Customer experience is vital to the success of any business, but when health and safety are involved, customer experience becomes more important than ever. From how we work to the way we interact with friends, family and businesses, COVID-19 has impacted nearly every facet of life.
One-quarter of American consumers surveyed said they have relied exclusively on delivery and curbside pickup except in the case of emergencies since the pandemic began, according to the just released COVID-19 & The Future of Commerce Report. With 77% of those consumers saying that in the future the amount of in-person interaction required with a business will factor into their decision to visit it, these changes may well last into the future even as social distancing requirements loosen.
For businesses that have relied on in-person experiences — retail stores, restaurants, hotels, automotive dealers, grocers, professional services and so many more — this presents a new challenge, but also an incredible opportunity. Interactions aren’t going away, but the forms they take are expanding as contactless communication and commerce become commonplace.
By truly listening to and engaging customers on their terms, businesses can reimagine the experiences they provide and build more meaningful and loyal relationships with customers.
Double Down on Real-Time Communication
While it may not be possible for all businesses to offer alternatives like curbside pickup, the reality is you don’t have to spin up an entirely new business model to meet the shifting needs of consumers. Any brand can meet these expectations by ensuring they have the proper communication strategy in place.
Even the most hands-on industries can leverage communication to alleviate consumer concerns. Take the hospitality industry for example: With text messaging, hotels can utilize a real-time and contactless channel to proactively communicate new safety standards, quickly respond to guest concerns and requests and create more frictionless experiences.
From pre-arrival messages to communicating new safety standards and procedures to providing a manageable channel for two-way communication across the new customer journey, messaging can play a crucial role in allowing businesses to ensure safety is prioritized every step of the way.
With an open rate of 98% and the vast majority of texts (82%) being read in the first five minutes, texting gives businesses a real-time communication channel that enables them to navigate the complexities of today’s environment.
Zingle’s research study shows that real-time communication will not only be pivotal in minimizing interaction once a customer is at a business, but it’ll be critical to getting them there in the first place. 79% of consumers say that going forward they will seek out information on the type of health and safety standards and processes businesses have in place before visiting them. With 82% of consumers saying it would increase their likelihood of visiting a physical location if a business were to proactively communicate those processes, there is a real opportunity for businesses to win back customers with clear and effective communication.
Provide Convenient and Contactless Options
Before the pandemic, visiting multiple businesses in person — whether it was a grocery store, restaurant, gym, pharmacy or salon — on a daily basis would not have been unusual. In fact, 78% of consumers say that pre COVID-19 they visited at least three businesses in the course of a week. Post COVID, only 34% are, at the time of the survey in late May.
Consumers haven’t stopped shopping or interacting with businesses, they’ve just changed the way they are doing it. 78% of surveyed consumers report that they are now using delivery or curbside pickup in some fashion, with 25% saying they are relying on delivery or curbside exclusively except in the case of emergencies. Almost three-quarters of Americans (73%) report that they are using curbside commerce at least one or two times a week.
With continuing concerns over the spread of the virus, customers want contactless options: 87% of consumers say businesses should continue to provide options like curbside pickup that reduce the need for in-person visits. Curbside options can also provide huge benefits for the business.
In the first quarter of its fiscal year ending in May, Target reported five million consumers shopped at Target.com for the first time, with two million picking up their orders curbside. Similarly, Walmart reported a 74% growth in ecommerce sales and four times more customers trying curbside pickup compared to recent periods pre-COVID 19.
Listen, Learn and Improve the Customer Experience
With continued uncertainty around the virus, it’s crucial businesses maintain an ongoing dialogue with their customers and continue to listen to and understand their needs. The customer journey has changed and by engaging customers on their terms, businesses can gather more direct feedback.
Take for example curbside pickup, where 55% of consumers say that their experience has been “fast and easy,” but 45% report their experience has been “a little rocky” or flat out “poor.” By asking customers for feedback with quick in-the-moment surveys, brands can let customers know they care and also gain crucial insights into where they may be falling short.
This data becomes even more powerful when combined with signals from customers who may not respond to surveys. With curbside pickup, consumers say businesses use a variety of channels to keep them informed. Most are communicating through mobile apps (34%), consumers said, followed by texting (28%), phone calls (20%) and email (18%).
By capturing signals across all these channels and throughout the customer journey, businesses can identify problems faster and discover new opportunities. Technology utilizing artificial intelligence can make sense of this data, helping predict behaviors before they happen and empowering businesses to influence experiences in the moment.Having options like curbside pickup that limit in-person interaction is important, but it’s not the only way to account for the evolving needs and concerns of today’s consumers. By utilizing digital — and contactless — forms of communication such as text messaging and an intuitive interface that allows you to capture customer signals, and respond to valuable insight in the moment, businesses can easily handle rapidly changing circumstances and provide fast, frictionless customer experiences