The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the way we do business, likely forever. Despite this, successful businesses understand that the customer experience is more important than ever.

Any good organisation’s relationship with its customers is built over time, nourished by experiences along many online and physical touch-points in their journey, grounded in expectations, and confirmed through repeated interactions.

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that the coronavirus pandemic is not just any crisis, since the ‘locked down’ nature of the response to COVID-19 has meant that organisations have had to adapt to a digital or remote way of doing business, which has had a significant impact on the customer experience (CX).

According to Marc Emert, a solutions specialist at SAP Customer Experience, the COVID-19 pandemic has notably impacted on CX from two perspectives. The first of these is that organisations have had to adapt to the new world rapidly, while still providing high levels of service. For example, he says, a company that has suddenly shifted to online sales only still needs to ensure it can deliver products to the customer within a reasonable timeframe.

“Secondly, while this has created some new opportunities for the suppliers, such as opening up a new sales channel and driving rapid digital transformation, it is also worth noting that the customers are less patient than before and are demanding better service, but not always getting it,” he says.

“One of the keys to success in such a scenario is communications – stay in touch with the customer so they are aware of what you are doing, and if you do make a commitment to them, then you simply must meet it. In other words, if you say the delivery will occur within 24 hours, ensure it is done within 24 hours.”

Remember that the patience levels of most people are much lower than usual. Between having to suddenly work from home, while also undertaking homeschooling of children along with dealing with a wide range of new regulations, this should come as no surprise. The crisis is leading to a greater sense of frustration all around, and this can easily boil over in a service provider’s direction if they fail to meet their obligations. Moreover, adds Emert, frustrated customers are much more likely to move to a new service provider despite the additional effort this requires.

“People make time to undertake such a process if they feel sufficiently aggrieved, and of course most people in lockdown have found themselves with plenty of time on their hands anyway.”

Looking to the future, he suggests the impact of the pandemic will be seen in changing business models, such as a growing number of people shopping for groceries online, rather than at the store. He suggests that those businesses that have already focused on digitally transforming and can thus deliver a strong CX across multiple channels will be the ones to succeed in the longer term – those whose entire CX is based on in-store engagement with the client will undoubtedly struggle in the post-coronavirus world.

“Remember that personal service doesn’t only mean face-to-face contact – digital channels can also offer personal touches. For example, even if a client calls a contact centre, the agent should know who is calling and be able to call them by their name; it is these kinds of personal touches that go a long way towards improving CX.”

Ultimately, he continues, businesses need to be where the customers are. At present, they are at home and are eager to interact on a 24/7/365 basis – which means the business needs to be able to meet these demands.

“It is here that data becomes the critical element. From transactional and structured data, through to the various forms of unstructured data, like social media, and on to experience data – what the customer has been through in the past with the organisation – all of this must be analysed and understood, as it informs your interactions with customers. Thus, the more you can know about them, the better the CX you can provide,” he concludes.