Serving with empathy, reliability and responsiveness

As life starts resembling something more ‘normal’, Australians are likely to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic for some time. Understanding where and why your customers are vulnerable and meeting their needs in ‘moments of truth’ may help determine the strength of your relationships with them.

Key points

  • The impacts of COVID-19 could be long-felt.
  • Organisations have adapted to address audience vulnerability.
  • Your ability to consistently deliver at ‘moments of truth’ is key to helping build customer loyalty and trust.

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven a rapid migration to digital technologies and driven organisations to change the way they communicate with and service customers.

By mid-May nearly 600,000 Australians had lost their jobs and the unemployment rate had jumped to 6.2%. Around 3.5 million Australians are expected to receive income through the federal government’s JobKeeper scheme and the country is facing its first recession in 29 years.

All of this has had drastic effects on the country’s mental health; Beyond Blue reported record numbers of connections with its services. The prevailing sentiment is uncertainty about the economy, the duration of the pandemic, and public health.

Understanding where your customers are coming from

What your customers are going through should play a role in defining how your service delivery evolves. Here are a few major factors that may be impacting customers’ needs, behaviours and preferred interactions.

Changed working conditions. Thousands of Australians have had their hours or pay cut – or have lost their job completely. Months of missed or reduced wages can have a ripple effect on their ability to regularly pay for services – even after isolation guidelines are lifted.

Mental and emotional health issues. Some people may still be feeling anxious about contracting the virus, particularly as we enter the flu season. They might also be nervous about loved ones getting sick, especially older relatives and friends.

Digital inequality. With the rapid digital transformation of many economic, government, cultural and social systems and practices (many of which are likely to remain largely digital after the pandemic abates) the impact on social inequality is amplified.

Those who cannot effectively and affordably access and use digital technologies may find it increasingly difficult to participate in contemporary economic, social, cultural and civic life.

Shift to digital. There are also signs that some of the new digital activities that consumers adopted during the lockdown will stick around after COVID-19.

Adapting more rapidly than previously thought possible

Leaders have had to act quickly to address changes in customer needs. But necessary adaption to new ways of working and service delivery showed some organisations just how agile they could be. Recent global data shows we leapt five years forward in consumer and business digital adoption in a matter of eight weeks.

Australia Post’s General Manager of Customer Solutions Claire Bourke says new demands brought on by COVID-19 have left organisations no choice but to make changes – many of which they didn’t even realise they needed.

“You see companies of all sizes years ahead of where they thought they could be,” she says. “The acceleration of different business models has been extraordinary in the last few months, and it’s continuing now. People are saying, ‘We did that in eight weeks, what’s possible going forward?’.”

For example, Beyond Blue already provided mental health support for anyone in Australia via phone, chat and web-based services before COVID-19. But the pandemic saw an increase in the number of people contacting Beyond Blue.

“The coronavirus pandemic forced us to adapt rapidly to overnight change and record demand,” says Beyond Blue CEO Georgie Harman. “While the impacts of the pandemic have been a source of stress for many people, it has also given Beyond Blue opportunities to work differently, think differently, and adapt to meet the needs of the community.

Beyond Blue was funded by the Federal Government to build a dedicated support service, and in a matter of days, it developed and launched the Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service – while also maintaining service levels of the existing Beyond Blue Support Service.

“The new coronavirus service takes a digital-first approach,” explains Harman. “It’s an online platform of ever-evolving practical advice and tools, with links to a range of support options from over-the-phone to webchat counselling provided by mental health professionals and online peer to peer support.”

Harman says Beyond Blue’s counsellors experienced a 60 per cent increase in contacts in April and 31 per cent in May, compared to the previous year. Half a million people visited the new digital site over 11 weeks. And peer support forums – the heart of the organisation’s coronavirus response efforts – have seen over 800,000 engagements.

“It’s a combination of technology and real people,” Harman says. “We can connect people into counselling and crisis services, connect them with others who are experiencing similar thoughts and feelings, and also interact with them online.”

“People want and need different things. Most importantly, we didn’t build it and leave it. We’re constantly adding new content and support options to reflect people’s experiences of the pandemic.”

Building trust in key moments of truth

Opinions about organisations are often formed in crucial moments. What will you do when somebody is facing financial hardship and can’t afford to pay a bill? How are you making it easier to change contact details for those in different living situations? What are you doing to make your audience more comfortable with digital transactions and communication?

By delivering quality customer experience in these ‘moments of truth’, you could earn the trust and loyalty of your audience.

Organisations have faced many of these ‘moments of truth’ since the coronavirus hit Australia, and it is likely there will only be more to come as Australians continue to feel the effects of the pandemic.

Providing refunds is one example of a key moment. When a ticketing company needed to refund purchases due to performance cancellations arising from COVID-19, it wanted to make sure it was reimbursing the correct people. Implementing Australia Post’s Digital iD™ for ticketing refunds not only helped customers but helped reduce the admin for call centres.

“The move online has forced organisations who have talked about digital transformation and improving customer experience to start looking at it a lot more seriously,” says Margo Stephen, Australia Post’s Head of Digital ID.

Via the Digital iD™ app, consumers can create a strong reusable digital identity that links their biometric details to their identity documents (like passport, driver licence), allowing organisations to provide a seamless experience with no need for applicants to visit a physical location to present their identity documents.

While quality service is an everyday goal, at certain points of the customer journey, organisations need to rise to increased customer expectations. “This crisis has made organisations think differently about themselves,” Bourke says.

“There’s a risk of relationships becoming complacent if they’re untested. But this situation has engaged every level of our operation. We’ve built deeper connections across organisations that enable us to have broader and quite different conversations about how we can help our customers at key moments.”

Helping your team deliver in a new way

In its April 2020 article How to Come Out Stronger from the Covid-19 Crisis: Accelerate Simple and Digital, global consulting firm Bain says a ‘simple and digital’ approach not only increases Net Promoter Score (NPS) by 20 to 30%, it also reduces low-value interactions for employees by 40%. This, in turn, increases employee NPS.

Not-for-profit entities rely on fundraising to help those in need. But traditional event-based methods – from door-to-door collections to nationwide appeals – were put on hold with COVID-19 restrictions. So they had to turn to other avenues to finance their efforts.

For example