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How Can You Stay Close to Customers Remotely?

August 31, 2020
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Now more than ever, it is important to cultivate empathy for our customers. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted nearly every customer emotionally, behaviorally, and physically, regardless of industry. 

What your customers thought was important back in early 2020 may not be relevant to them today. The activities your customers did not even think twice about doing in early 2020 may now be seen as unsafe or low priority. This amount of rapid change in customer behaviors provides an opportunity, if not an obligation, to get closer with them. 

Leverage Learnings You Have Already Generated About Changes in Your Customer 

We are no longer at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been about six months (at least, depending on where you are) since the pandemic started, and we have much more information now than at its onset. Pause and take stock of what has changed and what has worked regarding interacting with your customers. Use those learnings to update your product, sales, and marketing strategies. 

Get Customer Insights From Channels That Already Exist 

You don’t always need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to adapting to new behavior. Can you experiment with mechanisms on your existing channels to better interact with customers? If you’re curious about how the customers’ perception of your product has changed, can you set up a pop-up window on that part of your website and ask a subset of customers to complete a quick survey? If you have a specific question about how your customers now want to get billing or service support, can you have your call center representatives ask a quick set of questions at the end of 50 customer calls? 

Invest in Cultivating a Digital Customer Community  

Your customers are still interacting with friends, coworkers, and family, but in different ways. They’re still buying, too. Most likely, these experiences are more online than ever. Do you have a digital customer community strategy? If you don’t, create one. If you have one, how can you double down on your plan? It could be via a social media community, or a customer forum. Spend time experimenting with how to make the community more valuable for your customers, and it will become an incredible asset for staying close to them.   

Use Digital User Research Tools 

When I coach customer discovery best practices, I always advocate for one-on-one, in-person interviews whenever possible, for the richness of insights. Over the last several months, I’ve done no in-person customer discovery interviews. Zoom has become the norm, and it is working fine. In many ways, it makes it easier to connect with relevant customers for interviews, because you are not constrained by geographic location or research budget. 

You can even run concept testing and wireframe testing on these types of calls with success. There are other tools like UserTesting.com and Digsite.com that source and run qualitative customer research all via an online platform. Test different tools out and see how they can help you generate new customer insights remotely.  

Be Empathetic and Bold  

Your customers most likely have a lot on their minds, and may not care about your product or service as much as they once did. That’s not their problem, it’s yours. This is the perfect time for you and your company to be even more customer-obsessed, find creative ways to get closer to your customers to discover new insights, and invent bold new ways to create value for your customers. 

 

Eric Steege is a Senior Innovation Advisory Consultant at Amazon Web Services, where he focuses on sharing Amazon’s culture of innovation with AWS customers. He was previously an innovation leader at American Family Insurance.

This piece appears in the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.

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