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A post-pandemic recipe for developing customer experience

Covid-19 has led to many people reassessing their priorities so customer experience needs to adapt to meet new expectations

The Covid-19 pandemic forced people to reassess their priorities and what they value most in their lives. While there is a slow recovery to the pre-pandemic norm, there is also a growing sense that there are a number of things that people experienced during 2020 and 2021 that they hope to continue once the health crisis has passed.

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping, organisations such as banks and doctors’ surgeries have introduced video consultations, and the hospitality sector, hit hard by prolonged national lockdowns, has been forced to adapt.

At activity centre Twinwoods Adventure, for instance, table service app TheFork is used for both the children’s soft play area and the bar and grill, says Twinwoods Adventure managing director Roy Castleman. He says the technology enables both smoother restaurant management and greater customer satisfaction, and is ushering in a new, safer era of pub table service in the UK, similar to other parts of the world.  

In July, Accenture published a video on YouTube to tie in with global research it had conducted on how people’s attitudes have changed during the pandemic. Based on a survey of 25,000 consumers, Accenture found that just 17% of participants, which it classified as “traditional consumers”, said they were unchanged by the pandemic. One-third, classifed as “evolving consumers” were unsure or were changing their mindset. But 50%, classified by Accenture as “reimagined consumers”, said the pandemic had caused them to rethink their motivations.

While the video may only represent a snapshot, “more sincere”, “closer bonds”, “family”, “outdoors” and “nature” were among the phrases spoken by people who were interviewed. When the economy was put on hold and shops and workplaces were shut down, consumers adapted, developed new routines to cope with the pandemic and rediscovered things that had previously been relegated or dismissed entirely because of the priorities of busy pre-pandemic lifestyles.

The findings of the survey, published in Accenture’s Life reimagined report, show that 72% of people who have reimagined their motivations expect the companies they do business with to understand and address how their needs and objectives change during times of disruption.

The authors of the report note that although price and quality have long been – and remain – the dominant motivations in consumers’ choice rationale, they have lessened in influence among “reimagined consumers”.

“Among the reimagined,” they write, “66% said they now expect brands to take more responsibility in motivating them to live by their values and to make them feel more relevant in the world, versus 16% of traditional consumers.”

The Accenture study concludes that customers are more open than ever to embracing new experiences and forming new habits. This means every organisation should be looking to reassess existing business processes to ensure they are aligned with post-pandemic consumer expectations.

Accenture recommends that businesses restructure to create experiences that capture consumers’ evolving demands across all aspects of operations. In the report, it urges business leaders to engage marketing, sales, innovation, research and development, and customer service.

“Everyone who is expected to deliver on these experiences must see and understand these new motivations,” the authors write.

The report also suggests that organisations emerging from the pandemic may need to evolve or develop new business models with better pricing, different distribution channels or new revenue streams. According to the authors, this will allow them to continuously improve experiences and give customers exactly what they want without sacrificing profitable growth. 

Understanding the full customer journey

Putting the pandemic to one side, in February 2021, McKinsey published an article exploring the nature of customer experience (CX), specifically focusing on the shortcomings of traditional measurement techniques. While a survey can help organisations to gather customer insights, McKinsey notes that these are historical in nature, reflecting a customer’s previous experience.

For organisations to lead from a customer-centric position, McKinsey urges customer experience professionals to develop a more comprehensive view of the full customer journey, combined with a deep, granular insight into what is driving customer experience.

McKinsey says companies have access to internal data on customer interactions, transactions and profiles. Third-party datasets cover customer attitudes, purchase behaviours and preferences, and social media activity. It adds that internet of things (IoT) sensors provide additional data sources for customer health, sentiment and location, such as when the customer is in-store.

These various data sources, including financial and operational data, form the foundation of a multi-stage customer experience strategy. The first phase involves the aggregation of various data sources into a cloud-based data store. Using such a data store provides what McKinsey regards as comprehensive, connected and dynamic customer-level datasets, which enable the organisation to map and track customer behaviour across interactions, transactions and operations. According to McKinsey, this data lake provides a foundation for developing a rigorous understanding of customer experiences.

The next stage set out by McKinsey is the use of machine learning (ML) algorithms, which are used to understand and track what is influencing customer satisfaction and business performance, and to detect specific events in customer journeys.

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In McKinsey’s model, the algorithms generate predictive scores for each customer based on journey features. These scores enable the company to predict individual customer satisfaction and value outcomes, such as revenue, loyalty and cost to serve. 

Customer experience can often fail to meet expectations because of poorly thought-out handovers and a lack of integration between IT systems. For instance, a customer may be asked to verify their details more than once. McKinsey urges organisations to ensure that information, insights and suggestions are shared with a broad set of employees, including front-line agents. An application programming interface (API) layer should also be used to make this data available in the customer relationship management (CRM) platform.

For many organisations, their digital channel enabled them to continue to engage with customers during lockdown. Although things are slowly returning to how they were before the pandemic, there is a general consensus that many people will continue to make use of the digital channel. In fact, the pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital. As a result, the way the customer perceives the digital channel is key to a good overall customer experience.

Voice of the customer

In the Forrester report Gear up for experience design, the analyst firm recommends that businesses capture the voice of the customer (VoC). This will enable them to understand how customers feel about the design of a website or app and can help organisations to gauge whether the design they have created is effective, and identify what needs improving. But this feedback is hard to measure at scale, says Forrester.

Voice of the customer tools aim to collect data across multiple channels. The Gartner Magic Quadrant report for VoC tools identifies four categories of data collection and analysis: direct feedback; indirect feedback, such as from a review site or social media; inferred feedback gleaned from the organisation’s transactional and operational systems, which show the customer journey; and insight, which translates the data into alerts. These alerts are then presented on a dashboard to enable customer experience professionals to flag up actions that the organisation needs to take.

Interface experience analytics and journey analytics provide further insights to help CX professionals streamline the digital journey the customer takes through the organisation’s online experience. Once a digital experience moves from a prototype into a wider roll-out or full production, it is possible to start collecting real user data on how well it works. This is the goal of interface experience analytics tools.

According to Forrester, although these tools have traditionally been used by data scientists, IT specialists and marketing analysts for short-term business goals, they are increasingly being used by product managers and designers to support customer goals. In fact, several providers it spoke to said that between 10% and 30% of their users have titles other than “marketing” or “analytics”.

So, as people start returning to a pre-pandemic normal, there are going to be some changes they made that will not simply be reset. The pandemic forced people to think differently about how and where they work. It has also changed shopping habits, and there are now multiple ways for prospective customers to connect with organisations. 

In its Gear up for experience design report, Forrester notes that it is hard to understand how customer interactions across touchpoints connect, overlap and influence each other to support an ongoing relationship. This, it says, means many organisations struggle to address customers’ expectations where experiences can be individualised, continuous, emotionally engaging and controllable. It is this idea of individualised and emotionally engaging experiences that is likely to resonate with customers in the post-pandemic age.

Read more on Customer relationship management (CRM)

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