Upon re-reading the Elizabeth Kubler-Ross 5 stage of grief model, I shuddered. How could it be so accurate in mirroring exactly what I have gone through in the last few months!
Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. Acceptance.
First mentioned in Kubler Ross’s book, On Death and Dying1, the model has since been applied in organisations to help employees through organisational changes that are introduced. Today, there are many other change management frameworks such as McKinsey 7S Framework and Kotters 8-Step Change Model that similarly serve to help organisations and their employees through change.
While organisations have become acquainted with the need for change management for teams and employees for decades, much less have ever had to deal with this scale of change management – for customers. After all, as the way overused saying goes, “this is unprecedented”.
Stop for a moment and think about the experiences you have personally been through in recent months. Brands and customers alike have been victim to changes thrown in their faces, for the rightful and needful cause of keeping everyone safe. Brands have responded, and customers have done their best to be patient and to comply for the greater good.
Yet, we see a variance in the levels of success and failure of brands in planning the right changes, executing the changes thoughtfully, and sustaining the desired changes.
Could change-management_version-customer-experience, or more simply termed, “CX Change Management” be the answer during this state of flux?
There are many change management models used by organisations today, each with its own merit. For the sake of illustration in this article, let us consider a commonly used and intuitive model, Lewin’s Change Management Model – and examine how it could potentially apply to CX change management. The model consists of three key stages: Unfreeze, Change, Refreeze. The diagram below depicts some typical areas addressed under each stage.
STAGE 1: UNFREEZE
The COVID-19 situation is no doubt the most ‘compelling business case’ for change. Customers mostly recognise the need for safety measures, have no need to be convinced, and are expecting changes. The questions that remain are, what are the changes, and how are they introduced? Brands also need to understand any doubts and concerns customers may have on the changes introduced.
Other customer experience changes (unrelated to COVID-19), would similarly benefit from this lesson of building a case for change, so that customers are convinced of the need to disrupt what they may be fondly familiar with.
STAGE 2: CHANGE
1. Planning the right changes
Having a strategy or plan for change is the foundational first step and should be anchored on delivering on your brand promises without compromise.
The ‘right’ plan is subjective, but a good baseline to start with would be what is in the best interest for customers’ safety, and best meets customers’ functional and emotional needs. This starts with an understanding of your customers’ needs and evolving expectations and jobs-to-be-done2. A great tool to help you do this in a systematic and holistic way is customer journey mapping. Any changes to be introduced should be mapped out, to help you understand how they impact the journey. This will help you to iterate your plans for the changes that you need to introduce.
Shopping for cosmetics is a very therapeutic, emotional, exciting, and impulsive time for many ladies (I speak for myself). Walking down the reopened cosmetic aisles these days is depressing at best, with testers gone (or clinically wrapped in plastic as the forbidden fruit), leaving a sad gaping void. Virtual cosmetic testing services such as the Loreal Virtual Try-On, could beautifully complement in-person experiences, if cleverly integrated into the customer journey.
Nam Ho Group, a travel firm in Singapore, is attempting to fill the holiday and travel void, with plans to provide virtual travel tours – complemented with the sale of snacks and products from these countries. In the words of Mr Marshall Ooi, Director of Nam Ho Group, “the aim is to continue to excite customers by giving them opportunities to literally have a taste of renowned local food fare, even if they are unable to visit the country at the moment. “3
2. Implementing the change
Systems and processes need to be aligned to the changes to be made, and staff may require new skills and knowledge. Similarly, we need to think about what skills, knowledge gaps, and apprehensions our customers may have regarding the change, or with the new experience they are going through. There has never been more ‘firsts’ experienced in a few short months – first Zoom call, first virtual birthday party, first home-based learning, first digital check-in to a mall, etc. Some face frustrations with the less user-friendly experiences and abandon them; for others, the learning itself is an enjoyable experience (think of the first time you used the Facebook messenger app for a video call with your friends and explored all the filters and games).
3. Communicating the change
We all like surprises – but only good ones. Unexpected changes that cause inconveniences can result in frustrations and anger. At a recent visit to a specialist clinic in a hospital, I went back and forth between entrances for 15 minutes, as I was unaware that there was now only one entrance allowed due to COVID-19. I heard the clinic receptionist loudly asking 2 separate patients why they were so late for their appointments, and the answer was the same ‘I was lost’. Pre-emptive messages about arriving earlier and information about the entrance would have helped!
Communications about change go beyond the functional lists of changes in processes. As Kotter put it, “we see, we feel, we change4”, and “changing behavior is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings.5”
STAGE 3: REFREEZE
1. Reinforcing change through enjoyment
In a white paper6 written by Colin Strong and Tamara Ansons, making activities enjoyable was one of the recommendations for sustaining behavioural change.
People were obsessed with sanitizing their hands everywhere they went at the start of the pandemic. However, I hardly noticed anyone sanitizing their hands at any point in the supermarket today. In compliance with government regulations, the sanitisers were indeed placed at the entrances and at checkout – though it felt like a ‘Where’s Wally’ experience trying to spot them. I thought, what if there were sanitising stations with bright colours, happy sound effects/gamified aspects that made you feel good about sanitizing?
2. Rewarding desired changes in behaviours
In organisations, we look at rewards, whether intrinsic (psychological rewards) or extrinsic (usually monetary) to motivate employees7. While we are certainly not paying customers a salary, we can creatively apply rewards to customers.
For example, helping customers to feel that they are contributing to the greater good, is a good way to reward them. Taking the above supermarket sanitising scenario a step further, an intrinsic customer reward could be: A counter board above the sanitising station that jumps everytime someone sanitises, contributing to the sanitising goal for a good cause!
In conclusion, brands should start applying CX Change Management to any change introduced, from new products, changes to customer journeys, to new digital platforms/applications). The Lewin Change Management Model explained in this article is a good framework to follow.
Pandemic or not, CX Change Management should be given the attention that it is due. What the pandemic has done is to draw the curtains and shine the limelight onto what has always been in the shadows.
Note: a version of this article also appears on WARC
1Kubler-Ross, E. (1993). On death and dying. New York, NY: Macmillan Pub.
2Clayton M. Christensen, Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon, David S. Duncan. (2026, September). Know Your Customers’ “Jobs to Be Done”. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done
3Wei, A. (2020, August 04). From virtual tours to online stores, Singapore tourism companies boost digital offerings amid Covid-19. Retrieved August 07, 2020, from https://www.straitstimes.com/business/economy/tourism-companies-boost-digital-offerings
4John P. Kotter, Dan Cohen (2015). Successful Organizational Change: The Kotter-Cohen Collection (2 Books) (pp.179). Harvard Business Review Press.
5John P. Kotter, Dan Cohen (2013). The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations (pp.14). Harvard Business Press.
6Strong, C., & Ansons, T. (2020). Moving Beyond The Start, How To Maintain Changed Behaviours.
7Thomas, K. (2009, November/December). The Four Intrinsic Rewards that Drive Employee Engagement. Retrieved August 18, 2020, from https://iveybusinessjournal.com/publication/the-four-intrinsic-rewards-that-drive-employee-engagement/