The heightened expectation for a safe + clean experience has left brands across industries questioning: Do customers still want in-person assistance?
Recent SMG research confirms: Yes, they do—but with one major factor. Assistance must be delivered in the safest way possible. And while that’s not a big surprise in today’s climate, that doesn’t mean it’s always the easiest thing to execute.
To help you better understand what employees can do to provide the safe service consumers expect, we’ve identified 3 components of the customer experience your brand should prioritize today. Let’s take a look:
1. Ensure employees are a model of health + safety—at all times
Every employee of your organization is a representation of the brand—and today’s customers are watching their every move. One slip—from pulling down a mask for a quick chat with a fellow coworker to not wiping down a frequently touched surface—will have a lasting impact on the customer’s trust of the brand.
The stakes are high and it’s up to your staff to maintain superior levels of service to win + maintain customer loyalty. SMG research shows customers are more satisfied, more likely to return, and spend more when they receive assistance from an employee. And that research holds true in today’s COVID environment. On top of that, results show when customers interact with an associate, they actually feel even safer and more comfortable than they would without any staff interaction.
When customers see employees following safety procedures (i.e., properly wearing masks, wiping down surfaces, maintaining a 6-foot distance), it establishes a sense of trust and encourages interaction. Winning brands are continuously reinforcing the importance of safety guidelines with their employees by holding regular training sessions, clearly communicating updated protocols, and frequently giving constructive and positive feedback.
2. Provide a consistent experience across locations by holding customers accountable
It’s likely happened to every brand at every location in every state across the country—a customer comes in who isn’t interested in following the rules. This is when the old adage, “The customer is always right,” isn’t always right. Appeasing that one customer, who doesn’t want to wear a mask or ignores the mapped flow of the store, doesn’t just potentially endanger other customers’ and employees’ health—it sends a message of inconsistency that chips away at brand trust.
Our latest research on grocery trends reveals consumers are more concerned about getting the coronavirus from other customers during their in-store visit. Respondents also felt most at-risk in the aisles and checkout lines, where it can be harder to maintain social distancing.
A deeper dive into our text analytics solution also revealed that when customers are mentioning concerns with masks being worn inappropriately, they are usually talking about other customers—not employees. As we covered in the previous section, this doesn’t mean it’s not important for your employees to use masks properly—but it does mean there are more inconsistencies with customers’ mask usage.
This is especially true for brands dealing with COVID-related guidelines that vary from state to state. But providing a consistent brand experience is a key component of customer loyalty. Research shows when customers don’t feel safe during their visit, they are significantly less likely to return to that location again.
Be sure to roll out system-wide protocols so customers know what to expect—no matter which location they go to—and have a safe + consistent experience with every visit.
3. Remain agile + adjust to new safety challenges along the customer journey
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we’re living in a constant state of flux. And with seasons changing and colder weather setting in for many parts of the country, most industries are going to have to embrace agility and adjust operations this winter.
Restaurants that have been relying on patio business will need to figure out how to provide a safe + contactless experience inside. Retailers will have to accommodate increased traffic from holiday shoppers. The onset of cold + flu season will create a bigger need for telehealth services, forcing healthcare providers to lean in on their digital offerings. And c-stores will require extra preparation as more holiday travelers opt for road trips instead of flying this year.
These new challenges present an opportunity for brands to show their adeptness and resilience. By proactively communicating updated protocols across digital platforms and implementing consistent operational guidelines across locations, brands will prove they are prioritizing health and safety by making the proper adjustments to protect customers and employees.
You don’t have to navigate these changes alone
Keeping up with the continuous evolution of the pandemic and its impact on your business can be an overwhelming process. But it doesn’t have to be. With the right resources, tools, and experience management (XM) partner, brands can be better equipped to adjust their operational strategies with precision and stay ahead of evolving consumer trends and expectations.
SMG’s playbooks provide industry-specific guidance through the phases of COVID-19—helping you track your brand’s progress as you optimize your XM program and prioritize the needs of your employees and customers. Learn more and download your complimentary Interactive XM Playbook here.
Josie Gaeckle | VP, Client Insights