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CX Comeback Strategies For 2021

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

2020 was a rough year for most everyone, and I want to lead off by thanking all of you who stood on the front lines to keep the world moving. I am grateful to healthcare workers, front line retail employees, restaurant teams, and delivery services.

People found their health affected, careers gone, and businesses closed - through no fault of their own. We all know those who have been challenged in unimaginable ways and who are charting new courses.




But let's start by digging in on what is relevant and actionable. If I read one more article that declares with a near "eureka" moment that "customer experience will matter more than ever," I'm taking my New Normal and going home.

Of course customer experience is going to matter more than ever. And guess what, if you read last year's articles about CX, you'll find that it mattered more than ever before in 2018 and 2019, too.

But what does that mean? Strategies are nothing without the context to execute them on a daily basis, so let's talk about what will matter to customers when you are actively engaging with them - either in person or virtually.

The challenge is to remain agile and open to change, while keeping the best parts of your customer experience rolling along. This will mean prioritizing adaptability and problem solving in both leaders and front line team members. This will become the skill that most sets apart those who are successful and those who flounder.

As I write this, I'm reminded of my high school English teacher, Mrs. Jackson who challenged me to take philosophy in college because "it will teach you to think, Tony."

Couple adaptability with resilience, and you'll be poised to move quickly as the marketplace evolves.

Health and Safety Measures Must Be In Place, Front and Center, and Have Customer Facing Visibility

What defines comfort for your customers (and your team)? What will it take to make your customers feel confident that you are doing all you can to make sure they are safe and protected?

I was watching the news reports of the first U.S. commercial flight of the 737 Max since it was grounded, and the American Airlines pilot had the right idea. Knowing that everyone on board was likely a bit worried, he came on the intercom and said "I have the utmost confidence in the safety of this aircraft. As a matter of fact, my wife is onboard."

That seemed to make everyone on the Miami to New York flight much more comfortable and was a nice piece of service from the pilot.

How will you do the same for your customers, guests, and consumers? It will likely be a combination of communication, action, and PR. You will not only need to have processes in place, but you'll need to demonstrate them in real time. Your cleaning and safety cannot be "behind the scenes" operations any more - people want to see what you are doing.

A great example of this is likely at your local grocery store - here in the Orlando area, Publix is actively sanitizing carts in the front of the store for all to see. They could easily do this in the back areas of the store, but it inspires confidence when shoppers can see that process live.

Be Intentional About How You Bring Your Teams Back To Work

There is no doubt that the face of work is changed forever. There is no putting the ketchup back in the bottle and we must all embrace the fact that remote work, well, works. There are some careers that have been too-long tethered to a location - and that presents economic freedom for organizations and logistical freedom for employees. But let's talk about what that means in reality. I've been on all sides of this equation. I have been a remote worker when I was a full time CXO and I have also led remote, dispersed teams.

Remote employees love the freedom, but they get lonely and bored. Leaders love the financial relief of not having to fund a physical workplace, but worry that team members aren't putting in enough productive hours. And yes, we have all read the studies but I promise you there are still a large percentage of executives that question how work-from-home employees fill their days.

Before anything else, if you plan to welcome your teams back to a workplace, then you have to begin by making them feel safe. This also goes for businesses that are opening/reopening in fields that really can't be remote, such as retail and restaurants. You have to be sure that they understand what safety precautions are being taken and why they matter. You also should understand that no matter what you do there will be trepidation, so be understanding and empathetic.

When you do reopen your locations, take advantage of the things that were most neglected during work from home. My teams always seemed to miss the casual interactions that spurred on creativity and collaboration. Spoiler alert: those were never the planned meetings, but rather those "run-into-you-in-the-hallway-moments" that so often move projects along.

On the other side of the coin, if you are staying remote you must solve the problem of connection. Zoom meetings are a nice stand in, but you have to account for the casual connection conundrum if you are to sustain remote work and creativity. You may consider the blended model, where team members split time between remote and on site work, and that may help balance your equation.

Customers Demand To Be More Than Transactions

Guests and customers have embraced personalization and a "just-for-me" feel when it comes to service. Customers were already demanding service that made them feel like individuals and the pandemic has driven this home even further. Customers expect a bit more patience, latitude, and empathy as they engage with brands and businesses.

This will be relevant in all service channels - so be sure that your call centers and virtual chat teams are engaging in these behaviors as well.

Customers want to be understood and to do that you have to take time to analyze their needs, wins, and journeys. This will require looking at their experience from their point of view and also ensuring that many voices are heard when it comes to compiling their experiences.

You can't get a true flavor of what it means to be a customer in your business without talking to both your customer base and those who serve them directly. The impactful part about engaging these two stakeholders is that you can also follow up with potential solutions to any friction points you uncover.

The Forgiveness Curve Has Flattened

When the pandemic hit, there was a general sense of patience from customers early on as call centers were overwhelmed and organizations began to embrace work from home. Restaurants were given a pass for slimmed down menus and longer waits due to fewer tables. That has evaporated. Customers won't care at all that you have a remote work force - they will want a call center experience that is is smooth and connected to solving their problems.

I remember when restaurants and amusement parks started to reopen after the initial pandemic closures. At first, my family was just happy to get out and enjoy a meal that wasn't out of a plastic take out carton.