The Customer Experience – the first casualty in a crisis

Photo by Blake Wisz on Unsplash

Covid-19 has brought a great many things into sharp focus. One side-effect of the global lockdown has been that people around the world are re-evaluating their view on various things. Suddenly, the important people are not movie stars or ‘Insta influencers’, but rather, nurses, pharmacists, refuse collectors.

Part if this global re-think has been responses to much loved brands.

As the number of retailers open has diminished, leaving only a handful of outlets open a number of interesting psychological shifts have taken place.

Consumers are learning to live without the ‘must-have’ items that seemed so important, as recently as early March. That take-away coffee en route to the office, the fine restaurant for the anniversary dinner, the fast-food treat on a Friday evening, all have become unavailable and suddenly are distant memories.

One might think that those organisations left open would be doing very well, but the truth has often been that weaknesses and flaws in their customer experience delivery systems and processes have often been cruelly exposed by the shutdown. A combination of skeleton staff and anxious, stressed customers all trying to access inadequate customer service systems has combined to leave a customer base that is evaluating its (previously blind) loyalty to certain brands, after experiencing service failures and overwhelmed systems.

The feeling is that organisations which have noble mission and brand statements about the customer being ‘the heart of everything we do’ have been exposed as insincere. The knee-jerk to the crisis was cut costs, make job cuts or furlough staff (where available) and provide the bare minimum service. Very few ‘customer is King’ organisations are covering themselves in glory and so-called ‘Customer-centric’ Brands have had their bluff well-and-truly called as costs cutting and service withdrawal became the priority for many.

The customer will emerge from this crisis with trepidation and will be very risk-averse. Ordinarily Brands could cash in on this phenomenon because Trust is one of the major assets of a good brand, but the overwhelming of the customer support systems we are seeing in crucial areas (e.g. banking, online retailers, healthcare etc), has eroded trust in many cases, in it’s place is hatred or, at best, indifference.

Now the customer experience is more important than ever. Customers are feeling stressed and many have them have a lot of time to dwell on things they may otherwise have regarded as trivial, senses and sensibilities are raw, feelings are very close to the surface.

There is a feeling amongst many that ‘I have been loyal to you all these years, where are you now I need you?’. August reputations are in the firing line, customer support systems have been stress-tested to destruction and Brand equity is, in some cases, being eroded at almost visible levels.

Customers have long memories, very few brands are emerging well out of this crisis. It is time for brands to up their game.