Short term: keep an eye on budgets
An increase in price
In difficult times, many companies are looking for short-term measures to secure their situation. These measures are often to their own advantage, but unfortunately usually also to the detriment of the customer. An obvious example is to increase the price of a product or service. In some industries, this is not at all a matter of choice, but of survival.
But how do you approach it from CX’s point of view? In my opinion, there are 3 important points to keep in mind:
- Be transparent† Tell the real story of your situation to your customers. Be completely open and honest about why you should raise prices.
- Be proactive and honest† Never surprise people with a price increase, but warn them in advance and be very open in your communication about the reasons.
- Inform your team well about the story† This is often overlooked, but your people on the store floor will get many complaints and questions about the price increase. You need to make sure that they do not give vague answers that do not benefit the customer, such as “It’s something the boss has decided”. Then inform your team well about the story so they can share that story with the same beliefs that everyone else in the organization would. This kind of communication in the workplace, from employee to customer, can make a huge difference in the way difficult news is perceived.
There is also always the option to choose NOT to raise prices while your competitors do. In that case, it is crucial to communicate well about this as well. A good example of this is Club Brugge, which I (as many of you know) am a big fan of: they have recently announced in a very formal and visible way that they are lowering the prices of their annual subscription. will not increase. I think that is a very smart strategy.
Another popular way to deal with inflation in the short term is to cut expenses, unfortunately this usually happens first on customer service. In theory, of course, it’s fine, companies sometimes just have no other choice. But if you do this, be sure to do it smart: by creating ‘moments’ or by offering self-service.
In one of my last CX updates, I talked about Dan and Chip Heath’s book, ‘The Power of Moments’. The idea of the book is simple but very effective. If you measured every single interaction a company has with a customer, most organizations would probably have an average score of about 6.5 out of 10. This is perfectly normal, because there are definitely ups and downs in the interaction. But if companies can make sure that some of these interactions rise above it and are really excellent, surprising and positive, the general perception can rise to an average of 9 or even a 9.5.
In my opinion, this is the perfect strategy to reduce the customer experience: If you need to reduce the cost of customer service, it is important to think carefully about where you can positively surprise customers as a counterparty. If you choose those moments well, you can actually improve your reputation, and therefore more easily lower your costs elsewhere.
Another interesting method to improve CX while saving costs is by optimizing your self-service options. Make sure people can easily solve their problems themselves. A good example of this is the e-commerce company Coolblue. They keep track of the questions that are asked in their contact center and make such short, simple explanatory videos about the questions that often come up. They make thousands of videos, explain new things every week, and they already have about 130 million views.
In these videos, they answer relatively simple questions, such as: “Is it better to choose product A or product B?” or “How do I install that TV?”. And if a customer buys a product that already has a video available, they automatically share it. And this is a very nice example of a self-service channel that perfectly helps customers while reducing the number of incoming calls to customer service.
Long-term: Seeing emotions
But what about in the long run? How do you handle the long-term customer experience in a world of high inflation? One question is important to me here: Are you as a company ready to give up something in the short term to gain confidence in the long term? Are you willing to even suffer a little pain to maintain the relationship with the customer strongly?
The ‘offer you can not refuse’ model from my latest book could be a good starting point for this. If you do not know it yet, I will briefly summarize it: The absolute minimum requirement in the current market is that you must offer a good product, good service and a good priceand that you need to offer great digital convenience. Good product and service plus digital convenience create a strong transactional relationship. But that’s only half the story, the bottom half. At the top of the model, it creates a ‘Partner in Life’, which means a more in-depth relationship with the customer, and adding value to society, a more emotional relationship.
The bottom two, strong offerings and digital convenience, are what helped us through COVID in a transactional way. The top two, Partner in life and Saves the world, will have to guide us through these times of high inflation. If you succeed in providing more value to the customer and to society, you will be able to develop a more lasting emotional relationship. So as a ‘Partner in Life’ you need to help people make positive changes in their lives and show the world that you really care. This way, people stay loyal to your brand, even in these difficult times.
Imagine you have a restaurant. To make it easy for people to book is to develop an efficient transactional relationship. But people may not be able to afford to go to restaurant now or even for an extended period of time. So why not make it easy for them to get to you anyway? There are many options. You can think of a way you can deliver home in a cheaper way. Or sell the ingredients and make an instructional video to prepare specific dishes that you serve in your restaurant. And why not donate your leftovers to the needy? Such things can really make a difference to your brand today. It is the stories that will stand out.
If you are in the real estate business and you are very efficient in selling homes, it is purely transactional. But you could also really help people. For example, you can do everything in your power to help people with a housing budget. Or as a landlord for people who can not afford to rent, install a system to help them build bridges over the short period of time. Energy prices have risen, food prices have risen, so lowering rents for a few weeks or a few months can help some people tremendously.
So for me that’s the absolute core of CX in difficult times: you have to be willing to hurt yourself in the short term to build trust in the long term. In my opinion, it’s really important to do that. Why? You should always be aware that you as a company are not the only one looking for cost savings. Your customers are now also in cost-saving mode. And then your biggest challenge in the coming months and maybe years is to make yourself so likeable and indispensable that they will not cut you out of their budget.