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CX Leaders from Dunkin’, Gap, Theory on COVID-19 and the New Reality

Authored by ActionIQ Team

On 4/2 ActionIQ hosted a virtual forum where CX leaders and industry experts discussed how they are adapting in real time to manage the customer experience and meet rapidly changing customer needs during the global pandemic crisis.

Moderated by ActionIQ’s Ryan Greene and Tamara Gruzbarg, the distinguished panel featured:

  • Bella Goren, Member of the Board of Directors of Gap, Inc. and MassMutual Financial Group, previously CFO and SVP of CRM at American Airlines
  • Scott Lux, Vice President, Ecommerce & Digital at Theory and Helmut Lang, previously an executive at INTERMIX, John Varvatos, Diesel and other leading brands
  • Carl Sparks, Member of the Board of Directors of Avis Budget Group and Dunkin’ Brands, previously a marketing executive at Travelocity, Gilt Groupe, Hotels.com and Expedia.com
  • Elizabeth Shaw, Advisor to Fortune 500 CMOs, former analyst at Gartner and Forrester, previously a marketing leader at SEPHORA, Constellation Brands and Cisco Systems

Immediate Customer Experience Priorities

The conversation kicked off with a discussion of immediate priorities in addressing the short term impact of the pandemic crisis on the consumer experience.

#1 – Plan for Many Scenarios and Stay Flexible

It’s still uncertain how the next weeks and months will unfold. But amid the uncertainty, you can and should plan. Every business should build out a base case scenario, a risk scenario, and a worst case scenario. Set up measurements and indicators so you can identify which scenario is unfolding, and then map out the actions you’ll take accordingly.

Your organization will also need to ensure cash liquidity so you can respond to the unexpected. That’s how you can stay flexible within the confines of a plan. Keep in mind—while you need to address what’s happening now with urgency, you also need to 1) do right by customers and employees 2) do right by the business and 3) keep an eye on the long term strategic implications of every decision you make.

#2 – Take Extra Care Crafting Communications

During this crisis, it’s important to give extra thought to how you’re communicating with customers. This includes both the content of the communication and the channel over which it’s deployed. Some online travel agencies, for instance, have been effective in delivering clear communications about what to expect during upcoming travel, how your specific reservations can be rescheduled or cancelled, and making it easy and painless to do so. They’re using a considered mix of channels (text, app, phone, email) to get it done. This is the kind helpful service consumers need right now.

To head off messaging or tactics that could be perceived as tone deaf, insensitive or inappropriate, consider setting up additional stages of review. Leverage public channels—such as social media—for non-commercial engagement & outreach as well as brand-level communications. Introduce commercial communications with great care, utilizing CRM channels such as email, paid digital, as well as direct relationships between associates and customers.

#3 – Dial Back Acquisition, Do the Right Thing

From a brand standpoint, you should evaluate whether customer acquisition messages at this time would be consistent with your brand values. It may be appropriate for your brand but completely tone deaf for another. But beyond that, consumer spending has decreased across the board. Your acquisition may be forced off-target, as you have a higher likelihood of acquiring a customer who is discount-oriented.

Instead of pitching products, think about offering solutions. Home Depot won’t sell masks. Instead they’re donating them. Tesla stopped the line to make ventilators. The New York Times took down paywalls. Local businesses and customers are joining together to get food delivered to front line healthcare workers. These actions instill good will that lasts a generation. Lastly, focus on your employees—consumers are watching, and taking care of your own will instill customer trust that pays dividends for years to come.

Opportunities to Emerge Stronger

Panelists agreed that urgent and immediate priorities are job one. But each saw opportunities within the crisis to forge a stronger business.

#4 – Focus on Relevance and Agility

Crisis or no crisis, every business should be focused on becoming increasingly relevant and agile. Relevant means personalization at scale. Agility means responding quickly to new information or changes. The way businesses are responding right now, you can see how far they are into their journey of achieving that goal.

Are your messages spot on or tone deaf? Are you sensing and adjusting to varying customer needs in different locales across the country, depending on how they are currently affected? Or is your approach one size fits all? Use this time to understand your strengths and weaknesses, and seize the opportunity to accelerate your digital transformation.

#5 – Lean on Data for Guidance

No one can tell you from past experience or from personal observation exactly what’s happening with customer behavior right now. It’s too new, too big, and moving too fast. But you need to know so you can respond optimally. Your data is the best—and likely only—way to do that. But if your teams don’t have visibility across channels, customer segments and lines of business, they’re flying blind.

Everyone who’s an agent of change has faced resistance to breaking down silos. Now’s the time to make another go at it. Break down barriers to get everyone empowered with the data they need, and then lean on that data to guide your actions.

#6 – Flatten the Org, Build Strong Marketing Ops

Some companies haven’t yet adjusted their strategies or just seem tone deaf—it’s because they have too many layers of approval required to make changes. But if you work to flatten the org and empower your teams, you can advance your strategies nimbly.

A strong marketing ops function is key. If you don’t have marketing ops, build a tiger team by pulling resources from finance, brand,  and technology. Re-examine your org structure, processes and tech. Identify gaps, define what needs to be revamped to support responsiveness and agility, and then execute.

What Will be the Lasting Impact of This Crisis on CX?

Our panelists wrapped up the discussion identifying some of the trends and changes that may be here to stay well into the future.

#7 – Consumers Will Prioritize Experiences More Than Ever

The trend for some time has been that consumers have placed greater value on experiences over product. This crisis will accelerate it. Customers are now adapting to mobile ordering and curbside pickup, and many of them will continue with this behavior post-crisis. Many consumers will also revert to their previous shopping behaviors, but it’s likely that the decline of malls will accelerate as shoppers opt for more contemporary in-person formats.

#8 – Budgets Will Emphasize CX Over Growth

This crisis hit during a strong economy where—despite all the talk about customer experience—most brands were focused on growth. Their staffing plans and budgets emphasized acquisition-oriented jobs roles and investments. CMOs will now truly shift focus to customer experience and loyalty, investing in the talent needed to execute it. When growth picks up again, the approach to acquisition may take on a totally different flavor than we’ve ever seen before.

#9 – Brand Authenticity Is The Long Game

Consumers will look back and ask themselves if the brand understood them, related to them, and helped them with what they needed during this time of crisis. The need for connection with the brand will remain strong as the crisis subsides. Brands will reconsider how they and their products show up in the lives of their customers. Instead of merchandise first, mobile first, digital first, they’ll be thinking customer first.

Don’t Miss the Next Discussion in this Series

Stay tuned for our upcoming Customer Experience Management: The New Reality virtual forums on Wednesday, April 8 @ 11am ET and Tuesday, April 14 @ 4pm ET featuring executives from American Eagle Outfitters, Google, Kate Spade, Shiseido and more. If you haven’t already done so, register now!

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