Companies are scrambling like mad trying to figure out what to do with their two most important assets – customers and employees – in the face of the twin health and economic crises brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. Internal and external operations, processes, policies, messaging and advertising, sales, distribution and delivery . . . virtually every aspect of every business is being scrutinized for ways to respond to the unique challenge, with an eye on addressing two key groups of questions:
1. How can we deliver the best customer experience under the circumstances and keep customer relationships intact, so that after the proverbial smoke clears and business goes back to normal (whatever the new normal may be) our customer relationships are as strong or (perhaps) stronger than before?
2. What do we need to do to keep staff motivated, engaged and working through this period so we have a high-functioning, committed team for the long term (including bringing back on-board those who were laid off or furloughed)?
In other words, how do companies maintain the Customer Experience/Relationship and Employee Experience/Engagement through a period of uncertainty and stress touching every aspect of their lives?
I/we (Confirmit) have heard from countless clients asking the same basic questions. They all want to know what other firms are doing and what should they do. Social media sites; industry organizations; discussion boards; CX and EX consultancies, webinars and publications all are, understandably, dominated by these issues.
One Common Denominator
There is no silver bullet, no magic potion. But if I may offer one piece of advice, it is this:
• in times of crisis, it is the human experience, not the customer or employee experience, that matters.
When it hits-the-fan, when there is no playbook or set of Best Practices, there is only one common denominator that can guide our judgement: the human experience. That is, this is the time when our common sense of humanity is the only guide we have, the only yardstick for measuring what we can and should do.
This may seem a bit golden-rulish and naïve, but the core suggestion I can offer is simple:
• treat your customers and employee team like a community of people living through a collective crisis in which we all share, where we all face a common peril and seek a common good.
I do not mean to be trite. Nor am I saying this to create a new field of inquiry of “the human experience” or to coyly coin “HX” as the newest “X” jargon in the experience lexicon. I am saying it because I feel it in my heart, because while science will “solve” the virus problem in the end and rational health and economic policies can bring us back from the brink, my brain knows that the emotional toll cannot be repaired so mechanically.
In effect, the human experience is inherently built on emotional connections. Sure there are critical physical and material components, but it is the emotional dimension that endures, that is remembered. (This is always the case, but it is especially poignant during times of crisis.)
In the rush to put up new ads that are relevant to the situation, for example, many companies are trying to connect at a higher level. While they all, obviously, have their own commercial interests, you can see and hear some reaching a cut above purely self-interested marketing for a sense of a shared human experience. Call me a wimp, but some of these ads bring tears to my eyes – the ad by Uber, which closes with the message “Thank you for not riding Uber” – comes to mind, as does Dove’s “Courage is Beautiful” ad showing the faces of first responders with the imprints from protective masks. Contrast these with offers of 0% financing or free home delivery of a new luxury car. Which strikes you as truly expressing empathy and which sounds like a frequently used sales offer to try to gen-up some business?
“The long-sought missing link between animals and the really humane being is ourselves!”
— Konrad Lorenz
Companies are in business – everyone gets that. But business-as-usual hidden behind a thin veil of self-centered concern isn’t going to cut it. Crisis brings out the best (and, unfortunately, some of worst) in people – and in companies. As you and your firm struggle to cope with what to do, remember that first and foremost your customers and employee are people trying to cope with a unique and sometimes catastrophic set of circumstances. They are scared, frustrated and unsure of what happens next and wonder, what will their tomorrow look like?
Don’t think of the challenge as navigating between the legitimate business interests of your firm and the concerns of customers and staff; rather, think of it as steering your common destiny. So as you think about, discuss, speculate and decide what you should do, make damn certain that you lead and follow through with empathy, engage with your customers and employees as people, focus on the emotional connection and measure everything you do against the litmus test of nurturing the human experience.