By Marcela Lay, November 17, 2020

There is no question that customers' expectations have changed and will continue to change during and after the pandemic. It used to be that the customer experience was the only way to differentiate your brand; now the challenge is not just about standing out, but reacting quickly to the changing customer expectations, innovating and transforming the business.

One thing is for sure; the COVID-19 crisis has accentuated a world in which digital has become central to every interaction.  Consumer and business digital adoption has leaped five years forward in only a few months. The data tells a compelling story:

  • 78% of consumers have tried a new shopping behavior
  • More than half of consumers cite convenience and value as a driver for trying new places to shop
  • Food and household categories have seen an average of over 30 percent growth in online customer base across countries
  • The flight to digital and omnichannel will be prevalent during the holiday season, with 30 to 60 percent of consumers across countries reporting an intent to shift online for holiday shopping.
  • Most digital and contactless services have seen increased adoption since April, with more than half of new and increased users reporting an intent to continue post-COVID-19.

(Source: McKinsey)

What is the state of business eight months into the pandemic? 

  • Many organizations like in the case of Canlis (an upscale Seattle restaurant that redesigned its business model with three pop-up concepts: a drive-through burger joint, a bagel shop, and a “family meal" delivery service) had to improvise and experiment with responding to the new customers' expectations, and many organizations are learning and progressing quicker than ever before. 
  • By now, many organizations have digitized at least some parts of their business to reduce mobility limitations due to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Organizations had to listen carefully to internal customers (employees and associates) and external customers (paying customers and vendors) observing, caring, and connecting based on how their behaviors are changing. 
  • And organizations, like in the case of Airbnb, who are demonstrating care toward employees will be rewarded as customers take notice. 

If there is a silver lining during this pandemic, it's the fast transformation many organizations have been forced into becoming customer-first. By now, companies had to focus on a fundamental element of customer-centricity: empathy. This demand for empathy has propelled a need for a deeper customer understanding that will lead to competitive differentiation. 

  1. In-depth customer understanding fuels innovative thinking.
  2. Innovative thinking that is quickly prototyped and tested, validates powerful and unique solutions that can be swiftly deployed to add value to customers.
  3. Adding value to customers through compelling and unique solutions drive competitive differentiation.

What is important now is to keep the momentum on this much-needed transformation. The way organizations have been conducting business is no longer sustainable for a multitude of industries. Reacting quickly to changing customer expectations, innovating and transforming the business will be the key to survival and competitive differentiation. 

Then, how can organizations continue to respond to customer expectations during the pandemic and map a path forward post COVID-19?


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  1. Build hypotheses for what's to stay, and turn those into future-state scenarios, including future-state personas and potentially new customer journeys.  
    1. Examine the current customer journeys and your customers' satisfaction to address what they still need you to alleviate.
    2. Gather new Customer Needs, Wants, Pain Points, and TrustPoints to understand what customers will value post-crisis and develop new use cases and tailored experiences based on those insights.
    3. Identify and prioritize new sources of revenue.
    4. Audit your omnichannel experience to ensure you meet customers where they are today and where they need you to be tomorrow.

  1. Pivot to new business models that responds to the new normal. For instance, Starbucks, a brand known to be the main representation of the United States' second wave of a coffee culture centered on its coffeehouse experience, is closing 400 stores and expanding its takeout options. 
    1. Rethinking the organization, move from silos to networks, and teamwork with clear goals, focused teams, and rapid decision making.
    2. Consider non-traditional collaborations with partners up and down the supply chain.
    3. Inspire the team to consider new sources of value and capitalize on the adrenaline for innovation resulting from the crisis.
    4. Trim down offerings that are no longer viable.
  1. Prioritize, standardize, and scale digital-led experiences to support your customer who is now acclimated to self-service models.  
    1. Prioritize the redesign of Moments of Truth(Trustpoints) experiences and surprise your customer with anticipatory and empathetic experiences.
    2. Standardize and scale digital solutions across core business processes through learnings sharing.
  1. Accelerate time to market for new customer experiences by designing, prototyping, testing, and iterating rapid solutions.
    1. Deliver timely solutions that respond to the new reality will increase customer loyalty and advocacy.
    2. Release innovations in their “MVE” minimum viable experience state.
    3. Drive fast decision making by Advocating for action over research and testing over-analysis.
    4. Put in place a new operating model built around the customer and supported by the right processes and governance.
  1. Track customer-centric KPIs to determine success and to uncover any additional areas of prioritization. Companies cannot meet their business objectives unless they are connecting with their customers.
    1. Balance out business-centric KPIs with customer-centric KPIs.
      1. Customer Effort Score (CES)
      2. Customer Lifetime Value (CLV)
      3. Customer Retention Rate & Customer Churn Rate
      4. Up-Sell and Cross-Sell Rate
      5. Average Order Value (AOV) & Average Revenue per Customer (ARPC)
    2. Continue to track Customer service KPIs
      1. First Response Time (FRT)
      2. First Contact Resolution (FCR) Rate
      3. Resolution Time (RT) 

Customer experience has taken on a new dimension during the pandemic. As we begin to rebuild, organizations that innovate during this crisis by staying connected to customers and building hypotheses on what is to stay will strengthen their brand-customer relationships in a way that will endure well beyond the pandemic.


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About the Author: Marcela Lay

Marcela has spent her 15+ year career pushing change and redefining the status quo. As a minority woman, a woman in tech, and a woman in senior leadership, Marcela has broken gender, ethnic, and managerial glass ceilings, not only for herself, but as a true ally and power agent for everyone she has the privilege to lead. She’s also led new business wins on Omaha Steaks International, Fresenius Medical Care, a major US healthcare provider, and guided the digital transformation on legacy Fortune 500 clients including State Farm and The Home Depot. This year, Marcela was recognized among Campaign's prestigious "40 over 40" winners.