Thursday, 11 February 2021 / 12:27PM / OpEd by Prof. Robert Ebo
Hinson / Header Image Credit: FeedNavigator
How organisations, brands can connect with their patrons now and later
As the sage has said, everything that has a beginning has an end. We should, therefore, agree that, sooner or later, the COVID-19 scourge should be over.
While vaccines are being deployed, slowly in many parts of Africa, and rapidly in some parts of the advanced world, what should a company which interfaces with customers do to stay afloat, ride the storm, and, with hope, rebound after it is over?
Another question: How do we deliver superior customer experience through employees who themselves are doing everything to "keep safe?"
I define customer experience as the sum of all interactions between a customer and an organisation. It is the blend of your organisation's physical performance (and) the emotions that you create, measured against customer expectations across all your touchpoints. For customer experience to be great, every interaction at every touchpoint must be exceptional. In other words, the whole organisation must work together to deliver a great customer experience.
I present in this essay, the 4Rs of customer experience management to assist organisations to stay connected with their customers during this COVID-19 crisis; and beyond.
1. Reassure and Inform your Customers about your Readiness to Handle the 'New Normal'
One of the first and most critical steps to influence customer behaviour positively towards you is the delivery of clear and quick information, first to reassure customers that you understand the extreme stress they are having to contend with, the various modifications to their buyer journeys, their new and heightened expectations of service excellence in these trying times, and your company or brand's abilities to meet these expectations. An associate was about to lose nearly 100,000 air miles on a particular airline because they were expiring. The airline contacted her to explain that miles' expiry has been extended by several months in the light of the pandemic and further reassured her that they would do everything possible to assist their customers in these trying times.
2. Recognise that Digital is the 'New Normal'
Prior to the onset of COVID-19, digital platforms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and social media all seemed like fads and optional avenues for many firms globally. Ironically, in places like Africa, there are more mobile money transactions than ever as most official meetings are now conducted via Webex and Zoom, and mobile penetration and usage is at its highest since the pandemic broke. In an era of social distancing, customers now expect companies to innovate around basic digital technologies to deliver value to them. Companies will have to optimise mobile experiences for prospects and customers and make social media interactions as painless as possible. A recent global study of 13 countries found that over 50% of the survey respondents are watching more streaming services, 45% are spending more time on messaging services, almost 45% are devoting more time to social media, and almost 15% say they are creating and uploading videos. Customers may not be able to physically interact with you for a long time to come, so get your digital game up as soon as possible.
3. Revisit the basics of great customer service
In a book I co-authored, "Customer Service Essentials Lessons for Africa and Beyond" (July 2019), we posit that great customer service is a function of a welcoming Environment, Knowledgeable Staff, Prompt Communication, After-Sales Service, and Proactive Problem-Solving. In these COVID-19 times, these qualities are needed even more than before.
a. Welcoming environment
In respect of a welcoming environment, it would be advisable to conduct a quick audit of all your digital interfaces. The key questions to answer include: Is your website visually attractive and engaging and COVID-19 compliant? Do you advocate any safety tips in these pandemic times, and do you explain the safety measures you are taking yourself to not put customers at risk? Do your digital interfaces explain modifications to your customer buyer journey? Is there alignment between your social media interfaces and your targeted demographics?
b. Knowledgeable staff
In a stressful and frightening COVID-19 era, customers want knowledgeable and professional customer service representatives with an efficient system at their disposal to resolve their issues, both now and when the pandemic passes. Customer service employee must be able to answer basic or complex questions. How are riders delivering your ordered items protecting themselves? takeaway food to my house? If I come to your store, would all the COVID-19 safety protocols be in place?
c. Prompt communication
Communication is central to achieving exceptional customer experience delivery. Prompt organisational communication to both internal and external customers should be clear, reliable, and accurate and this will be an absolute necessity for organisational success in these times, and even hereafter.
d. After-sales service
Customer experience delivery does not end with the close of a sale. Some telecommunications firms have for instance been sending daily COVID-19 tips to encourage their customers to stay safe. What companies should realise in these challenging times is that because of the massive alterations in customer buyer journeys and the elevated effort customers must put into effecting safe purchases, showing appreciation for business received has never been more important than at this time. Saying 'thank you' to the customers might in these times seem like a small gesture, but it has immense significance in enhancing the relationships businesses have with their customers.
e. Proactive problem-solving
Addressing customer complaints and problems expeditiously is critical to delivering excellent customer experiences during this pandemic. Service failures are bound to occur, but they must be resolved much quicker than in normal times.
4. Reach for Branded Customer Experience
We submit in "Customer Service Essentials Lessons for Africa and Beyond" that all firms that are serious about delivering customer experiences should consider the adoption of branded customer service. Drawing on Barlow and Stewart's (2004) four levels of customer management, we state that customer experience delivery evolves in four phases as seen in this table:
To the extent that there might be several commonalities in the levels of customer experience delivered by most organisations globally, firms are encouraged to revisit all their business missions and strategic plans to reconfigure them to appropriately respond to the COVID-19 menace. In this reconfiguration, special attention must be paid to employees in ensuring that they are safe in all their operations and given an array of digital tools to do their work.
All non-essential staff should be encouraged to stay at home but be reminded constantly that they are a living expression of the corporate brands they represent. So, whether working in a physical office or from remote locations, they always represent the corporate brand. All employees must constantly deliver brand-aligned behaviours in digital and brick-and-mortar formats and strive to ensure that they create positive emotional connections for the companies they represent in any interaction with a customer. The Human Resources team must, in the spirit of delivering branded customer experience, strive to create an engaged and empowered staff who own the brand. When all this is achieved, a company would be operating at the highest levels of customer experience delivery; delivering branded customer service that will serve it well in the short, and medium to long-term.
Finally, in looking to connect with communities in which they operate, companies should avoid self-aggrandising corporate social initiatives and focus on community-centric initiatives that deliver the most benefits to the population.
About the Author
Professor Robert Ebo Hinson is Head of the Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, University of Ghana Business School and Acting Director of Institutional Advancement in the same University. He can be contacted via e-mail -
For Further Reading:
"Customer Service Essentials is a must-read and a definitive source of information on effective management of customer service in Africa and beyond. Leveraging on unique concepts and practices developed in the field of customer service management, this book uses case studies and vignettes to reinforce learnings, drawing parallels to real life experiences. The book is a valuable resource for individuals and organizations, in the quest to achieve excellent customer service, increased productivity and enhanced employee satisfaction. It explores the practical challenges of customer service in Africa, examines critical success factors and provides guidelines for effective customer engagement in this evolving highly networked digital era. Policy makers, directors, managers and students will gain valuable and actionable insights on service management as they navigate the chapters."
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