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COVID-19 Has Forever Changed the Customer Experience

The first days and weeks of the pandemic forced companies to initiate significant changes to their customer experience. Nearly a year later — with the risks of exposure still high in the U.S. — many of those changes have become habits. Because habits tend to stick, even with vaccine rollouts, many industries face a changed landscape for the future.

“The realization has hit all of us that this pandemic is not a two-week or a two-month disruption,” saidTim Calkins, a clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School. “It’s going to go on for a very long time.”


Take Stock of What Changes Are Likely to Stick



Take retail. Even before the pandemic, retail clothing brands were carving out direct-to-consumer niches on social media sites. This trend quickly accelerated when shoppers were abruptly stuck at home.

“即使你不买很多衣服,occasionally you still need a new pair of socks,” Calkins said. “With all of us forced online, it didn’t take long to realize that online shopping is easier in some respects. Which means we’re not going back. If you are a company that wants to build a brand in this space, your tools have now changed, and your opportunities have changed.”

Or take the hospitality industry. With people eager to get out of their homes, there are early stirrings of a recovery in vacation and resort travel. But business travel still has not budged.

“For business travel to really happen, you need two people available to meet, and right now nobody is available to meet,” Calkins said. “And there’s no indication that’s going to happen for a very long time.”

即使酒店在重新开放时,Calkins也会看到他们必须使他们的营销努力适应新的客户优先事项。对于商务酒店,此转变将包括新的安全性和清洁度。此外,此前可以享用盛大大厅的酒店与餐馆和共享工作区,或者托管大会,可能需要重新思考他们如何使用这些空间 - 至少在中期。


Embrace the Online Customer Experience

随着在线转移的大部分 - 而且它大部分地区都可能在可预见的未来留在网上 - 是时候确保在线客户体验与第一人体一样精心设计。

Before COVID-19, for instance, most grocery shoppers made purchasing decisions in the store, choosing products based on what they saw, touched and compared on the shelves. As a result, companies invested in shelf-placement plans, in-store promotions and point-of-sale merchandising to drive visibility and sales.

As the dust of a new, post-COVID reality settles, the organizations that experimented will have many more tools at their disposal.

“现在,很多人都是在线订购,” Calkins said. “So the whole decision process is different for customers.”

Delivery and curbside pickup have added new steps — and new people — into the customer experience. Stores now bustle with employees and contractors filling orders for customers. These buyers are more interested in speed and accuracy than bargains, so they aren’t influenced by on-shelf promotions.

“All the stand-in shoppers want is the products to be in stock, to be easy to identify, to be clear and simple,” Calkins said. “They’re motivated by very different things than consumers shopping for themselves.”

This means if grocery stores and other retailers want to steer customers toward certain products, they will need to incorporate promotions into other parts of the experience. Some grocery stores have begun adding free product samples to customers’ online orders, for instance.

And don’t forget the importance of the last mile. Reliable, quick and safe pickup or delivery is now squarely a part of the customer experience: Mess it up — or do it worse than your competitors — and your customers may start shopping elsewhere.

Recalibrate the In-Person Experience

There’s no doubt that the in-person customer experience has taken the biggest hit from COVID-19.


Some of this fun and excitement is just not possible right now — and that’s okay. According to Calkins, “care” should come first. This means taking physical steps to ensure the safety of customers and staff, as well as sending reassuring signals to customers that make them feel cared for.


Still, it can’t be all hand sanitizer and no swag — particularly for brands that have strong emotional appeal, and where customer service tends to be less transactional and more relational. These companies need to be particularly creative about brand-building.


Will customer-experience experiments stick around when COVID-19 is in our rearview window? Maybe not. But maybe it will.

首先,重要的是要记住,一个常量antly changing environment means constant opportunities to learn and adapt. Eventually, as the dust of a new, post-COVID reality settles, the organizations that experimented will have many more tools at their disposal.

“When constraints go away, or we are met with new constraints, all of a sudden we can try new things,” Calkins said. “This can lead to new ways to connect with customers, new product offerings, new opportunities and things that hadn’t been considered before.”

Education has long been viewed as a change-resistant industry: Teachers determine the information they want to teach, establish an approach to teaching that material and then deliver it to students in the classroom. The shift to remote learning has upended that. In the process, it has presented new possibilities for the ways teachers and students interact.

“Everyone’s been forced to do things they never planned to do,” Calkins said. “And what we’ve learned is that a lot of these new techniques let you do things that were never possible before: things that in so many ways are far superior to what we used to do. You look back and you wonder why some of these ideas had trouble taking off before?”

The advantages of platforms like Zoom for many teachers and students — from the time saved commuting to schools to the myriad ways of engaging with breakout rooms and discussion boards — can be transformative. But teachers are learning the limits of remote teaching as well: It’s tiring, and some tasks are more difficult. Calkins looks forward to a future when the education industry can take advantage of the best of both worlds, designing student experience with the optimal technologies for different types of engagement.

“从现在开始的教育世界的客户旅程将与三年前完全不同,”他说。“我们将看到这些新工具被用来不排除在 - 我认为任何人都不认为这是理想的 - 但与不同的方式以及将优化学习经历的方式。如果有没有那种膨胀的思维,那就是现在。“


Timothy Calkins

Clinical Professor of Marketing at Kellogg School of Management @TimothyCalkins

Timothy Calkins帮助人们和组织建立强大的品牌。Calkins是一个屡获殊荣的营销教授,作者,演讲者和顾问。他是西北大学凯洛格管理学院营销部的营销部门和营销临床教授的副主席。他也是Kellogg的共同学术主任品牌行政教育计划。

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