5 Ways to Connect with Customers During COVID-19

Business owner shipping product and staying in touch with her customer during the coronavirus crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted how companies interact with their customers—and what customers expect from their favorite businesses. Whether you’re an essential business operating at full-speed or a brick-and-mortar store wondering how to survive, customer service has never been more critical.

Finding ways to respond to your customers quickly, adapt to their evolving needs, and communicate your challenges is an essential part of the crisis playbook. Establishing that you can be responsive and flexible during hard times will keep your customers coming back to you when things get back to normal.

Here five ways you can improve your connections with customers right now:

1. Be Flexible with Your Policies

As the COVID-19 crisis continues, one of the best things businesses can do is be flexible with various policies regarding cancellations, rates, returns, and more. Companies should review their customer policies in light of the current circumstances. Even more important: Allow your employees to make exceptions and use their judgment when fielding customer calls, concerns and complaints.

A recent report in the Harvard Business Review shows that “frustrated calls” to customer call centers increased as the COVID-19 crisis accelerated, from 7% of call volume at the beginning of March to 40% of call volume at the end of the month. Empowering your employees to work with customers and advocate for them increases customer satisfaction and improves loyalty.

If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, provide an easy way for customers to reach you. And keep in mind: customers who can’t afford your product or services now due to financial hardships will remember that you treated them with care once they’ve recovered.

2. Maximize Your Mobile Experience

People are on their phones now more than ever, thanks to stay-at-home orders in the majority of states. One payment app provider, Marqeta, reported an 82% increase in online deliveries, the vast majority initiative via mobile devices. Gaming is on the rise, too. People are using their phones to video chat, shop, and more. Given this landscape, it's critical to ensure your website is mobile-friendly.

Whether you’re a restaurant chain that’s transitioned to takeout or a retailer now offering curbside pickup, your customers will likely try to connect with you via their devices. Optimize your mobile experience to help them find what they need. Some best practices include making it easy to find contact information, offering multiple payment options, and streamlining your site navigation.

3. Invest Time in Social Media

With people spending more time on social media platforms, you have a unique opportunity to capture your customers’ attention. And if you haven’t established any accounts for your company, now it the best time to start. Use your social media platforms to broadcast changes in your operations, highlight employees that are working—even from home—through the virus.

You can also call out support for healthcare workers, showcase any charitable work your company is doing and start conversations with your customers. Related, be sure to keep the conversation going. Respond to mentions and questions from customers, who may be accessing your company via your social sites.

4. Increase Communication and Transparency

There’s no need to pretend that it’s business as usual. It’s not—and it may not be for a while, depending on your industry. To maintain customer loyalty through this crisis (as well as future unforeseen events), double down on your communication. Research shows that consumers are more likely to trust companies that have a reputation for being transparent.

So if you can’t provide your regular service or product, let customers know early and tell them their options. Communicate via multiple channels such as email, social media, your website, and even text to broaden your reach. And if you’re having unique struggles—your supplier ran out of product, for instance—inform your customers about it and note how you’re addressing the situation. All these efforts make your company more human, and customers are more appreciative and forgiving as a result.

5. Get Creative with Your Products and Services

The pandemic is upending how businesses operate. The odd silver lining is that it’s also opening a window for you to serve your customers in new ways. Take the opportunity to ask your customers what they’d like from your company—and explore how you can meet their changing needs.

Do they want your products delivered? Would they be open to services via video? Can you remake an older offering into something newer and more relevant? Improving the customer experience isn’t just about being responsive. It’s also about anticipating new demands and getting creative with what you provide.

The COVID-19 crisis is a stressful time for businesses of all sizes. However, it’s also a chance to show your customers your brand's true colors. Be responsive, be creative, and be real—your customers will thank you now and come back to you in the future.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank, National Association, and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank, National Association, or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank, Member FDIC.