Raising confidence during a crisis

How can brands maintain customer loyalty and trust?

Challenges arising from the global pandemic caused major operational, strategic and financial havoc. As businesses work to adopt new safety measures and adjust their operational model to adapt to the ‘new normal’, one important aspect often gets pushed lower on the agendas — customer confidence and trust.

The constantly aggravated anxiety about the future finds direct reflection in consumers’ trust levels in businesses. Edelman reports that 50% of customers believe that companies have failed at putting people before profits. Furthermore, only 38% are confident that corporations are proactively protecting their employees’ wellbeing and job prospects.

Failure to retain and raise consumer confidence at the early stages of reopening can cast a ripple effect over your operations in the long-term perspective. So what can be done to win over consumer trust and foster new growth?

Time for transparent communications and bold moves

The lack of confidence directly stems from the lack of communications. Conveying your general stance on COVID-19 and preventive measures in place is not enough to win over consumer trust. In fact, shortcomings in the transparency department already lead many consumers to believe that not enough is done to protect their interests. Amazon has been under major ceasefire during the current crisis, with multiple employees, consumers and other business leaders stepping forward to criticise the company’s ways of maintaining undisrupted operations at the cost of employee protections. 

While few (if any) retailers were prepared to face the pandemic, most now recognise that there's no easy return to “doing business as usual”, even as reopenings loom on the horizon. Acknowledging and communicating the changed vector of operations is now the top of mind agenda to win over the customers’ affinity. 

One of the potential vectors to take is by proactively addressing the preventive measures you now have in place. As Renaud Caeymaex, from Delhaize, commented in a recent interview: “Investing in health measures is essential to gain a return on “customer confidence”. 

Brick and mortar shopping will remain anxiety-provoking for some demographics. Implementing advanced customer protection provisions such as compact airlock disinfection units, stricter social distancing enforcement and widespread usage of personal protective gear among employees would be key to restoring confidence with the local communities. According to Caeymaex, such measures also act as a strong marketing strategy that already generates a return on investment for his company.

Even before COVID-19, strong brand affinity and emotional connections were essential to winning consumers. In fact, the demand for greater accountability and contribution of brands to sustainability and social causes has been around for some time. One study found that 71% of Millennial consumers prefer brands that drive social and environmental change. Just last week, a UK survey revealed the majority of Millennial and Gen Z respondents believe brands should lean in on the current #BlackLivesMatter discussion, while support did decline as respondents’ age groups went up.

Transition to the experience-lead growth

While today’s increased levels of economic uncertain require business leaders to navigate an ever more complex international marketplace, customer acumen regrettably does not hold a top position within business strategies. Our proprietary global survey of business leaders found that only 24% identified customer acumen as an area of focus that can strengthen their business in the next 12 months.

Lack of alignment between the corporate strategy and actual customer demands further aggravates the confidence gap. Developing a new experience to match consumers’ on-the-moment needs and anxieties is key to forging new paths for growth. 

Modifying an existing offering is one option. In response to COVID-19 lockdown measures, Netflix launched Netflix Party — a synchronized video playback service to group-watch, and discuss films together with friends — to engage and delight their users. Pivoting to a new business model or product range is the second route. Flying Elephant Productions — an Irish manufacturer of exhibition sets — turned to manufacturing desk and outdoor furniture after the core products were no longer in demand. 

Listen loud and clear

To locate and effectively fill the emerging market demands, businesses should increase communication with the customer — a mantra most product-led companies have been practising for years. As our research also revealed, most leaders are taking proactive steps in this direction:

  • 53% conduct more frequent market researchers to stay abreast of the shifting consumer behaviours.
  • 45% rely on social listening and sentiment analysis online.
  • 43% invest in improved Client Relationship Management (CRM) processes and platforms.

Strive to understand how the crisis is affecting your target audiences and provide them with the information they need to make more informed, conscious and safe choices. Shift the focus from explaining how your business is adapting to the new normal towards explaining how you can help your customers cope with the overwhelm and perhaps even find some ‘silver lining’ amidst the current gloom of uncertainty.

Moreover, it’s not just the external listening that you should practice. Acknowledging and reacting to your employees’ concerns is the second part of the equation. Instilling trust within the communities you serve is virtually impossible when your team is struggling to internalise where the future lies for them.

Proactively support your teams if the business is slow right now. Do even more so, if your company is dealing with unprecedented growth. Over the past few months, Slack’s user base surged as companies' around the world embraced remote operations. However, such a positive impact on business bottom lines placed a higher toll on the in-house personnel.

Rather than forcing Slack employees to put in more hours, Stewart Butterfield, CEO of Slack, tactfully acknowledged the teams’ current successes and urged everyone to “If you can, help others. If you need help, do not hold back — just ask”. 

When consumer confidence is down, you have to be extra careful with your messaging, positioning and corporate responses to the current events. Listen carefully to the subtle changes among your communities and within your teams. Learn progressively about your customers' needs. Incorporate direct feedback into your product development, communications and marketing. Build a rapport of personalised candour, over generalistic reassurance. That the new trajectory to pursue if your goal is to restore consumer trust and instil higher confidence in your business.

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