and each message is a chance to strengthen each relationship.
Companies that have taken the steps toward a higher level of personalization already have much of what they need to anticipate customer concerns based on past activity. Thanks to the use of sophisticated data and analytical tools, these businesses can offer carefully customized chain of communications that makes it more efficient for both parties to get what they want.
During a crisis like this, the use of personalized communications channels to send direct messages has an even more powerful effect. Making a point of checking in periodically with your network is important; it’s doubly so to do it in a way that isn’t boilerplate but as customized and individually crafted as possible to show that you really value each relationship.
“Let consumers know that your company understands the dire social circumstances at play and cares about more than simply reaping profit during this difficult time,” advise the HBR authors.
Let consumers know that your company understands the dire social circumstances at play and cares about more than simply reaping profit during this difficult time.
#2. Taking the opportunity.
Usually out of sheer necessity, many businesses have been creative about sustaining or opening lines of revenue during a time when they’ve had to shut some down. As a result, some have taken the opportunity to build a closer bond with their customers, who are rallying behind beloved brands to sustain them during what could otherwise be an existential crisis.
The restaurant industry has embraced this idea in a big way. In cities with high population centers, many restaurants have shifted to a delivery-only model or a limited menu, an option they have thanks to the goodwill of a loyal customer base, and the demand that goes along with that.
Deeper Dive: Take a closer look at how personalized customer care helps drive success
Some businesses are actively building customer relationships in unique ways by meeting specific, pandemic-related community needs. Starbucks and Krispy Kreme are among the many companies offering free goods and services to workers on the front lines, including nurses, doctors, paramedics, firefighters, police officers and many others.
Many banks and financial institutions are also postponing or forgiving payments, which Waldron and Wetherbe applaud as “a great way to promote trust and goodwill.” Here, again, personalization can be key to identifying the best candidates for forgiveness, and how to communicate with them before and after the fact in a way that redounds to your best credit.
Opportunities abound to boost customer awareness on a local level, too:
- In Waco, Texas, the local Fuddruckers is helping meet shortages by selling bulk items and fresh bread for direct purchase.
- In San Diego, Mike Hess Brewing is using its resources to produce bottles of WHO-approved hand sanitizer. It’s a pattern that repeats pretty much everywhere people live and do business.
By providing needed support at a difficult time, these businesses are helping their communities while raising their own profiles. They’re creating memories and associations that can serve as a solid foundation for highly effective, personalized customer care in the years to come. And they’re generating positive press during a time when good news is somewhat hard to find.
#3. Humanize your image.
While support for the general health and well-being of your customers, team members and community should be top of mind, it’s a concept that can co-exist with the need to promote your business. Right now, regular messaging about the state of your business is more important than standard marketing and advertising. There is, however, room for everything if done right.
It’s always important to keep customers in the loop about any changes to your operation that could affect them directly. That’s especially true with general closures, customer-service availability, alterations to opening hours and staff reductions. This can be done via email, social media, website, or possibly all the above—whatever will reach the most people in your network.
Letting people know what you’re going through humanizes your business and helps create an emotional bond. You can further develop that connection by offering specific employee or customer profiles, sharing the experiences of people in your network and showing how you’re supporting one another. Reach out to affected customers to see if there’s anything you can do to help.
“Elaborate how, despite the upheaval in how you operate, you will continue to provide the things they have come to know and love—the defining reasons they patronize your business instead of others,” the HBR authors add.
Elaborate how, despite the upheaval in how you operate, you will continue to provide the things they have come to know and love—the defining reasons they patronize your business instead of others.
It calls for striking the right tone through it all—solemnity, positivity and a readiness to resume normal operations, while being respectful of the situation at hand. The outreach gives you the chance to offer some much-needed assurance, comfort and even guidance during a time of uncertainty, fear and frustration.
As Waldron and Wetherbe put it: “With the right customer-centric attitude and an awareness of what people need right now, companies can emerge from this crisis having strengthened their relationships with customers.”
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