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The year has given us a unique opportunity to see how the best brands have responded to Covid-19 and the impact on their customer experience, and equally, to observe some of the worst. So, as we near the end of 2021 we thought we would share some examples of where customer experience is working, and where it is not, and suggest what brands may need to focus on in 2022 to win.

“You may experience long waiting times to access our customer services department due to Covid-19. Please call back at a later time or use our web site”.  I am sure you have experienced a very similar message if you have attempted to call your telecom provider, energy supplier or bank this year. This may have been excusable at the beginning of the pandemic, but it is no longer acceptable. Large brands are simply conning us. Money Mail recently published a survey in which they concluded ‘50 major firms still blaming long call-waiting times or reduced opening on Covid

A perfect example of this is National Savings and Investment (NS&I) who recently made the decision to stop issuing cheques as payment to holders of winning Premium Bonds. In future, they will only pay by on-line transfer into a bank account.  Many of their elderly customers typically used postal or branch banking rather than on-line, and so tried to call the NS&I contact centre to make the change only to be greeted by a message advising them not to call unless you ‘absolutely have to’ because of long wait times and not to post anything to them.  I realise that businesses are facing huge operational difficulties, a lot of their staff were furloughed and many are still in danger of going under nearly 2 years on, but the fact is that the best brands are managing in spite of this. 

The retail sector has been a bit like the ‘curate’s egg’, good in some areas, rotten in others; booming online but suffering in the high-street. Amazon has seen a massive increase in demand and yet its service levels are close to what they were last year, and it remains near the top of customer satisfaction tables.  Doug Gurr, Amazon’s UK Country manager recently wrote to customers saying, ”We’ve added 10,000 new permanent roles and 20,000 seasonal positions to our team to help get you your items on time. The wellbeing and safety of all of our employees continues to be our top priority, which is why we have made more than 150 process changes to create safe workplaces”  Have a look at this video Amazon have shared. 

The banking sector has behaved, as it generally does, by being self-serving. Despite the Government loan schemes most of the banks have been slow to lend and quick to decrease their deposit rates.  There are some notable exceptions, First Direct Bank, has achieved the highest levels of customer satisfaction and loyalty over many years. Shortly after Covid hit they published this notice on the home page of their web site; ’We’re still available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. first direct hasn’t closed once since we opened, and we don’t intend for coronavirus to change that. You will still also always get through to a real human first on our main line, without having to press 1 for this and 2 for that.’ They followed this up by halving their interest rate on overdrafts whilst some competitors, like Lloyds, were busy doubling theirsFirst Direct used the pandemic to reaffirm their brand promise and dramatise their point of difference. Great brands see crises as an opportunity to focus on what is most important for customers.

Some brands have gone beyond that and used the opportunity to exceed customer expectations despite the difficultiesAs an example, “Due to COVID and our commitment to you, we are shipping your order on time or ahead of schedule” How many times over the past few months have you received this message?  Zero, is my guess.  Yet this is precisely the brand promise that US company, ScreenBroidery is making to its customers.  Unlike so many other organisations, its stance is not to use the excuse of Covid for bad customer experience. Tom Rector, founder of ScreenBroidery, is taking a stand that this is a time to delivery better service, not worse. His company is trying to differentiate itself by exceeding expectations.  You can read his blog to customer and employees on their web site, 'Covid is not an excuse!

One of the hardest hit sectors is the hospitality industry. In the mid-scale/budget sector, Premier Inn, has bounced back quickly from the lockdown. It has introduced flexible rates and bookings to allow guests to quickly change their plans if required. Reporting their first half 2021 results they said “Since reopening, UK accommodation sales performance has been ahead of the market, benefitting from the fast reopening, the strength of the Premier Inn brand and our leading customer proposition “. The fact is that brands that focus on enhancing the customer experience recover faster from downturns according to research by WPP/Kantar. (BrandZ. Top Global Brands 2020).

Finally, we have all seen the impact of Zoom and virtual meetings on organisations. People have quickly innovated new ways of working and improved efficiency so why can’t organisations bring that same agility and innovation to their customer service and actually improve the experience

So, what can we learn from 2020/21 and apply to the experience we provide in 2022? 

  1. Reflect on your Brand Purpose and how it can be applied innovatively to meet the new situation. 
  2. Reinvent your Customer ExperienceReview your customer journey and ask how you can enhance the experience at ‘the moments that matter’ whilst still complying with regulations. What can you do to dramatise and deliver your brand Promise despite the challenging circumstances as First Direct did? 
  3. Reboot your organisation and rethink your Employee Experience. Introduce new technology and innovate processes that help you to deliver a branded customer experience

The fact is that customers have long memories, and they will remember the brands that made excuses not to deliver, and those that used the opportunity to make their lives easier or better. When everyone else Zigs, the best brands Zag. If you would like to have a chat to see how we might help you Zag, please contact us.

Covid-19 may go away but the need to differentiate through your customer experience never will.

References: Amazon, First Direct, Tom Recktor, Screen Broidery, Premier Inn, NS&I, Shaun Smith, Smith+Co, Caffeine


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