The recent outbreak of a novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has introduced many unique challenges that businesses have never been faced with before. Management teams are having to deal with multiple issues, ranging from health and safety, customer satisfaction, cash management, government support, future pipelines and adjusting to the new world of remote working.
Many have had to undergo a quick upgrade, creating new digital channels for purchase and delivery, and/or have changed their business practices to adhere to new social distancing rules. On top of all of this, they have had to actively manage their brand presence and identity within the market to maintain a sense of trust and confidence amongst their customers during the pandemic.
All industries have been impacted, with some businesses seeing a steep drop in demand, coming to a complete halt. This is an unprecedented crisis for many to deal with. After experiencing the first shock wave, management teams are now focusing on reopening the business and are seeking ways to secure the financial health of their company, whilst keeping employees on board. This has resulted in the complete renewal of existing business models and supporting operating models.
With this type of crisis occurring across the globe, leaders have an opportunity to enhance and strengthen their brand strategy and truly put their customers at the heart of the business. The most suitable and effective way of approaching this complex situation is from a customer perspective. How do customers want to engage with brands during and after COVID-19, and how can we – as a business – best adapt to this?
Below you'll find our practical advice, opinion and perspectives on how you can not only survive as a business during this global pandemic, but how you can leverage these challenging times to protect and strengthen your brand, increase consumer confidence and improve customer satisfaction.
Key takeaways :
As this crisis continues to unfold across the world, having an appropriate plan of action and customer experience (CX) strategy can help your business navigate through these challenging times. There are several initiatives that you can proactively implement and we recommend using KPMG's Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence (CEE) to help guide you on your path of customer-centricity during the pandemic.
KPMG's Six Pillars show there is a hierarchy to achieving CEE; without these fundamental basics, your business will struggle to deliver excellent customer experience, whilst maintaining customer satisfaction. During the times of COVID-19 it is essential to go back to the basics to review and reinvent your CX strategy now and for the future. Some of these pillars have become increasingly more important across key sectors dealing with the pandemic. For example:
Resolution – is critical, as many consumers who have been faced with forced holiday cancellations are urgently seeking refunds from airlines, travel companies and hotels;
Empathy – is essential during such trying times as many consumers are not only faced with job losses, but they are faced with challenges that they have never had to encounter before: such as deferring repayments on their mortgage, waiting for access to healthcare and waiting in line to purchase essential items such as groceries.
In the most recent 2019 CEE study within the Netherlands, two pillars were identified as key drivers of high CX: Personalisation and Empathy. Traditionally, these two pillars provide clear guidance on how to create the ultimate customer experience from the customer's perspective. However, due to COVID-19 we have seen that this thinking has now shifted as customers are increasingly prioritising on hygiene factors, which include Integrity and Empathy. At the heart of an organisation's response to these turbulent times needs to be human connection, along with trust and empathy acting as its corner stones. To build these genuine relationships during such uncertain times, companies will have to ensure they address each of The Six Pillars, in order to deliver meaningful experiences where they connect on an emotive level with the customer.
But first and foremost, and something that applies to all of the above: don't forget about your team culture, environment and employee well-being. Care for your employees' experiences as you do for your customers' experiences – their physical and mental wellbeing should be at the core of all crisis actions undertaken. Very similar to The Six Pillars in this time of crisis, Integrity and Empathy are key in leading your team. Put yourself in your employees' shoes and think about their needs. Even though you might lack perfect information, they will value regular communication with updates. Trust is the basis of all human relationships, and in the case of a business, this starts with the employee. Be transparent and honest towards your people. In addition, empower employees – especially now – to inspire them and show them you trust them too. Facilitate trainings and role extensions to make sure your employees are able to live up to the changed circumstances and are able to stay connected to the customer in an appropriate way. But most of all, be there for them – be compassionate and show you care. Pursue personalised approaches to help your employees staying sane, set up communication platforms to make sure they stay connected and consider a back-up operational plan to show their safety and health are key priorities.
KPMG has an extensive range of capabilities, expertise and resources that can assist you on this journey of developing your CX and employee experience (EX) strategy in alignment with The Six Pillars and the changing economic landscape. We adopt a proactive and data-driven approach and utilise our customer journey mapping tools and Voice of the Customer Technology, KPMG CX Cloud, to assist in the transformation of your customer experiences – now and in a post-COVID-19 world. This is supported by our CX Economics assessment, which aligns overall investments and costs within the business to the customer journey and customer satisfaction.
Branding and marketing in times of crisis – although a natural reflex is to stop investing, firms should choose the opposite path: increase investments. At the core of the relationship between a brand and customer lies the condition to meet a certain need. The three fundamental aspects of a brand (relevance, differentiation and availability) make sure this relationship gets fulfilled:
Hence, a continuation of investments in these fundaments is needed to keep the brand – and overall business – intact. History teaches us that an increment in branding on the long-term strengthens a firms chance for survival and success. Recent examples show how this strategy may pay off:
With the above in mind, the continuation of your brand and marketing investments does not necessarily mean continuing with your current campaigns. Some companies have produced non COVID-19 related campaigns, (Persil, new campaign: tag de vlek), others have addressed the current situation more explicitly showing that they are still there for the customer (e.g. Kruidvat) and some have taken the approach of trying to influence behavioural change in the consumer (e.g. 'stay home' public campaigns). Telling your customer what to do and providing recommendations might work on the short-term, however research shows that for the long-haul these types of directives are usually less effective for driving sustainable changed behaviour. As people have the need to feel in control, they may have a tendency to adopt the exact opposite behaviour to what is requested of them. Hence, some alternative persuasion tactics for your campaigns are set out below for your consideration:
It is important to keep in mind that branding is more than marketing and campaigns. In times of crisis, the pillar of Integrity is a key foundation to solid and strong customer experiences. Companies might have to reconsider their purpose and positioning in order to (re)gain the trust and loyalty from their customers that they require. This might trigger the need to revise a company's full business model, which includes a broader transformation to adapt effectively and exactly where needed. More importantly, you need to adapt quickly, and make sure the value drivers perform in-sync and are closely connected throughout the business. This could mean a transformation in customer service or restructuring distribution channels, instead of changing your marketing budget or campaign.A brand is the sum of all these customer touchpoints. Once you realise that this period requires you to reinvent your business, it is critical to establish a solid connection between brand purpose and an updated CX, to make sure you deliver upon your promises. The combination of connected customer touchpoints and in-sync performance in line with purpose is needed to build a strong brand and strong business performance. KPMG has developed a 9 Levers-of-Value Fast Track scrum process for this. This approach implements requested real-time changes in a time window of 4 to 6 weeks because in order to survive and thrive as a business you need to make smart decisions quickly and effectively.
You want to ensure your business not only survives this pandemic, but continues to thrive in a post COVID-19 world. Now is the time to improve your resilience and plan your comeback strategy. Use your lessons learned to start building your long-term growth plan and business model. Will you introduce new methods of delivery? How will your supply chain be impacted? How will you adhere to social distancing rules? If you are in a customer-facing industry, this will be crucial for you, as a post-COVID-19 world may still consist of social distancing rules. You may need to consider changing the physical layout of your store, however maintaining customer-centricity will be key to re-building and maintaining your customer base. Smaller retailers who don't have e-commerce platforms and/or rely on foot traffic are already shifting the customer experience and are offering private appointments to shop in store.
Look at your target market and your local communities – what do they need? How else can you support them? Can you completely re-imagine your value chain to deliver essential goods that are needed by your customers? Some of the big brands out there are proactively responding to this pandemic by not only delivering essential goods to communities, but they are also using it as an opportunity to build their brand power by tapping into their CSR initiatives. Brands such as Gap, Zara and Giorgio Armani are just a few that have modified their production lines to produce face masks and scrubs for medical staff. Distilleries such as Bavaria and Auping, and beauty brands such as the L'Oreal Group and LVMH, have also optimised their supply chain to produce much needed hand sanitizers. Similarly, hotel chains such as Accor Hotels have opened up their hotels for health care workers, and governments are working with specific hotel groups to house victims of domestic abuse. This may be seen as a very opportunistic and profitable move for these companies, but by responding in this way they have propelled themselves into the spotlight and shaped their brand image to reflect one of global solidarity.
Building and implementing a digital transformation strategy is essential to developing a sustainable future-proof customer experience. No one knows how long this economic crisis will last, so it is best to prepare your business to potentially survive in a world of where social distancing and digital rules. Gyms and fitness companies such David Lloyd and F45 are going through their own rapid digital transformations, having quickly moved towards the world of online delivery. They are now offering group classes, personal training and coaching all through online apps and social media platforms. The arts industry has also been significantly impacted by the virus, with many shows being cancelled until the foreseeable future. This, however, has not stopped businesses from adapting to the new norm. Museums such as Rome's Vatican Museum and the Paris' Louvre are moving online, offering virtual tours of their collections. Concert venues across Europe such as Vienna's State Opera and Berlin's Philharmonie are streaming classical orchestras and operas for free online.
Look for partnerships and alliances that will help propel you back into the playing field. Identify those organisations out there that complement or balance out your value chain. Finding these joint opportunities will be extremely valuable when you are looking to pick up business again. This may include running joint tenders, sharing the costs of production or launching a new innovative solution. This form of collaboration will help you tackle some of the future challenges you might be faced with in a post-COVID-19 world. Developing the right strategic partnerships will help you build your brand within the market, bringing back a sense of trust and confidence that has been lost amongst consumers during the times of the pandemic.
Looking forward, a sustainable customer experience in a post-COVID-19 world can only exist when such strategic initiatives are supported by a well-balanced budget and a relevant product portfolio. KPMG can assist in your portfolio rationalisation by integrating front-office functions as one (Marketing, Sales and Customer Service) and supporting the effective assessment and realisation of costs associated to your customer journey, now and into the future. This will assist in setting up your business for a strong future growth plan. In addition, understanding the influencers behind customer decision-making behaviours is more critical now than ever to deliver the right experience at the right value. This might mean a reconsideration of investments and a revision of operating costs to deliver a newly defined customer journey that aligns to social distancing and digital rules. Understanding your CX Economics and the overall economic curve will be key to this process of balancing customer expectations against operating costs. Question yourself on how you can optimise CX by cutting costs where possible, without under-delivering on customer expectations.KPMG's CX Economics assessment can facilitate such fact-based decision-making that favours both the customer, your brand and business, to ride out and flourish during and post these uncertain times.