Monday, June 22, 2020

Tips to Focus on Your Customers During #COVID19

The best part of social media, and especially my favorite platforms Twitter and Instagram, is the people I meet from all over the world and the information they share. Recently, I met Augie Ray on Twitter, and due to our shared passion for customer experience marketing, I invited him to appear on my Blog to share his expertise. Highlights of our conversation follow a brief introduction.

Augie Ray is Vice President, Analyst at Gartner. He publishes research and offers guidance on topics relating to customer experience (CX), including CX strategy and governance, the ROI of CX, voice of customer programs, and the role of personas and journey mapping as tools to improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy.  Augie has also led the Gartner for Marketer’s research response to COVID-19. Prior to Gartner, Augie was Director of CX action at American Express and led social media at two Fortune 500 companies.

QUESTION: How do you clarify the difference between "customer experience" and "customer experience management?"

AUGIE RAY: I see CX and CXM as different sides of the same coin. CX is the customers' side, and it's their perceptions and feelings accumulated from all of the experiences they have with a brand. The definition of CXM comes from the brand’s side of the relationship, and it is the practice of anticipating, planning, and reacting to customer interactions to meet their expectations and improve customer satisfaction, loyalty, and advocacy. That last part is essential: customer experience management is about what we do strengthen customer relationships and deliver strong retention, frequency, cost to serve, referrals, and other business benefits.

QUESTION: Which social platform is the best tool for creating a quality customer experience, and why?
AUGIE RAY: This is a trick question. All CX should begin with an understanding of a customer’s needs and expectations. As a result, there is no single answer. A given audience and persona may need, want, or value experiences on Facebook while another may desire brand interactions on TikTok. Or, a given persona may not value having social media engagement with brands in the first place.

As a CX advisor, I recommend listening to what customers want and evaluating their feedback for drivers of satisfaction and dissatisfaction before deciding on a channel for CX. In other words, the question shouldn't be which social platform is best for CX (with the implicit assumption that one must be best). Instead ask, "What are customers' needs and drags on their loyalty, and are social platforms equipped to help your brand deliver on expectations?"

QUESTION: Have you had any exceptional customer experiences during the current COVID-19 era? Please elaborate.
AUGIE RAY: The number of disappointing customer experiences I've had during the COVID-19 era is much greater than the exceptional ones, but there is a local restaurant whose pivot to curbside pickup has been outstanding and is a wonderful model for other restaurants.

While other restaurants simply shifted their full menu to take-out or delivery, Buckley's ( gave some real thought to providing the best experience under the circumstances. It limited the menu to focus on things the staff could best produce that would travel well. The restaurant updated its website with prominent information about its COVID-19 offerings. And, the thing I really like is that the food comes with instructions for reheating and assembling.

Other restaurants' food comes lukewarm, soggy, and in need of reheating, which only diminishes the experience that much more. Buckley's food takes a tad bit more work to complete the process but is warm, fresh, and tasty. (And the handwritten thank you note in each order is a nice touch, as well.) While some restaurants merely shifted to the take-out or delivery services they already had, Buckley's reconsidered how customers can best enjoy their food despite the challenges.

The funny thing is that I wasn't that big of a fan of the place before COVID-19, but they've become my go-to neighborhood restaurant during our stay-at-home period, and it's changed my perception of the place. I suspect I'm not alone, as the lines of cars waiting for curbside pickup demonstrate.

QUESTION: On your blog, you wrote, "In an increasingly social, mobile, and real-time world, brands are created not by the messages they broadcast but by the experiences they offer — ones that create empathy, build trust, earn loyalty, spur Word-of-Mouth, encourage collaboration, and provide ever greater value to customers in innovative ways." How would you propose that brands improve their messaging for the post-COVID-19 era?
One thing brands must do during COVID-19 is to avoid relying only on messaging but to lead with actions. It's one thing to say you're empathetic but another thing entirely to be empathetic. It's faded a bit now, but in the first month of the COVID-19 crisis, brands filled the airwaves with lookalike ads competing to convey how deeply each brand cared about employees and customers. They all felt alike, and thus, did little to differentiate the brands.

Also, people got sick of those ads quite quickly because they didn't need brands to express their care for employees and customers but to actually care. Don't just say you're grateful to your frontline workers; show them your appreciation by adequately compensating them and providing the necessary protection. Don't just buy an ad to tell customers you support them; consider the challenges customers face and proactively offer solutions. Before you spend one dollar on messaging during the pandemic, make sure your actions speak louder than your words.

In addition, I try to avoid talking about “post-COVID” with my clients. We’re not likely to be post-COVID for 12 to 18 months and possibly longer. There’s a long road ahead, and I urge brands to focus on the lengthy and difficult period of uncertainty we face throughout 2020 and into 2021 rather than trying to predict and plan for a “post-COVID” world quite yet. Most brands face far too many difficulties in the immediate future to start jumping to conclusions of what 2022 might be like, in my opinion.

QUESTION: What are your three favorite brands, and why?
AUGIE RAY: I'm a big fan of Disney, particularly the quality of its content and the experience at its resorts. I joke that one of the reasons I'm a CX professional today was that my first Walt Disney World experiences were so remarkable, I had no choice but to read about the culture, practices, and leadership that could deliver those experiences.

I think Best Buy has done a remarkable job of navigating the challenges of the digital and brick-and-mortar experience. They're an example of how the online and offline channels can work together and feel like extensions of each other rather than the sort of awkward online/offline divide I see from so many other retailers.

And, I respect USAA a great deal. I had the pleasure to work for USAA and got to see how the brand prioritizes the member from the inside out. My employment experience with USAA continues to inspire me for how customer-centricity can be made such a big and important part of a company's culture.

My gratitude and appreciation to Augie for appearing on my Blog and for sharing his inspiring insights.

Image Credit: Augie Ray outside Buckley's.