COVID-19 has reminded us, rather dramatically, that humans are emotional beings. Whether we like it or not, emotions are a big part of our decision-making process. And right now, the entire world’s emotions are on high alert. This is the first time we have lived through a globally traumatic and emotion-inducing event, in real time, with the whole world connected.
One of the emotions many companies are trying hard to avoid is anger. Brands don’t want to upset customers by being noisy at a time when noise can be dangerous, hurtful, and unwanted. Today’s leaders are struggling to find the balance between communicating company information and not interrupting and annoying their customers.
One approach companies are using to find this balance is to dial up their listening activities. Below are four specific listening activities we’ve learned about from leading brands in the past few weeks. Our hope is that they help you listen to your customers better — allowing you to provide a noise-free customer experience while adapting the remainder of your 2020 strategy as the macroeconomic effects of COVID-19 continue to change.
1. Figure out how people feel
If you don’t know where to start in conversation, start here. In a crisis, it’s easy to talk at your customers rather than with them. Your brand may have a lot of information to get out, but before you start drafting customer emails, social channel outreach, and in-app messaging campaigns, take time to figure out how your consumers feel.
Your first step should be a concise, well-timed survey or set of questions focused on understanding your customers’ current emotional states. Asking questions first before you act allows you to devise an approach driven solely by the expressed needs of your customers.
As a brand, this is not the time to pretend you have it all together; none of us does. Everyone is assessing global changes day-by-day, parsing how they affect our businesses and personal lives simultaneously. Listening is the best way to make informed predictions around quick-shifting customer expectations, and to reposition your offerings accordingly.
2. Separate helpful digital content from “noise”
For most brands, the consistent customer communication channels during this period of time are all digital. And digital channels offer endless opportunities for disruption, overload, and frustration when messaging isn’t holistic and helpful. Make sure whatever you decide to tell customers across your digital channels is going to be important to them rather than focusing on what’s important to you. Right now, as a brand, it’s ok not to know — and it’s ok to ask customers to help you get it right.
Let’s say that you’ve already asked your customers questions to get a baseline understanding of their emotional headspace. As a next step, think about asking what customers want to hear from you, if anything. Taking the next step in listening can enable you to learn more about how customers want to be talked with during this emotionally fraught time.
Figuring out how to separate helpful digital content from “noise” looks different for every company and customer base. Above all, be mindful of the emotional range your customers have right now, and know it can shift rapidly. Measuring response rates and interaction rates in your communications can be an important signal about if you’re being “noisy” as well. In order to continuously provide the best digital customer experience, you’ll need to regularly take the pulse of your customer sentiment and act on what you learn. This is likely to shift by customer segment — your customers will react differently depending on things like geography and demographics, so ensure you’re trying to understand what noise looks like according to customers.
3. Communicate as humans, to humans
If any good has come of the critical COVID-19 situation, it’s this: When faced with extreme circumstances, we’re reminded of our humanity. In life and in business, we’re humans and our customers are humans, all wired to feel a sense of community. And creating emotional bonds inside of digital spaces is crucial to alleviating a lot of hurt — and to making brands stand out again.
- If you are a company that has brick-and-mortar locations, you’re currently missing an opportunity to connect with your customers through human interaction. You have to make up for it by delivering personalized, human-centric digital experiences.
- If your offerings are already digital, your approach to communication is the biggest opportunity to set your brand apart. It’s time to prioritize genuine love and care in your consumer outreach to create and strengthen customer bonds.
Of course, companies have differing levels of requirements for communicating with customers according to internal team membership, messaging criteria, and more. But at any level, the more human you are, the stronger you can form necessary bonds with the customers who will help get you through the current economic crisis and back on track. This includes giving your team members the autonomy to communicate more actively and along a consistent set of guidelines. Companies who are making communications tougher to approve and send out are finding themselves appearing slow to respond and tone-deaf.
4. Proactively set clear expectations
It’s easy to be reactive during a crisis. Brands want to be nimble enough to change their strategies quickly on the basis of changing customer needs. But being proactive in your listening strategy allows you to plan ahead while still maintaining flexibility.
Proactively engaging consumers allows you to build richer profiles, improve retention, and drive positive customer sentiment at all times. And right now, it allows consumers to breathe a sigh of relief knowing they can place their trust in you to tell them what they need to know with enough time to act on it — one less thing to worry about during this stressful time.
Make sure you let customers know any information that’s pertinent to their journey with you, like changes to hours of availability or expectations for service. Also, ensure your customers know you’ll proactively communicate future changes (through their preferred communication channels!) rather than waiting for them to come and ask you.
We’re living in unprecedented times trying to do what’s right for our consumers, brands, and the world at large while we adjust to COVID-19. By listening first, we’re more likely to get there. In fact, only by listening will we learn when people start to feel safe again.
This is an emotional time for everyone. Brands are worried about creating anger. Fearful, in fact. And your customers are fearful, as well. Now is the time to understand their concerns every week and to do so for the next several quarters until we can all confidently start to answer the question, “What’s next?”