Monday, February 24, 2020

The Customer Experience Implications of the SARS-CoV-2 Coronavirus and COVID-19 Disease

The SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 disease are increasingly making headlines. As you are no doubt aware, the number of known and reported cases will surpass 80,000 today, and more than 2,600 have been killed by the disease. While the first priority is health and safety, CX leaders must give consideration to how this growing epidemic (soon, likely, to be labeled a pandemic) will impact customers.

Customer Experience (CX) is about knowing and responding to customer expectations and needs to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. In typical times, it can difficult to understand what drives satisfaction and dissatisfaction and encourages loyalty and disloyalty. But in those rare moments in time when unexpected, profound, and significant changes are thrust upon the world (so-called "black swan events"), your customer's needs and expectations can evolve in rapid and surprising ways.

At this point, depending on your brand's category, you might think that your primary issues are oriented to your supply chain and not to changes in customer preferences, attitudes, or behaviors. It's sensible to plan ahead for interruptions to your production and operations, but customer-centric organizations will also prepare for how their customers' questions and needs will change rapidly in the coming months.

On the one hand, it might be argued that all brands are on equal footing, so the impact of your words and actions will have little influence on your brand's satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy relative to its competition. After all, today's epidemic was unforeseen just two months ago, and with the news changing daily, your brand, just like all brands and people, is caught in a maelstrom of rapidly evolving knowledge and recommendations.

That's true, but with each passing week, brands will be made unequal based on their preparedness, communications, priorities, and actions. This event, just like any that alters consumer expectations, activities, and motivations, will impact the customer perception of different brands in different ways. Keep in mind our opportunity to excel (or fail) for customers is greatest in instances when emotion and needs are running high versus in regular periods when everything is going as expected.

Today's global health emergency may be without precedent for generations, but that doesn't mean our brands cannot find ways to prepare for different customer scenarios and maintain a customer-centric approach in the face of the unexpected. Traditional crisis response along with CX best practices provide some guidance you can use and consider:

  • Consider likely and possible changes to customer needs and journeys
  • Be proactive now with information for customers
  • Listen to your customers
  • Be prepared to act
  • Plan for rapid shifts in corporate priorities and budgets

To read suggestions on each of these categories of CX action, please continue reading on my Gartner blog. 

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