Reopening? Put the Customer Experience First

As companies continue to reopen their doors and invite customers in, the stakes are high. In fact, data from the last economic downturn shows that companies that focused on customer service outperformed their competitors by 3x and only experienced a third of the dip. That’s a significant gap.

So what does focusing on the customer experience during a pandemic look like? It means returning to what we know works—back to the basics.

Be your first customer.

Put a mask on and walk into your space through the front doors. What’s the first thing your customers see? What kind of experience are you creating? What might they be thinking or asking? Is it obvious what they need to do, where they need to stand, how they should perform a transaction?

Cleanliness and safety are, of course, top of mind for most customers. Do you need to add touch-free hand sanitizer dispensers as a sanitary measure that also reinforces safety? Our local Publix grocery stores here in Greenville have a highly efficient system in place. The entrances to their stores are clearly marked. As a customer approaches, an attendant offers him or her a freshly sanitized cart. Arrows guide the way from there, making shoppers feel safe and in-control all the way to the register. The general feeling is that Publix cares about your health and safety, beyond the mandates of The Department of Health.

Are you doing enough to make sure your customers feel the same way? When you’re out and about, take note of businesses who are doing this well, those that are not, and then use those experiences to shape your own.

Watch and listen to your customers.

When the sign flips to Open, watch and listen for feedback. Are customers behaving as you envisioned? Do they appear confident… or are they confused?

One of our Thinkers shared that his first trip to the airport in this “new normal” had him stumped upon arrival: a touchless self-check-in kiosk. It was 5:30am and the screen had two paragraphs of instructions detailing how to use your phone to begin the check-in process. He stared at it for a full two minutes while check-in attendants busied themselves with baggage. When an attendant noticed his confusion, she walked over and flipped the kiosk to the “old” familiar touchscreen. He checked in by tapping in his information and then used a nearby hand sanitizer station. On his return flight, he noticed other flyers apparently experiencing the same confusion, causing long lines, frantic attendants, and frustrated flyers. This is probably not the experience the airline intended when they decided to install the new kiosks.

Front-line team members should be trained to spot frustration and share it with decision-makers so a better experience can be shaped. Gathering this feedback and quickly making adjustments is crucial if we are to create repeat customers.

Remember: customer satisfaction is everyone’s job.

Don’t be hesitant to put customer satisfaction in the hands of your front-line employees. Give your team members clear guidelines and then empower them to solve problems. What could this look like in our airport example? Maybe an attendant could explain to those waiting in line step one of interacting with the touchless kiosk: how to pull up your itinerary on your phone. Or, perhaps the airline could create instructional signage and position it where people stand to wait in line. With the hurdle of the first step out of the way, flyers could quickly scan in at the kiosk and be on their way.

That kind of employee empowerment requires training on observing customers and proactive problem solving and a clear message from the top that satisfaction is theirs to create. Recently, another Thinker was inspired when they saw an employee at the Nike store in Atlanta taking complete ownership of the customer experience. Stationed at the entrance, his big personality was inviting to all and every 5-10 minutes, he would run through his “routine” to engage people while also explaining the new policies for shopping in the store. People smiled and laughed and generally had a better, more memorable experience than they would have from reading store policies on a sign.

Welcoming customers back can reap big rewards if you can create a safe and smart experience for them. By being your first customer, listening and empathizing, and empowering your front-line employees, you can nearly guarantee your customer’s next experience with you will be buzzworthy. 


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