True brand loyalty, as in the customer/brand relationship, is built over time. Like any other relationship, it takes multiple encounters, multiple touchpoints, and multiple positive experiences before it really means something and a true connection is made.
During this coronavirus pandemic, and the resulting lockdown, relationships amongst friends and family are having to change to ‘cope’ with being physically separated. And businesses and brands are dealing with something similar; a change in the way they’re interacting with their customers. Organisations are having to adapt the way in which they reach out, relying far more on digital – never has remote working felt quite so remote.
Authentic customer focus
Understanding customers are looking for interaction, and could well be lacking in the human support they perhaps depend on, should lead brands to think about how they can genuinely assist in a way that resonates and is relevant and genuine. Despite the rise in automation, the vast majority of customers still prefer to interact with a human over a machine. And those stats are pre-virus.
Customers, or rather people, as a basic trait, want to feel understood and reassured in a crisis. They seek comfort, which means they might not be so swayed by price, but rather by communication, honesty, transparency, or emotional intelligence. They want to be helped, not sold to.
Boulevard Events is a multi-award winning events and wedding caterer based in Hackney Wick. The company has been around since 1988, and so is well regarded in the area, but since mass events have been either postponed or cancelled as a result of the coronavirus lockdown, their business model has had to be overhauled. Now, instead of the chefs creating food for these large events, they’re fulfilling meal delivery orders from people in the area who are unable to get the food they need. This could be due to limited stock availability in supermarkets, limited funds due to being out of work, or simply through limited human contact due to self-isolation. Since the service is local, they aren’t charging for delivery, and they are giving NHS staff and other key workers a discount. The impact this new service has had on the area will likely outlive the pandemic, and define the loyalty customers have to the business. The message of contribution, convenience, and credibility is underpinned by the genuine needs of the area, meaning customers’ trust is earned and connections are built for the future.
Efficiency in communication is probably not the right mindset to have in these circumstances. More contact, and more human interaction is required, which has to mean more digital touchpoints during COVID-19. A customer calling a helpline with a query may expect to join a queue waiting to speak to a customer service rep, but could also be invited on to a video call to tackle the same issue. The face-to-face nature of the interaction offers a deeper human connection, which could not only serve to delight the customer, but also shows the employee is able to work from home, and offer a good level of service, putting the organisation in a positive light.
Jumping straight into something like video calls for customer service is quite a leap, but this could actually be seen as another opportunity for brands to ‘prove’ they’re human. We’re all muddling through at the moment, we’re all trying to find our feet in this ‘new normal’*, and people understand that brands have been forced to make big changes with very little notice. Arguably, now is the time to be testing out new methods of connecting with customers, while there is perhaps more leeway to fail. That is, if brands are seen to be genuinely putting customers first, even if it’s not exactly business (standards) as usual, they will be forgiven for glitches or goofs in execution.
The changing face of brand interaction
Brands have the opportunity right now to deliver really meaningful messages to their customers, and adapt in a positive way despite the negative situation that has been forced on all of us. COVID-19 shouldn’t be seen as a chance to push and sell, but rather to interact and support. Connecting with customers now will stand companies in good stead in the future, and I believe – and truly hope – there will be no way back from this kind of responsibility in marketing.
* ugh – so cliche