In this week’s guest post, we continue the series with five customer experience industry veterans sharing their experiences from previous crises to help get through the current crisis. This post was written by Stephanie Thum, CCXP – with contributions from Jeannie Walters, CCXP; Karyn Furstman, CCXP; Ingrid Lindberg; and yours truly.

Being proactive rather than reactive is usually how most business leaders, including customer experience (CX) leaders, prefer to work. The chaotic realities of COVID-19, however, forced many leaders into reactive mode.

Fast has become the new reality. “The new normal” of the business world requires shifting strategies and tactics every few days or weeks based on the newest developments in the business ecosystem.

There wasn’t much room to get it wrong with customers before. But there is even less room to get it wrong now. Moving too slowly is one definitive way to lose customers.

So, that got me to thinking. If being good at being reactive is required to win and retain customers right now, but proactive has been the mainstay approach to customer experience management for years, does that mean reactive is the new “it” skill everyone should have?

Actual experience in the CX leader’s job is the best source for wisdom. So, during a recent Zoom coffee break with four of my fellow CX veteran colleagues, I asked for a group mind-meld on the subject. As expected, having “been there and done that” brings a widely applicable, laser-sharp focus on how CX leaders can start to make sense of the new realities.

Here is what they had to say.

Agile Vs. Reactive

Annette Franz, CCXP – Author, Speaker, Founder and CEO of CX Journey Inc.

Yes, businesses have been thrown curve balls during this crisis. But does that mean they must now be reactive? I prefer to view it a bit differently. If businesses are/have been continuously listening and improving, then becoming agile in these times – if they aren’t already – makes them responsive, not reactive. Being reactive means knee-jerk decisions in the spur of the moment because you need to do something. But in an agile customer-centric environment, you’ll take thoughtful action based on what you’ve heard and learned. You can’t stop listening to customers – ever, but certainly not during a crisis – so as you listen and learn, you will adapt your approach to how you deliver the experience based on current or immediate customer needs and pain points.

Focus on How You Can Be Proactive

Karyn Furstman, CCXP – VP CX for Rational, a Wipro company

We are all bombarded with marketing messages from companies saying, “we’re here for you in these difficult times” without any tangible actions. It is important to focus on the emotional connection to the customer and find ways to humanize digital interactions. Be out in front to provide options for purchasing, delivery, and servicing that combine human and online options, being sensitive to customer’s needs and concerns. Proactively monitor the pulse of your customers’ sentiments by continually scanning the digital channels. Glean insights about opportunities to make their life easier and respond with brisk actions that reduce their stress. 

Swivel Vs. Pivot

Ingrid Lindberg – Keynote Speaker and Founder and CXO of Chief Customer

One of the most overused words of the pandemic has been pivot. And I’m guilty of using it, too. But I think “swivel” may be a more appropriate word. Because I don’t know about you, but right now, as a CXO, I’m feeling like my head is on a swivel.  I’m constantly swiveling between the right now and the future. I’m trying to help my retail clients figure out if/how/when to safely re-open while also thinking about whether their brick and mortar stores needs to exist in the future. I’m trying to help my airlines figure out how to keep people safe and how to make money right now. All of these are real requirements of CX leaders today.

Lead With What Won’t Change

Jeannie Walters, CCXP – Keynote Speaker, CEO and Chief Customer Experience Investigator, Experience Investigators

The best customer experiences are designed with intention. This means predicting what customers need at different points on their journey and providing the right experience to exceed their expectations. But what are expectations today? In the shifting landscape of the pandemic, customers are not necessarily expecting the same things as other customers and definitely have different expectations than yesterday. CX leaders should lead with what won’t change—values, vision, and authentic communication.

Making Sense of Chaos Moving Forward

Proactive versus reactive CX strategies aside, what will it take to keep winning the hearts and minds of customers in seriously uncertain times like we are living in now due to COVID-19?

McKinsey & Company published an article recently about how companies that were already heavily focused and invested in CX in 2008 during the mortgage and housing crisis fared better in the ensuing recession.

“What that tells me is that the lessons learned during that time are still applicable,” Ingrid said. “Hold tight to your core values. Those don’t change in the face of a crisis. Communicate constantly to your employees and often to your customers. Keep your head on a swivel – because there are a ton of opportunities. I do believe that leaders who lived through 2008 have an upper hand in how this will all play out. After all, there is something to be said about having run into a brick wall before – you’re much better at avoiding it the next time.”

Take pride in how you lead, Karyn said. “Guiding people through uncertainty will make you and your teams stronger. Leading the entire organization to live and promote the company values and honor promises to customers is vital. As we begin to conduct business again, these will be the moments that matter.” 

Organizational patience, as always, is a must. “CX is a long play, not a short-term response,” Jeannie said. “The best leaders will live that today and tomorrow.”

And if you really want to get your strategy right, Annette said, take a lesson from John Kennedy’s quote, “The time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining.”

“Get your house in order before the roof collapses, so to speak! If your organization is customer-centric, if your culture is customer-centric, and if you are doing the work to improve the customer experience every day, then today (this year) is no different in terms of what you should be doing to deliver a great experience than what you’ve been doing/have done in the past. That’s the foundation. Those are the basics that will get you through the day-to-day. Always.”