Customer Experience Lessons from 2020: Experts Chime In

by Jeannie Walters

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We’re headed into the final weeks of one of the strangest years:

  • A global pandemic shifted how we worked, socialized, interacted and communicated.
  • Our needs changed to reflect these new realities.
  • Parents juggled working from home with supporting their children’s education.
  • Families dealt with loss and illness.
  • And leaders had to navigate all these changes as they happened, in very real-time ways.

There were real struggles and challenges for businesses and their customers, too.

Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention. These new and changing needs have driven organizations to invent new ways to create, communicate, and deliver on those expectations. While it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses, better outcomes have emerged, and many brands have been able to adapt and innovate at a pace previously unachieved. We’ve seen many cases in which those multi-year strategies to achieve digital transformations were whittled down to weeks to help customers.

Customer experience leaders had to adapt to this changing world, too. They’ve had to:

  • Determine how to gather feedback from customers and employees in new ways, and how to respond to it accordingly.
  • Convince other leaders that caring about the customer experience was still not only a worthwhile pursuit but an absolutely necessary one.
  • Help their organizations not only survive but continue to thrive.

And of course, we have to continue to look to the future.

Customer behavior is changed. In the future, customers will continue to make decisions based on factors like health and safety standards and processes, the amount of in-person interaction required, and how long they’ll need to wait in line.

And the new conveniences like curbside pickup and contactless delivery are not just a temporary fix: 87% of consumers say businesses should continue to offer these options, according to  the MedalliaZingle Special Report, COVID-19 & The Future of Commerce. 

Customer experience leaders and all leaders took lessons from these extraordinary times. I asked a few customer experience leaders to share their lessons on what 2020 can teach us. From their unique perspectives, three themes emerged: Coalition, Resilience, and Collaboration.

CX Lessons from 2020: Coalition, Resilience, & Collaboration

 

Coalition:

All the CX expertise and best practices won’t help you be successful with driving material change for your people and customers if you aren’t able to build a coalition of willing and engaged senior leaders across your company to be your partners.

I’ve seen incredible designs, hard work, and actionable insights fail to gain traction time and again due to that lack of key stakeholder engagement and drive.

– Tabitha Dunn
Chief Customer Officer at Ericsson CXPA Board Member

I’ve had the privilege of watching Tabitha in action and partnering on CX initiatives with her in the past. One of her superpowers is building consensus and understanding across the organization.

Tabitha is right when she says wonderful ideas fail because of a lack of stakeholder engagement. Investing in what I only-halfway-jokingly call CX diplomacy is a key part to gaining success.

2020 certainly provided plenty of opportunities for cross-functional support. Those new delivery methods and updated customer journeys required leaders throughout any business to work closely and quickly to solve problems.

This lesson is important at any time, but as we move forward with more change and unknowns, building a coalition of support is just about as critical as it can be. How are you building “a coalition of willing and engaged senior leaders” as Tabitha says? Now’s the time to start building that.

Related Article: The Four C’s of CX Culture: How Well is Your Organization Doing?

Resilience:

For me, 2020 was the year of resilience for our CX program.  While CX strategy typically remains unchanged, tactics must evolve to keep the program relevant to customer expectations and organizational goals.  

This year’s unpredictable and unrelenting changes challenged us in every area of the program including customer feedback quantity and quality, priority of change initiatives and, of course, keeping up with changing customer expectations.

We learned the importance of a strong CX strategy and team but, also, the criticality of extra effort to understand changing customer needs during difficult times.

– Nancy Porte
VP, Global Customer Experience, Verint

Nancy highlighted a lesson in a way that often gets overlooked: It’s one thing to talk about resilience as an idea. But what does it really take to achieve in practice? It takes constant adaptation to gather the right feedback in the right way at the right moment. Then it takes “extra effort to understand changing customer needs.”

The extra effort is necessary. How can we understand our customers better? What effort do we need to take to ensure we’re listening to what they need with empathy and understanding? These are great questions to ask you and your team.

(As an aside, Nancy is one of the hardest-working people I know! Having a CX leader who does more than talk the talk is a key part of asking the team to put in the extra effort, too. Nancy, like most great leaders, leads by example.)

Collaboration:

2020 has taken VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity) to heart. COVID and the uncertainty it’s generated has amplified the need for us to anticipate what our customers need, and to communicate clearly about what we’re doing for them.

This year has been an opportunity to collaborate more closely with customers about what really matters to them.  And when things go sideways, prompt accountability, humility and clarity on the plan to rectify the situation go a long way to retain or re-establish confidence.

You’ve done it right when customers remember better what you did to rectify the situation than the error itself.

– Heather Mitchell
Lead, PSP Strategy and Operations, Novartis

Heather points out how it’s not enough to anticipate what customers need. Businesses need to “communicate clearly what we’re doing for them.”

Collaborating with customers, as Heather also mentions, is a great way to both gather feedback and find out the best ways to communicate with them. Communicating to customers, both during the typical journey as well as when “things go sideways” can’t be an afterthought. How, what, when and why we’re communicating with customers needs to be woven into the customer experience strategy and tracked as carefully as the rest of the journey.

(Another aside: Heather often shares great insights as part of the Experience Investigators community during our weekly webinars on LinkedIn Live and YouTube…learn more and join us here!)

What has 2020 taught you?

My thanks to these wise CX leaders who were willing to share their lessons with me.  If your customer experience team needs three words for the year, these three themes seem perfect for the moment. Coalition, Resilience and Collaboration are strong reminders of what’s most important in any customer experience strategy.

Understanding what we learned in this tumultuous year can help us move into 2021 with a bit more confidence. I’m curious to hear from you: What lessons will you be taking away from this remarkable year? What words will be guiding your organization as you continue to adjust and thrive? Tweet me and let me know.

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Jeannie Walters

Jeannie Walters is the CEO/Founder of Experience Investigators, a global Customer Experience consulting firm. She has 20 years of experience helping companies improve loyalty and retention, employee engagement, and overall customer experience. Jeannie is a Certified Customer Experience Professional (CCXP,) a charter member of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (CXPA,) a Professional Member of the National Speakers Association, LinkedIn Learning instructor, TEDx speaker, and President-Elect of the National Speakers Association Illinois chapter. Learn more here.

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