Published May 21, 2020
Customer Experience in a post-COVID world.
Chaired by Andy Brent, Moderator. The discussion brought together perspectives from; Meher Mumtaz, Head of Global Brand Operations for Western Union, Amit Sharma, Global Marketing Strategy Head & Lead for Americas & Europe Marketing for Tata Communications, Samantha Fay, SVP Global Brand Strategy at Guinness World Records and Simon Rider, Global Sales Enablement Director at JLL, working together to share their insights on ‘Customer Experience in a post-COVID world.’
This discussion talks a lot about the importance of emotional connection in our businesses and how we optimize that. In the context of the coronavirus pandemic and what that’s doing to our customers. Brent introduced the topic saying, “Academic work tells us that when these upheavals happen, it has fundamental changes about how people feel; about themselves, their lives, their families and the businesses they work with.” Brent continued, “The shifts that happen at this time are profound and lasting. For example, after the financial crisis of 2008, the way people felt about the ‘big banks’ changed forever. That bond of trust that had sustained them was broken and that opened the door for small challenges like Metro, Starling and First Direct.” Brent summarised, “So as emotions shift in this way, they have profound effects and as marketing professionals, we need to try to understand what those shifts are now and help businesses to adapt to them.”
“What are your views of the importance of emotional needs in their markets and how important those emotional connections are in the businesses they work in?”
“As a business it made us look outside of publishing.” Fay said. “At the end of the day, parents want their kids to read books and that emotional and physical drive made us look at our business.” Fay explained how this drive influenced Guinness World Records to make a shift to online in order to establish that emotional connection.
Mumtaz joined Fay agreeing that the impact of emotional importance was also very relevant to her customers at Western Union. Mumtaz went on to explain how money transfer is different from money banking. People are continually moving around and sending money back and forth and Western Union need to be there to serve customers who need to send money to another part of the world at this time, whether it’s to pay bills, gifting etc. A lot of emotional ground is covered to enable these transactions to continue during a pandemic. “This time has made us realise how important our service is to people and families, especially when they really can’t be there.” Mumtaz explained.
Brent asked, “A lot of those transfers were done physically in branches and now I assume, you are facilitating digital transfers?”
Mumtaz replied, “Yes and how we handle money is a very habitual thing, so cash pick-up is a method of how people get their money.” Western Union had to get organised very quickly and see where they could keep locations open to accommodate customer needs. Mumtaz added how the importance of communicating up to date information to customers was critical to making them aware of how they could send money or provide alternative methods for them to do so. Western Union has had to re-strategise tactics to grow their digital business at this time, to give customers options.
Brent continued, “When consumers see companies recognise them and their needs, these companies get big emotional rewards.” The panel agreed that being able to solve problems online is a way of building emotional bonds. Brent continued to ask,
“Is it not just about consumer emotions but your companies’ emotions too?”
Sharma said how they are united in shared conditions and emotions. “Emotion in business is the collective emotion of people running the business.” He went on the explain the 4 stages Tata Communications recognise of this emotional journey;
- Stage of continuity
- Preservation- to conserve resources
- Planning- for the new normal and sustainability
- Innovation-once you have accepted the change and recognise an opportunity.
Sharma continued to explain that businesses need to understand where on this journey your customers are. This enables companies to offer the right help and deliver the right values. Sharma agreed with the other panellists that, “We are not immune to emotions.” He continued to add that there is no framework. It’s all reaction to the unknown and intuitively based on signals, so we have to keep those 4 stages in mind.
Brent suggested how companies need to recognise how important emotion is, in sales and marketing communications specifically. He asked, “How do we adapt to the new world that we are going into?”
Rider explained that from a Sales point of view, post-coronavirus will be different. Businesses will need to learn how to build emotional connections in a virtual world. Rider went on to detail how Sales were initially able to adapt by using their base of previous contacts, but have now recognised that they need to learn how to create new bonds to move forward; “We need to create a new set of skills online, especially being better listeners.” Rider discussed the importance of preparation, particularly for video calls from both sides of the market. He described how buyers will need to be more forthcoming and will need to record video calls and how salespeople will need to adapt and prepare better. Calls can take a lot longer than their allocated time, so “Emotional intelligence will need to come into selling as well,” said Rider.
Brent related this to Zoom video calls and asked, “When trying to establish new relationships, how do we substitute soft relationship-building virtually?”
Rider defined this as, “Planning really well.” He went on to discuss the need to research the prospect, ask a few questions and focus on the background of their video call as an opportunity to open them up. He emphasised the importance of responding and following up from the Zoom call with the prospect straight away.
Mumtaz described how all brands are thinking about how to reposition their brand. They are asking themselves what they have done to help people at this time. She added that “Companies have got to be cautious that you don’t make another generic Coronavirus campaign.” Mumtaz agreed with Sharma that companies need to think, “What do we need to do now? How do you communicate as a brand at this time?” For Western Union, she illustrated how they had to consider their tone. From their company perspective, people are looking to them for reassurance so they need to consider what promotions they need to do and how to deliver this with warmth.
Brent echoed the dangers of using the ‘COVID –Ad’. He explained how there is an opportunity for brands but this style may not work, so brands need to keep that in mind and aim to stay flexible.
Fay described the relevance of moving from celebration to recognition; “Being relevant at the right time and having the right message.” She discussed how companies need to find that relevance. In terms of employee engagement, she agreed with Rider’s thoughts and asked, “How do you engage in the new-norm?” Fay went on to discuss the importance of trust. “In terms of record-breaking, a title can add trust in a world that seems very unstable right now.”
Brent agreed with Fay, that Records are about celebrating human endeavour and that’s a relevant emotion with the NHS and Captain Tom Moore, for example, creating an entirely authentic connection. Brent asked,
“How do we assess and measure emotions?”
“We stay connected with consumers,” said Mumtaz. She explained that with B2B clients, consumers, SME’s.” At Western Union, “We have a panel where they do a bolt survey, which helps us shape what to prioritise.” Mumtaz added. She related this to an example of a media insight that they did with consumers on Instagram and she stressed the importance of getting an intuitive sense of what’s happening and using insights in commercial programmes.
Brent agreed that raising consumer awareness is important and asked Rider; “What do you do in a sales world?”
Rider explained how JLL had offices in Wuhan so they understood the effects of the pandemic from the Asia PAC early on. They then took the lead when Coronavirus broke into Europe. He acknowledged the immediate desire and level of need for their products so they were able to be very connected. However, Rider emphasised his worry for staff and building confidence in the workplace again. He explains how the insight has offered, “an interesting outreach and level of forecasting and how it’s affected people going into that.” Brent agreed that we need to create the time for those safer discussions. “Not enough businesses are using tools to measure in a quantitative way how emotions are shifting.” He concluded, “From our research we’ve noticed trends in emotions, for example, keep me safe. And after COVID, there’s a desire for joy. So businesses that can bring that will succeed.”
“Fay, what initiatives are you running?” Brent asked.
On the B2B side it’s exciting and she explained that the “editorial team launched a Podcast and Guinness World Records at Home Initiative.” She said how this enables them to not only engage with the curriculum but with what’s in and around the house. So virtual versions of adjudicators are one way that they are adding joy to the client and creating headlines. Rider agreed that brands are going above and beyond. He said, “Brands who are not, will be remembered.” He explained how these brands can do well or make big mistakes. Sharma concluded, “I agree, brands need to be genuine and do what they can.” He said that from a communications perspective, telecom brands are letting people know that they are not alone. Sports and brand ambassadors are helping them to engage with customers. It’s that realisation, he added, that we can share, contribute and have fun.
“What would your one piece of advice be for coming through this period?”
Fay said, “Don’t under estimate the power of shared experience.” It’s at the heart of everything. Mumtaz agreed and added, “Agility and flexibility.” She explained how Western Union have worked with government bodies to fast track processes. She summarised, “There was a need and we made it happen.” Brent summarised, “Absolutely, to stay flexible, to stay agile and to make it happen.”
Sharma said, “To move from customer paradigm to community paradigm.” He explained that he believes it is time to realise and communicate our shared vulnerabilities. “They are immensely invaluable experiences and that’s what will create a lasting bond for businesses to be remembered in the right way.” Sharma said.
Rider added, “For all businesses, it’s to build confidence that customers can rely on us.” All panellists were in agreement with this need to adapt, collaborate, listen hard to people’s needs and build confidence to enable businesses to move forward.
Brent thanked the panellists for their contributions and closed the discussion with two final questions.
“Mumtaz, are you expecting to revisit tone of voice to reflect the changes and mood that we’re seeing? What are your plans in that area?”
“I don’t think we will ever go back to what we were before. It would be naive to say that there isn’t a new normal.” She described how Western Union has grown as a brand during this time and that they would review before moving on to another major production. Brent brought the panel back to the original point on agility.
Brent’s final question to the panel was, “What should marketing organisations not do, so as to avoid dissonance with customers?”
Fay said, “I wouldn’t be starting to introduce lots of new practices for a start.” She explained that it’s about providing that reassurance and staying trustworthy. Being there for the customer when they need you and bringing it back to marketing basics. Matching the right products to the right need is crucial.
Sharma agreed and added, “Exact opposite of what we’ve all experienced. Don’t be opportunistic.” He added that there was no leverage for anybody in this. Mumtaz agreed and added to this point that, “Brands shouldn’t shift too much from their core purpose.”
It was clear that all speakers felt a strong need for the customer to be heard. Businesses were acting on this notion, sensitively, moving forward. One point from this discussion was very clear; from an authenticity point of view, all panellists concluded that knowing what the brand purpose is and the long term view of the brand, is essential for success as we move through these unprecedented times.