Managing customer relationships in a post-COVID world

- Singapore is bracing for its worst recession, with authorities revising the GDP growth forecast for 2020 downwards to "-7.0 to -4.0 per cent". As businesses struggle to stay afloat, what steps can they take for managing customer relationships effectively?

- People are feeling vulnerable. Empathy is critical. The actions you take today will have a lasting impact on customers’ perceptions and preferences.

- Changing strategy and effective communication is key to cultivating relationships with existing clients, while also boosting the brand's image.

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. It has changed the way we live and work and do business.

Singapore is bracing for its worst recession, with authorities revising the GDP growth forecast for 2020 downwards to "-7.0 to -4.0 per cent". Businesses have been badly hit due to social distancing measures and supply chain disruptions.

The pandemic has changed peoples’ lives - they have had to deal with remote working, distance learning, loss of jobs and taking care of sick family members.

Consumer needs, priorities and spending behaviours have changed too - people are focusing on their health, safety, and financial stability.

In these trying times, and in the near absence of personal interaction, how can businesses establish an emotional connection with their customers, build trust, and support them in a more meaningful way? What steps can they take for managing customer relationships effectively?

4 Best Ways of Managing Customer Relationships Effectively

Keep selling, but show them that you care

Now, more than ever, customers are anxious, stressed and unsure. People feel vulnerable. As a result, what they care about most right now might be changing.

They want brands to genuinely empathise with their situation rather than try to make money out of this crisis.

Infact, in a Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore (CSISG) study on what made customers in Singapore happy, and what businesses should consider when building lasting customer relationships, empathy emerged tops.

To create long-term customer relationships, cultivate goodwill and promote trust, brands need to stay innovative and empathetic, and put people first.

Think, “How can we support our customers right now in a meaningful, human, and relevant way?” The actions you take today will have a lasting impact on customers’ perceptions and preferences.

Many brands have stepped up to give back to their community in this difficult time.

When healthcare workers were shunned and found it difficult to get a ride back home, Grab stepped up by offering them exclusive discounts on transport and food delivery.

Empathy is critical in managing customer relationships in times of crisis. PHOTO: FACEBOOK/GRAB

Singaporean telco company Starhub organised three ground-up initiatives, which includes contributing SG$300,000 to The Courage Fund, assembling 2,000 welfare care packs for lower-income beneficiaries, and helping to defray one month of housing rental costs for 2,000 lower-income seniors.

Another Singaporean brand, Hegen, known for its innovative baby feeding products, has committed to donate 1,000 milk bottle sets to pregnant healthcare workers, especially those at the forefront of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, car maker Ford partnered with GE Healthcare to redirect some of its workforce to make ventilators.

These are just some examples of companies trying to make a difference to people’s lives when all seems lost.

People will remember brands for their acts of generosity in times of crisis, particularly if done with the right intentions.

Change your strategy

Customers are looking for easier and more convenient ways to navigate this new normal. More than anything else, they seek safety, convenience and trust in brands. Brands need to come up with innovative solutions in order to show customers that they are committed to serving them and making their lives easier.

More and more consumers are migrating to the digital space. According to a study by Unruly, 1 in 2 Singaporeans have increased their time on online video, messaging and social media since the pandemic. More than half (52%) of people aged 18-24 prefer brands to communicate to them via ads on social media; and 36% through online video.

Live streaming has worked well for consumer brands like Shopee and Lazada in Singapore. They have teamed up with influencers or key opinion leaders (KOLs), resulting in a high level of engagement with the brand.

Some fitness centres have turned to digital platforms too to keep their consumers engaged and active while staying safe at home.

For example, when they had to suspend services during the circuit breaker, Fitness First in Singapore conducted online classes, which were hosted via livestream on its Facebook’s page, and were made available to both members and non-members.

By doing so, they continued to cultivate their relationships with existing clients, while also boosting the brand's image in the long run.

It is thus important to let your existing customers know that you are serving them in new ways. It injects them with hope and positivity and the feeling that companies are doing all that they can to serve you and bring back a sense of normalcy.

Communicate Effectively

In times of crisis, knowing when and what to communicate with your customers is crucial.

Don’t use the COVID-19 pandemic as a marketing opportunity, in spite of the fact that people may be spending more time online these days. It just adds to the overall stress and noise at a time when people’s priorities are different, and they are just trying to find calm in the storm.

Your messaging should make each of your customers feel that they are not alone. Be honest and real about how this situation is affecting your ability to serve your customers.

Educate people on new ways of interacting with your business. Keep your social pages and feeds updated. This includes simple, clear, timely information on any changes to your service, including new hours, facility closures, customer service availability, ordering options, safety measures, and customer expectations (e.g., masks or limited group size).

Show concern and empathy. Treat your customers like people, not clients. Share steps your business is taking to focus on customers' needs.

Data and insights are valuable when it comes to managing customer relationships effectively. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

Use your data wisely

Customers want to feel understood and valued, and the key to doing that is through observation and strong listening skills. Customer data and accurate insights have never been more important - they help you better understand consumer behaviour, needs, expectations and concerns.

Create customer profiles that include demographics, preferences, needs and consumption trends. If you haven’t reached out to your customers recently, now’s the time to do so. Request feedback from them through interviews, surveys, and social media. Another way of garnering insights is by closely observing the conversation across social-media platforms, community sites, and e-commerce product pages.

The more data you have, the more accurate your insights are, resulting in more targeted marketing strategies and messaging, greater engagement and buying behaviour.

Ultimately, these are unprecedented times and businesses are having to think, operate, and lead in new ways. These are also opportunities for companies to strengthen their relationships with customers. By putting people first, and adapting in a positive way to a change that has been imposed upon us, we can all emerge from this crisis, together, in a better place.