Global Customer Experience Is Yesterday
How companies respond to COVID-19 is showing just how seriously they treat the customer experience. Those that had good systems and processes in place before the pandemic have fared well, while others are finding that their costs are higher and their customers angry.
Recently I had an experience with a home improvement store that shows how important customer experience planning is. In order to comply with the COVID-19 stay-at-home order, I made an online order for some items I needed within a few days. Two hours after I completed the order, an e-mail from the company arrived that apologized, but the order would not be fulfilled for seven days.
It stated that if I wanted to cancel the order I could simply send an e-mail to customercare@[COMPANY.com] or call a toll-free number. This sounded easy enough so I sent the cancellation e-mail only, and promptly got a response telling me that the address the company told me to contact was not monitored and I would receive no response. I then called the toll-free number, which every thirty seconds announced that a representative would be with me shortly. However, after 20 minutes, I had yet to speak with someone and had no indication of when it might happen.
In the background, I finally discovered that I could cancel the order online from my account. I wondered why the e-mail had neglected to mention this, as it was the one useful and efficient course of action I could take that would cost the company nothing. It was clear that the customer experience procedures had been set up with little care and had not been updated in response to COVID-19. The processes had probably been broken for some time, but nobody had noticed. How many people have used up valuable call-center resources and their own time to cancel orders where the effort would have been unnecessary if anyone had actually examined the process to ensure that it provided accurate guidance?
Due to the company’s inaccurate guidance, the customer experience was very poor, but if I had not spoken English, it would have been far worse. All contact emails are in English, with no way to select any other language, even Spanish. Although the store works with LanguageLine to provide in-store over-the-phone language services, these are not available to customers using written communication or phone lines. A non-English-speaking customer would therefore have been stuck with no way to find the relevant information to cancel an order.
By contrast, I also had to make an appliance order from electronics and appliance retailer BestBuy at the start of the COVID-19 restrictions. In this case, a glitch on the system prevented me from scheduling delivery, so I had to call the company to complete my order. When I called, I was given an option to proceed in Spanish and I could also schedule a call-back rather than wait on the line for an estimated 40 minutes. Right on time, I received a call and the agent was able to work through the bug that prevented me from completing the order on the website. Although BestBuy also does not allow customers to sign-up for non-English communication from its U.S. site, its system was designed from a customer-centric perspective that reduced wasted time and made it easy to have a positive interaction with the company.
In our examination of what affects willingness to make purchases, 74% of consumers prefer products with customer care in their own language. My experience with the home improvement store shows why: You need customer care when something has gone wrong, when money is on the line, or something just doesn’t work. In these stressful situations, the requirement to navigate confusing – or outright misleading – instructions, provide information, and conduct tasks can be almost overwhelming in your own language, but may be impossible in a language you understand only partially or not at all. And in the COVID-19 era, something as simple as asking a friend for help may not even be possible.
This doesn’t apply just to companies doing business in multiple countries. Our investigation of non-English demand in the U.S. shows that the “foreign” language market in the U.S. is almost as big as the economy of Germany. These are customers that American companies will need to attract as they emerge from COVID-19-related restrictions and attempt to rebuild their customer base. Providing a good customer experience – regardless of languages – is therefore something that will not go away. The language component will only become more important in coming months and years.
COVID-19 has revealed what companies should have been doing all along but had neglected. Although the current situation will challenge even the best run companies, those that have shown that they are there with their customers will emerge stronger than their competitors for the post-COVID-19 era. This is why you need to invest in a serious examination of customer care and why you need to have already solved global customer experience. Yesterday.
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