5 COVID-driven, Customer Experience Changes Businesses Should Carry Over into 2021
Summary: Since COVID-19 became part of our everyday lives in 2020, local businesses have had to make significant changes regarding the customer experience in order to keep their doors open. While the new year offers hope for a return to normal, the reality is that many of these changes will continue.
2020 is a year that many of us would like to soon forget. The onset of the COVID pandemic early in the year quickly cast a pall over our everyday lives. Many have suffered and too many have tragically lost their lives.
Businesses have been hard hit as well. The lockdowns and general fear from the public of possibly contracting the virus have caused many businesses to either close or significantly reduce their operations. According to a report from Yelp, of the small businesses that closed during the pandemic, estimates are that 100,000 will not reopen.
In order to weather the pandemic, businesses were forced to adapt processes that affect the customer experience. These changes were necessary to continue to serve their communities while ensuring the safety of customers and employees.
With the new year, hopes are high that these changes are temporary and business will get back to normal. However, even with promising vaccines available, that appears unlikely.
So, what are some the changes that should continue? While there are many we could have included, here is our list of 5 COVID-driven, customer experience changes businesses will carry over into 2021.
1. COVID Safety Policy
At the top of our list is the COVID Safety Policy. The fear of getting the virus at a local business was very real. This resulted in many businesses seeing a steep decline in revenue and or closing in 2020.
In order to get customers back, one of the first things businesses did was to tell a nervous public their plans for making their locations safe. This led to the creation of COVID Safety Policies.
These policies outlined the specific steps a business was taking to make their stores safe for customers and employees.
The typical COVID Safety Policy mirrored the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Businesses began requiring customers and employees to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
Then COVID policies grew to include other actions taken by the business. Changes such as store layout modifications, installation of plexiglass partitions, changes in employee / customer engagement, adding contactless purchase and pickup, more frequent cleaning of the business, etc.
To be seen by customers, COVID policies were posted throughout the business location, on their website and social media accounts. In addition, the policy was kept updated with any new information released from local medical and government officials.
Having a COVID Safety Policy shows that the business cares about the community they serve – boosting the brand’s reputation and bringing customers back to your business.
The COVID Safety Policy is one customer experience change we definitely will see businesses continue in 2021.
2. “Contactless” Customer Services
As lockdowns loosened and more was learned about the virus, businesses started thinking how to get a justifiably worried public back into their stores.
Aside from the potential of person-to-person transmission, there was the real fear of getting the virus by going into a place of business and touching potentially infected surfaces or other items.
To help quell this fear, many businesses started offering customers contactless payment methods.
But, the “contactless” trend went beyond just the purchase stage. Businesses also expanded this approach by applying touch-free options to other areas like the shopping, receiving and returns functions.
Some specific examples of these contactless service options include:
- New or expanded online shopping
- Mobile payment apps
- Self-service checkout
- Personal shoppers
- Curbside pickup and / or door-to-door delivery
- Flexible, no-hassle returns
In 2021, businesses will make permanent most of the changes made that involved converting a customer service function to contactless regardless if the threat of the virus remains or not.
3. Closely Monitor Customer Feedback Platforms
It should come as no surprise that activity on social media and other online channels increased during the pandemic.
A Harris Poll conducted between late March and early May 2020, found that between 46% and 51% of US adults were using social media more since the outbreak began.
With this increase in online activity, businesses realized this would translate into more consumers sharing feedback on and talking about the brands they are purchasing from. And, that they should be closely monitoring this customer feedback on not just the popular review and social media sites, but across the web.
There are a multitude of online sites where people can talk about your business. Any negative or inaccurate information about your brand can do real harm to your business if not known. During the COVID pandemic, it’s more critical than ever to make sure you’re not caught off guard by negative mentions about your business.
Due to the sheer number of online sites where people can talk about your brand, it’s impractical to try to continuously scan the internet with inhouse resources.
While businesses should continue monitoring their brand mentions beyond 2020, it’s a good idea to get help from an online reputation management firm.
4. Rapidly Surface and Fix Customer Experience Issues
Keeping tabs on what customers are saying about their experience with your business is a basic part of your marketing efforts.
However, in the face of the COVID pandemic, this task has become even more important.
For the businesses that weathered the lockdowns and stay at home orders, getting customers to come back (and keep coming back) was going to be difficult.
Weary from hunkering down and still stressed about getting the virus, customers are pickier about what stores they will visit and more likely to never come back at the slightest negative experience.
Because of this, your margin for error for impressing these customers is slim and most businesses can ill afford any more reductions in sales.
This is why it is so critical to uncover any negative online customer feedback quickly and promptly resolve any issues. With customers under so much stress due to the ongoing pandemic, now is not the time to ignore a customer’s poor experience with your business – or put off fixing the problem. If you do, you might lose them for good.
It goes without saying that monitoring online channels was important even before COVID. However, with the stress of the pandemic, businesses need to redouble their efforts in this area. Discovering any issues and rapidly fixing any problems is a commitment every business needs to continue into 2021 in order to get customers back and keep them coming back.
5. “Localize” Responses to Online Reviews
One challenging aspect of the COVID situation is that safety protocols were updated often and varied from city to city.
Because of this, businesses needed to “localize” their communications with customers when responding to their inquiries. This is especially true for multilocation franchises and brands.
This change in approach was especially important when responding to online reviews and other customer feedback.
During the crisis, many people are reading online reviews (and the businesses’ responses) to get insight into how the business is faring when it comes to incorporating COVID protocols and ensuring the safety of customers.
It’s not uncommon, for businesses to use response templates for this task. However, the varying local COVID safety recommendations required a customized approach when engaging with customers online.
(This same approach applies when answering questions posted in the Google Q&A section of your Google My Business profile for each of your locations.)
Of course, carefully responding to online reviews and other customer feedback is always the best practice. However, because of varying COVID safety recommendations at the local level, more customization to those responses is now required.
Since the pandemic is still with us unfortunately, businesses will need to continue this effort to help bring back customers.
Looking to 2021
As we eagerly welcome the new year, the COVID-era remains. And even as highly-anticipated vaccines are distributed, many of the changes all of us have made to our daily lives in 2020 will continue.
This will hold true for local businesses as well. Many customer experience-related changes were made in response to the pandemic in the name of safety and to be able to continue to served their local communities. But because the concern of getting the virus is still with us, most if not all of these safeguards will be made permanent.
In these difficult times, businesses must show great empathy to their customers. To do this, take steps to ensure their safety, listen to their feedback, fix service issues quickly and make it easy for them to do business with you. The businesses that can accomplish these objectives will ensure they can survive and thrive into 2021 and beyond.
Now that we have highlighted our 5 COVID-driven, customer experience changes businesses should carry over into 2021, what changes will you be continuing in the new year? Tell us in the comments below.
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From all of us at ReviewIgnite, we wish everyone a safe, healthy and prosperous 2021.