Short term: Monitor budgets
In difficult times, many companies are looking for short-term measures to protect their position. Often these actions are for their own benefit, but unfortunately also at the expense of the customer. A clear example of this is an increase in the price of a product or service. In some industries, this is not a matter of choice at all, but a matter of survival.
But how do you approach that from a customer experience standpoint? In my opinion, there are 3 important points to consider:
- be transparent† Tell your clients the true story of your situation. Be completely open and honest about why you should raise prices.
- Be proactive and honest† Never surprise people with a price increase, but warn them beforehand and again, be very open in your communication about the reasons for this.
- Tell your team well about the story† This is often overlooked, but people in the store will receive a lot of complaints and questions about the price increase. You have to make sure that they don’t give vague answers that don’t benefit the customer, such as “It’s something the boss decided.” So inform your team well about the story, so they can share that story with the same conviction as everyone else in the organization. This type of communication in the workplace, from employee to client, can make a huge difference in the way difficult news is perceived.
There is also always the option to opt not to raise prices, while your competitors do. In this case, it is essential to communicate well about this as well. A good example of this is Club Brugge, which I (as many of you know) are a big fan: they recently announced in a very official and visual way that they are lowering their annual subscription prices. will not increase. I think this is a very smart strategy.
Another common way to deal with inflation in the short term is to cut back on spending, and unfortunately this happens first in customer service. In theory, this is fine, of course, sometimes companies have no other choice. But if you do, make sure you do it smart: by creating “Moments” or by offering self-serve.
In a recent CX update, I talked about Dan and Chip Heath’s book, “The Power of Moments.” The idea of the book is simple but very effective. If you measure every single interaction of a company with a customer, most organizations will probably get an average score of about 6.5 out of 10. This is perfectly normal, because there are bound to be highs and lows in interaction. But if companies can make sure that some of those interactions rise above it and are really cool, amazing, and positive, the overall perception could rise to an average of 9 or even 9.5.
In my opinion, this is the ideal strategy for lowering the cost of customer experience: If you are going to reduce customer service costs, it is important to think carefully about where you can positively surprise customers as a counterpart. If you choose those moments well, you can actually improve your reputation, and thus reduce your costs elsewhere more easily.
Provide self service
Another interesting way to improve customer experience while saving costs is to improve your self-service capabilities. Make sure that people can easily solve their problems on their own. A good example is the e-commerce company Coolblue. They keep track of the questions asked in their call center and then make short and simple explainer videos about the questions that are asked more often. They create thousands of videos, explaining new things every week, and they already have about 130 million views.
In these videos, they answer relatively simple questions, such as: “Is it better to choose product A or product B?” or “How do I install this TV?”. And if a customer buys a product that already has a video available, they’ll automatically share it. This is a very good example of a self-service channel that completely helps customers while reducing the number of calls that come to customer service.
Long term: watching emotions
But what about the long term? How do you handle the long-term customer experience in a world of high inflation? One important question for me here: Are you as a company ready to give up something in the short term in order to gain trust in the long term? Are you willing to put up with some pain on your own in order to keep the relationship with the client strong?
The “An Offer You Can’t Decline” template from my last book might be a good starting point for this. If you don’t know it yet, I’ll sum it up briefly: the absolute minimum requirement of the current market is that you must offer a good product, good service, and a good price.And the That you have to offer great digital convenience. Good product and service plus digital convenience create a strong transaction relationship. But that’s only half the story, the bottom half. At the top of the paradigm, being a “life partner”, which means having a deeper relationship with the client, and adding value to the community, creates a more emotional connection.
The two primary factors, robust offerings and digital convenience, are what helped us through COVID in a transactional way. The first two, life partner and save the world, should lead us through these times of high inflation. If you succeed in providing more value to the customer and the community, you will be able to develop a more lasting emotional relationship. So, as a “life partner”, help people make a positive change in their lives and show the world that you really care. This way people stay loyal to your brand, even in these tough times.
Imagine you have a restaurant. Facilitating booking for people leads to the development of an effective transaction relationship. But people may not be able to go to a restaurant now or even for a long period of time. So why not make it easier for them to come to you anyway? There are many possibilities. You can think of a way that you can get home delivery in a cheaper way. Or sell ingredients and make a video tutorial for preparing specific dishes you serve in your restaurant. Why don’t you donate your leftovers to those in need? Things like this can make a difference to your brand today. It is the stories that will stand out.
If you are in the real estate business and you are very effective in selling homes, this is purely transactional. But you can also really help people. For example, you can do everything in your power to help people budget for housing. Or as a landlord for people who can’t rent, install a system to help them bridge that short amount of time. Energy prices have gone up, food prices have gone up, so lowering rent for a few weeks or a few months can help some people tremendously.
So this to me is the absolute essence of customer experience in tough times: you have to be willing to hurt yourself in the short term in order to build trust in the long term. In my opinion, doing this is really necessary. why? You should always realize that as a company you are not the only one looking for cost savings. Your customers are now in cost saving mode, too. And so your biggest challenge in the coming months and maybe years is to make yourself so likable and indispensable that they don’t eat up their budget.