Engaging customers is a challenge at the best of times – in the era of the coronavirus pandemic, even more so. People are being forced to work from home, avoid walks and gatherings, and many businesses have shut down their physical shops altogether to go fully digital.
Amidst this social distancing (or, even better, “physical distancing” according to the World Health Organization), engaging and retaining customers without the usual face-to-face interaction may be tough. Even if your business already has a presence online, and eshop to go with it, you’ll probably still need to power up your digital connection with customers. And this isn’t about selling to people; it’s about being empathetic and helpful during a difficult time and strengthening your bond with them.
So, if you’re in this boat, what actions can you take? Here are some ideas:
Understand and adapt
All of us have been affected by the pandemic in some way or other. As customers, our concerns may differ from employees. Some might be worried that they won’t be able to buy essential products anymore or make the right decisions on products like cars or furniture without testing them in person first. The mode of shopping has also shifted: people over 60 years are increasingly buying things online and 41 percent of customers have never bought groceries over the internet before.
This is where you can help your customers. By acknowledging the issues they‘re facing, you’re more likely to think of ways to address them. And you might not have a choice either – according to Seth Sigman, an analyst at Credit Suisse:
"We see this unfortunate period accelerating structural changes in consumer shopping, possibly by five years.”
So, if you can start by:
- Asking frequent buyers about their consumer concerns during the pandemic.
- Checking the customer journey and noting possible issues. For example, if your customers made their purchasing decisions largely based on product testing, you’ll need to find ways of simulating this experience online.
- Listening to social media voices. People may frequently post their concerns and issues, so try to find the ones that are within your control to address. Look for hashtags like #COVID19 or #socialdistancing.
This approach may also help you decide strategies for the duration of the coronavirus. For example, the largest supermarket chain in Greece formed a partnership with a food delivery app in order to offer seamless delivery of products to customers who demand it. Delivery and pickup service Instacart announced it’s hiring 300,000 full-service shoppers over the next three months. Other companies will also make decisions in order to meet customer demand.
Offer value where you can
This is an approach that many companies have adopted lately. It gives the opportunity to step in and help each other when everyone is going through similar troubles. Acquire, for example, offers a discounted rate until March 31 to help more companies connect with customers via live chat, cobrowing, and more.
Have a meeting with your team to discuss what you can do for your customers. Coupons, free licences, reduced prices, and access to premium services could all prove helpful in these tumultuous times. If you can personalize the offerings, all the better – 80 percent of consumers value personalized experiences.
Also, you can leverage digital content at a time when most people will be online. Helpful resources will boost your brand and delight customers and prospects. For example, GitLab, as a fully remote company, shared resources on how to make the most out of remote work. They also collected open source projects working to track COVID-19 infections and find a cure.
As another example, tech company Elastic offers free virtual training sessions to combat physical distancing.
Think about whether you can also find ways to add value. Even a small gesture could make a real difference to your customers.
Most people nowadays are used to finding information on their own – that’s why search engines like Google are so popular. And it’s no different for customer service, where self-service provides a way to get answers about a brand or product. In fact, 81 percent of customers attempt to resolve issues themselves before reaching out to a live representative.
So, implementing self-service on top of other customer support methods is an effective strategy. In the times of physical distancing, it can be critical. If people don’t go to physical stores to purchase products, they’re likely to do this online. This means that your contact center might deal with an increased volume of requests as issues arise. Providing effective ways to self-service, in the absence of an immediately available live representative, can ease the workload of your contact center, and reduce waiting times for customers.
Here are a few self-service options:
- A knowledge base. If you already have one, make sure it’s easily accessible and up-to-date.
- An AI-based chatbot. Chatbots can be trained to provide answers to customers’ questions straight from the webpage. With the right software, you can quickly set it up.
- Customer forums. This may take more time to set up, but it’s a good way to help customers and build engagement for the long-term.
Spruce up your ecommerce process
With all of the purchases happening online, you need a kick-ass eshop. This extends from the moment a customer visits your site to look for products, through to the time they receive their order confirmation email – and beyond.
So, to make sure you can offer positive customer experiences, despite the social distancing hurdles, do these checks on your site:
- Are product pages updated and informative?
- Do we provide photos or videos to help customers understand the products?
- Can we provide instant help to people browsing the site (e.g. via live chat)?
- How can we optimize the ecommerce shopping cart process?
- Does the site work well on both desktop and mobile?
- Is the loading speed satisfactory?
To support sales and customer service for online shoppers, live chat is a useful tool. By implementing software that lets you provide instant help to customers, you can reduce the possibility of customers abandoning their orders or missing important information about your products or services.
Keep close to the community
This is a big one in times of crisis. Businesses have the opportunity to demonstrate their human side – after all, they’re run by people who face their own struggles with the pandemic.
It’s a good idea to share authentic messages via social media or email campaigns. Talk about what measures you’re taking to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak. Share useful resources. Communicate your actions, discounts, or other moves via personalized emails to your customers.
Giving out donations can also help. Many large companies have donated cash, masks, or other essential offerings to support the community. You don’t have to try to compete with million-dollar unicorns, like Slack, if you’re a smaller business. Just do what you can to make a positive impact.
Care for your employees
It’s generally accepted that happy employees = happy customers. The more satisfied and well-equipped employees are, the better care they’ll provide to your customers. Especially at a time when your sales associate or customer service employees move from on-site work to remote work, they need reassurance that you have their backs.
Many companies have taken steps to help their employees adjust. If they need tools, days off due to the coronavirus, or other support, make sure you do what’s possible to help them.
Also, if your team has suddenly gone fully remote, you can do a number of things to ease transition and keep morale high:
- Implement check-ins (both team and company-wise) to maintain a connection and answer any questions.
- Communicate with your team on a daily basis to provide real-time help.
- Invest in better technology (e.g. communication tools like Slack and Zoom or project management tools like Trello and BaseCamp).
- Listen to employees’ concerns and offer encouragement and advice.
- Maintain a positive attitude, while acknowledging the issues.
- Organize virtual social interactions. (A bit of inside knowledge: Here at Acquire, we organized a virtual company-wide event to play a game and have fun together from afar).
Look for the bright side
Can a pandemic have a positive side? Well, if there’s anything good to have come out of this global crisis, it’s the opportunity to actively overcome communication barriers and strengthen our connections to others. So, be empathetic and helpful – your customers will appreciate it, both as consumers and as people.