How to Keep Customers and Employees Engaged During a Pandemic: Part 1

Oct 20, 2020 9:00:00 AM

Our world and our lives as we knew them changed overnight, with little to no warning. Whether it's working from home, curbside pickup, or wearing a mask in a store or restaurant, things are dramatically different in the COVID-19 world. Now that companies and customers are settling into a whole new way of living and working (what has become the "new normal"), how do we keep business momentum moving? 

The pandemic has heightened expectations for both customer experience and employee experience, so companies must be doubly focused on keeping these important constituents happy. Let’s explore some simple and effective ways to keep customers and employees engaged with your business in the COVID-19-era and remaining loyal for years to come. 

Business Continuity and The Creative Pivot

Businesses everywhere had continuity and crisis plans that were  and promptly torn to shreds within weeks once the pandemic gathered momentum. Since then, it seems like everyone has been scrambling trying to figure things out. Business owners suddenly had to reckon with monumental decisions, like whether to stay open -- if they were even allowed to do so -- or shut their doors, along with making plans for staff to work remotely long-term. And, if they could stay open, new plans had to be laid for continuing to serve customers in new, safe, and creative ways. Projects that may have been scheduled for years out suddenly had to be completed in weeks in order to keep businesses in place.

Edify CMO Candace Sheitelman recently wrote about one of the pandemic’s surprising and positive effects: the business creativity boom, or ‘the creative pivot’ as we like to call it. Candace said:

“COVID essentially hit fast-forward on many things, like the reality of work from home (work from anywhere really), telemedicine, and curbside pickup. So, while most of us could have done without 2020 and its ongoing juggling acts, some pretty solid aspects of our collective humanity and ingenuity bubbled to the surface. Our experiences as humans, as employees, and as customers have certainly changed to the extreme, but they still exist (and matter). And ultimately, what the customer wants will persist into the future.”

Research from Deloitte emphasizes the effect of companies’ responses to the pandemic, too, stating that, “Almost four in five people could cite a time a brand responded positively to the pandemic and one in five strongly agreed it led to increased brand loyalty on their part.”

Deliver Empathy and Safety, Calm and Confidence

Just as important as ingenuity is safety. The show must go on, but employees and customers want to feel safe. Whether it be airlines handing out hand sanitizer and closing middle seats, self-serve kiosks popping up everywhere, contactless restaurant delivery, virtual shopping experiences, or the resurgence of drive-in movie theatres, industries are finding ways to continue serving customers in a safe manner. 

One of the hallmarks of customer experience (CX) has always been the ability to show empathy as well. If businesses can't show empathy right now, they’re going to fail. Even as I sit here writing this article as a marketer, I am a customer for lots of different companies. Companies I frequent are no longer being compared to their closest competitors but against every other experience that I am having as a customer day-to-day. If you can’t be empathetic towards what I am going through, nor can you provide a safe way for me to continue patronizing your business right now, you’ve lost me as a customer -- likely forever.

Everyone is stressed out and on edge (working parents, raise your hands extra high). We need to know that the companies we do business with are there for us, along with the companies that employ us. If customers and employees are not getting a sense of empathy, safety, calm, and confidence from the brands they buy from and the companies they work for, their loyalty will be difficult to reclaim. Make sure they get it from your company! Customer experience speaker, author, and coach Dan Gingiss said:

“If you're in the B2B space, remember that you're still selling to human beings. And those human beings shop at Amazon. They shop at the grocery store. They order out from restaurants. They have other experiences, so they know what a good experience looks and feels like. And that's what they're expecting from [your brand]. 

And trust me, people are going to remember how they were treated by companies during this time, when things are tough, and that's going to affect their purchasing decisions going forward.

Let People Choose

Choice is key, and it’s something that employees and customers have wanted, needed and deserved for far too long. Some companies give their employees a wide range of flexibility to do their jobs (in-office, flex work, telecommuting, etc.), just like some companies give their customers an array of options for contacting and purchasing from them (in-store, self-service, BOPIS (buy online pick up in store), online shopping, etc.). And, unfortunately, some don’t. 

Having the choice of how to get tasks accomplished, whether it's a work call, completing the weekly grocery haul, or resolving a banking issue, is essential. Chances are we’re all pretty frustrated and pressed for time -- no one wants to be stuck on the phone at the end of the day. Customer service experiences should be owned by the customer! Some of us want text alerts, some of us want traditional email, and some of us still crave the in-person experiences we are used to. And employees need the options and tools to successfully go remote. Let us all choose. 

Customers are finding social media outlets, like Twitter DM and Facebook Messenger, to be faster channels to getting answers. There’s no sitting and waiting involved. If a company is staffing all of their customer care agents on the physical phone and none manning the Twitter inbox, they’re doing it all wrong. Companies must be aware of where their customers are instead of hoping they will use the few channels they currently have available.

Remember: It’s Not Rocket Science

The customer service space is not rocket science, if you think about it, because we are all customers. We all know what we like and how we want companies to treat us.  Strangely enough, however, this knowledge and awareness oftentimes doesn't translate into the companies that people work for. Companies bury fine print in disclosures. They make people wait on hold. Processes are unnecessarily difficult. They send people on confusing and complex customer journeys. Frustrating experiences continue to happen all the time; perhaps it’s easier to notice them when it happens with other companies and not with our own.

So, do yourself (and your customers) a favor and walk through the entire customer journey from start to finish with your business. Go online and try the self-service options, visit a store (if you can) and test the staff’s knowledge. See how quickly you can get answers via the customer service email address versus the social media direct messaging. Go through all the steps that a customer goes through and you will readily find the places of friction. Is it easy? Is it memorable? Is it what you expected? Only when you are literally in the customer's shoes instead of figuratively, can you truly identify and improve pain points within the customer experience. 

Now, do the same thing for your employees. Spend a day completing their tasks, in their environment, trying to solve complex customer inquiries. Would you do business with your company? Better yet, would you work for yourself?

Dan Gingiss and Candace Sheitelman recently discussed this exact topic and more in a “face to face” live discussion. Watch the replay here. And stay tuned for part two of this important conversation next week, where I’ll take a deeper dive into employee experience and engagement in the COVID-19-era.

Kendal Rodgers

Written by Kendal Rodgers

Kendal is the Marketing Manager at Edify and has been writing and curating content most of her professional career. She’s passionate about working with start-ups and sharing life experiences through storytelling. Kendal earned her B.S. in Marketing and International Studies from the IU Kelley School of Business.