Did You Just Hit A COVID-19 Nerve?!


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“People remember how they feel. If you make your audience feel something, they are more likely to remember it” – Simone Heng, global keynote speaker and former international broadcaster.

Though spoken in the context of storytelling and public speaking, the same could probably be said of customer experience.

I remember the disappointment I felt when I realised that the cereal bars I had specially ordered for my daughter were not delivered. It was one of the few things I actually remembered to plan for in time for her return to school. Though likely within the ‘x%’ error rate acceptable by the delivery business, it reminded me once again of the failure I have felt like since COVID-19 unfolded, unable to be as a good a mother as I’d like to be, with the overwhelming weight on my shoulders. I had never been so irrational and teary-eyed over a trivial delivery lapse.

In recent years, many organisations have progressed leaps and bounds in their journeys to understanding and addressing both functional and emotional needs of customers. Unfortunately, the challenge of managing this delicate thing called emotions just got thrown another curveball: COVID-19.

This period of COVID-19 would very possibly go down in the customer experience history books as an ‘extended nerve point’. Nerve points are “moments in the customer journey where customers are more sensitive and/or feel nervous, and are thus more susceptible to negative emotions such as anger and irritation”, as stated in the book From Oblivious to Obsessed.

Customers may become more upset than usual if a particular service failure hits a ‘COVID-19 nerve’, such as a glaring hygiene lapse. While customers may be temporarily more patient with the lapses of an overwhelmed business, they will also promptly detract to another brand who is able to quickly adapt and meet their needs.

Conversely, a multiplier effect might also be seen when good is experienced during this time – think hero rescuing damsel in distress!

Brands who were already very customer oriented pre-COVID-19 have unsurprisingly been able to quickly adapt their services and products to address customers’ new jobs-to-be-done and emotional needs. These are also the brands who adapt with a genuine empathy and understanding of the customer.

What if you are working on the front-line of the COVID-19 fight at a hospital, and realize you are running low on an important medical supply? You exhaust all medical supply options, but find nothing. You hear about a genie-like hotline which could help with anything. Skeptical but with nothing to lose, you give the ‘genie’ a call. Magically, the ‘genie’ does his magic and gets you 300 units of what you needed.

Sounds too much like an Aladdin-fantasy? This a true story of Dr. Putrino and the Zappos Customer Service for Anything hotline. Why is Zappos (a shoe company) doing this? This is their answer: The world is changing a lot. It is for us too. But one thing we do know is we love helping people. Our fantastic customer service team is here to help you in anyway that we can, no purchase necessary.

As people started to reduce their visits to the gyms, whether by personal choice or due to government regulations, Class Pass, a membership-based fitness class booking app, proactively reached out to customers to offer membership pauses. Class Pass also continued to provide free membership-only video access though payment had been paused. This generated much goodwill with customers, who continued to speak positively about the brand.

In contrast, a premium enrichment education center was less proactive when it was mandated to close. The replacement online lessons were not perceived to be of a value commensurate with the high fees charged, and the small fee rebate provided. In an economic downturn time where people were beginning to be cautious of their spending, this struck a raw nerve. Due to insufficient effort demonstrated, the center suffered a social media backlash and saw students dropping out – several vowing never to return.

Almost every business is facing an unprecedented amount of challenges, with many struggling to even survive. It is an extremely gloomy time, and thinking about customer experience seems to be a luxury that few can afford. However, the customer might just be the light that every business needs to focus on right now, to bring it out of the dark tunnel.

Joan Yong
Joan Yong is a seasoned customer experience professional and co-author of the foundational customer experience book, “From Oblivious to Obsessed: Eight Obsessions Every Organisation Must Embrace To Build Customer Loyalty In Asia”. She has a demonstrated track record in management consulting, market research, and experience design across industries, including retail, F&B, financial, public sector, attractions, and travel. Her personal motto is to make the world a better place, one experience at a time.


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