September 24, 2019 Forbes published an online article entitled, 50 Stats That Prove the Value of Customer Experience. People in the business world had no idea when that was published what was coming months later when COVID-19 upended how we all do business. Now, businesses are scrambling to stay alive in this volatile climate, and the ones who will survive are those who have shifted, transformed and found creative ways to safely offer their products and services. More than ever, this quote from the 2019 Forbes article rings true, “Without a customer focus, companies simply won’t be able to survive.” Businesses must focus on customer experience (CX) now more than ever. To do this though, will likely require businesses to transform in some way, but will they find the investment in CX transformation worth it?
Vaibhav Sharma, Director of Business Development at OSG Analytics talked on a recent call about how companies will need to plan for CX transformation, and what are the risks involved in doing it.
“As for bringing in transformations, some businesses are [doing it] and some aren’t. That’s where we need to understand that for a certain aspect you may give two different ways to address those needs for customers. But, one of those needs probably requires a lot of investment and the return is not there,” said Vaibhav Sharma, Director of Business Development at OSG. “It has to be an ROI calculation, without which nobody could survive. The other way is you do the change and then you wait for six months to see whether it worked out for you. That, I believe, no businessman wants to do,” he added.
Customer Expectations During COVID-19
COVID-19 has changed customer expectations in a number of ways. Health safety is top of mind for both businesses and customers. As countries have begun to open back up, brick and motor businesses need to find ways to safely engage customers with their products, services and staff while continuing to provide excellent customer experiences; this may require CX transformation. Here are a few examples of businesses who have transformed CX in the wake of COVID-19.
Creative Customer Experience Transformation During COVID-19
A restaurant in Amsterdam, Mediamatic ETEN, came up with a creative solution, personal quarantine greenhouses, which sit close to the water’s edge. Rows of individual greenhouses offer a lovely dining experience while maintaining social distancing; they are charming and provide a safer environment for people who want to enjoy dining out as the country opens up again. Still in trial stage, as they test their new business model with employees and family of employees, Mediamatic ETEN has sold out all of their reservations in anticipation of the greenlight to open again. Even before COVID-19, a cozy date night or dinner with friends and family in a tiny glass house would have been delightful. Who knows? Maybe the personal greenhouses will remain post-COVID.
Carrefour, a sprawling hypermarket chain which offers customers everything from electronics to food, transformed how they serve customers in response to COVID-19. Like most retailers and grocers who are deemed essential, they restricted the number of people allowed in the store at any given time due to social distancing mandates. In addition, they began offering curbside service, as have many other businesses in the U.S. and around the world.
At the curb, customers use an electronic tablet covered with plastic to make their selections. Between uses, the tablet is sanitized, and the plastic covering is replaced. The salesfloor staff who normally assist customers in-store have transformed into personal shoppers for each individual customer. Once gathered, the purchase is delivered curbside. Customers never need to enter the store, so their shopping experience is safer. However, in-store shopping is still available to customers who prefer it.
“They [Carrefour] can do more business [curbside]. What they’ve [Carrefour] done is a partial transformation. There are options which are available to you, [in-store and curbside] especially to those customers who are coming for very specific needs. They don’t have to enter the store,” said Sharma. He shared his own experience, “My shopping trip, which used to be one and a half hours has now been reduced to only a maximum of 20 minutes.”
Jeff Weaver, Vice President, Client Engagement and Business Development at OSG said about curbside pick-up from a home improvement store he recently visited, “It’s changed my behavior. I can just drive over there and have someone have my shopping list ready for me. I’ve got to think that there’s an element there that never returns back to normal.”
In the immediate, it appears that for businesses such as Mediamatic ETEN and Carrefour, the investment in CX transformation will likely be worth it but more data is need to determine if this is so, and to what extent. Businesses like OSG analytics who analyze large amounts of data can help businesses who are weighing out the cost vs ROI of customer experience transformation due to COVID-19 to help them understand to what extent they have been successful.
Customer Experience Transformation Will It Be Lasting?
Right now, businesses are in the thick of it trying to transform in a number of ways to stay in business and to provide excellent CX while dealing with the constant threat of COVID-19 and the safety issues that it creates. All of this leaves the imagination with many questions about how businesses will continue once we emerge at the end of COVID-19. As Sharma pointed out, transformation must be carefully calculated.
A sea of questions keep CEOs, business owners and decision-makers up at night, especially at this difficult time. Sharma and Weaver question what will be lasting too. It makes sense to wonder:
- Will big box stores continue curbside orders and delivery and then reduce their brick and mortar footprint, shrinking the size of their stores?
- If so, will curbside shopping mean that big box retail businesses will convert salesfloor space into warehouse space? Or possibly lease floorspace to another retailer such as a coffeeshop or a fast food chain?
- If curbside shopping is long-lasting, how will retail stores recoup lost revenue on those strategically placed products designed to create impulse buying?
- Will pop-up ads on the tablet that shoppers use curbside replace impulse products at the checkout lanes to entice shoppers to continue to impulse buy?
- If so, will shoppers find that frustrating and become fatigued from it?
The big question though is:
- Is the investment in CX transformation during COVID-19 worth it?
None of us knows for sure, just yet. But, one thing we do know for sure, changes are happening at an unprecedented pace. Innovation CAN transform customer experience, and the impact CAN be lasting.
Behavioral and cognitive analytics companies like OSG employ artificial intelligence to help to uncover what matters most to customers so businesses can deliver superior customer experience. Insights provided by their expert team of data scientists can help businesses to make important decisions as they transform customer experience during the era of COVID-19.
For more information, and to learn about how OSG can help you with your customer experience transformation, reach out to OSG here.