At Market Force Information, we measure the customer experience on behalf of some of the world’s most recognizable brands and as a provider of customer experience management consulting, we’ve witnessed first-hand the transformation in what consumers are concerned about over the past month.

When consumers contact a brand providing feedback on their experience, we typically see a variety of questions combined with reports of product and service issues. Through our work, we help brands develop strategies to listen, respond, and retain their customers across a wide array of communications channels like social media posts, phone calls, and online inquiries from consumers across the country.

In the midst of Coronavirus, there is a different landscape emerging in terms of what is top of mind for consumers. While we are still seeing a steady volume of feedback across a wide array of issues, there are several notable changes under the influence of the current pandemic.

1. Safety concerns for themselves and their families
Today we see more inquiries about policies and procedures as they relate to cleanliness and hygiene. Are masks and gloves required for employees? Are measures in place to keep other shoppers and staff at a safe distance? Are hand sanitizers available for customer use?

2. Business operation hours
Business hours are fluctuating across America and this is leading to confusion about whether or not a trip outside of their home will result in success. Will their destination business be open or closed, and if closed what alternatives exist? Unfortunately, consumers are learning that online information is unreliable and often changes to business hour of operation are posted on the window vs easily accessible ahead of time.

As we’ve started to settle into our new normal, businesses have been better about making sure their hours are easily accessible across their social profiles as well as updated on their Google My Business, Facebook, Yelp and TripAdvisor profiles.

Google My Business was the first to allow temporary changes to business profiles, such as temporarily closed, changed hours, and new options for delivery and pick up. They also recently introduced telemedicine as a custom service category that can be added to the Google My Business profiles for healthcare practices. These updates have been made accessible in a similar fashion across other review websites, which is critical since many individuals go to search engines to find the most up-to-date information about their store.

Instagram posts that broadcast new hours, FAQs pinned to social profiles and specific support-focused Twitter accounts are tactics that have popped up to help handle the number of requests and help companies better connect with their customers during these trying times.

3. Staff hygiene policy changes
If staff appear to be unhygienic or unwell, it is triggering reports through any and all communications channels. Customers are particularly sensitive with these types of issues being reported with 3-4X the frequency when compared to the pre-coronavirus norms.

To get ahead of these issues, many companies have been quick to send emails with policy changes and broadcast the precautions they’re taking on their website. We’ve seen a number of businesses go to other forms to communicate with customers around this, such as videos directly from the CEO or podcasts which have been promoted through social media, like Trader Joes, for example. Given these are unprecedented times, having a more human connection allows for building trust and empathy.

4. Order accuracy and consistency
Whether it be a pick-up, drive-thru, carry-out, or delivery services the results are the same. Customers are experiencing more accuracy issues as businesses adapt to digital channels and increased digital sales. We are seeing accuracy complaints increase 30-40% higher driven largely by alternate channels to serve customers via delivery, pick-up, to-go, and drive-thru service models. Whether it’s restaurants or grocers the issues are clear. Orders are being fulfilled incorrectly with key issues being missing items followed closely by incorrect preparation for restaurants and substitution issues for grocers.

One of the biggest challenges has been for the hospitality industry to adapt to an online model if they haven’t had this infrastructure in place, especially for high-end restaurants. Many of them have made the decision to close, or have struggled with this new model. At the end of the day, we’re in a pandemic, so not every business can supply things the way that they once did. When it comes to customer complaints, especially on review websites and social media, it can be especially frustrating when you’ve had to uproot your whole business model and also don’t have the same stock and supply as you once did. Responding to those complaints with empathy can actually help improve the overall star rating of that review, and sentiment of the business. The businesses who haven’t brutally publicized negative reviews, but rather, ‘kill them with kindness’, are the ones who will leave a positive impression on the other end.

5. Technology support for digital orders
Some brands are better than others when it comes to the reliability, ease of use and consistency of their digital sales tools. Those experiencing issues with technology are seeing those issues amplified by the sheer volume of digital traffic as more conventional on-premise shopping and restaurant visits are replaced with mobile, online, and to-go options. While there is not consistency industry-wide in the change in the issue counts, it is clear that some brands have a much better handle on digital channels than others

6. Community engagement and support
Whether it’s a general question about practices, a report about an issue, or even fears of negligent acts on behalf of corporations, customers are quick to voice concerns. Having procedures, policies, and communication strategies dialed-in is more critical than ever at this time to be responsive, provide correct information, and further to reduce risk and potential liability.

Across the board, companies have had to quickly adjust their marketing strategies to match with today’s climate. According to a ReviewTrackers fast-casual restaurant client, social media has become a place to foster community and share positive stories to hopefully inspire and bring joy to others. With this shift, the organization has seen more positive engagements with their posts across the board, especially as more franchise owners do things to give back to their local communities.

Other brands are following their lead. For example, DoorDash is giving away free meals based on the number of individuals who tune in to live broadcasts through social media influencers’ profiles, Chase Bank is supporting local businesses who are developing hand sanitizer to protect the community and employees, and healthcare organizations are providing advice as the thought leaders on the front lines of this virus. In addition, social media has allowed brands to support healthcare workers and provide an easy way to communicate with the individuals they want to thank.

Beyond showing gratitude, offering virtual events, resources through posts, and “going live,” to provide important information and value on how to adjust to a more digital way of doing things has been important for customers. With there being so many “what ifs”, people have turned to brands on social media as thought leaders to help them during these trying times.

In summary, brands have varied in their efficacy in reacting to the changing landscape faced by businesses all over the world. The concerns have changed, the realities of business have changed, but the need for communication has remained constant. Having a clear plan in place with the ability to scale communications to meet customer demand is more critical now, than ever. There will be lessons learned through the COVID-19 experience that will help guide proactive and thoughtful strategies to ensure brands are ready to react in times of crisis.

Five key takeaways include:
1. Be ready to communicate across all channels to serve customers well and in a timely manner.

2. Confirm that your digital strategy is bulletproof and scalable to ensure you can deliver a positive customer experience across all sales channels.

3. Be aware of changes at the front lines and react quickly to protect the health and safety of employees and customers.

4. Know your weaknesses and focus on controllable aspects of operations and execution to create a friction-free customer experience. The mode of service may have changed but managing the customer journey is still important to affect each customer experience positively.

5. Manage the flow of information well; whether it is clearly communicating your status as open or closed, being prepared to answer questions and respond to concerns, or providing information to guide customers through new commercial processes, being ready to respond is key.

Is it time to rethink your game plan for 2020? Many businesses are actively working on their #2020BrandRelauch. If we can be helpful to you in this way, please click below to get in touch to arrange a consultation.
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As a leading strategist with expertise in the design and implementation of CX solutions, Scott’s work focuses on innovation and solutions design to help Market Force clients grow sales and profits. I can be reached at SGriffith@MarketForce.com.