We're over a month into lockdown and it looks as though we are some way away from business-as-usual, in terms of offices, schools, shops and restaurants being open. There is no doubt that consumers are spending more time online than ever and that brands are focussing on digital, but how are retailers already adapting their marketing to the pandemic and what steps can you take to get to the other side?
For me, it’s about a fundamental business practice that I have always believed to be key to success: customer centricity. My definition of customer centric is putting the customer and their needs and interests at the heart of every decision you make.
Though this isn’t a new idea, by any means. Howard Schultz, previous CEO of Starbucks, talked about having 2 spare chairs at every senior management meeting: 1 for the employees and 1 for the customer. Every decision they made had to make both their team and their customers proud. When working at Harvey Nichols from 2004-2010, we were invited to read ‘Hug your customers’, a book all about customer centricity written by Jack Mitchell, owner of clothing stores in the US. The book draws a straight line from customer service to business success.
Why is this more important now more than ever? As highlighted in the Business of Fashion State of Fashion 2020 Coronavirus Update report, “during a crisis, people crave connection and brands who are completely absent will lose mindshare.” And ultimately, you can’t connect with your customer if you aren’t putting them first. So, how do you do this?
Six Steps to Customer Centricity
Listen to and understand what your customers are looking for during this time. What are they posting on social media channels and forums? What are they contacting your customer service team about? If in doubt, ask your audience directly what they want to hear from you at this time. Ask them how you can help them. You can do this via Insta Stories or, if you have a regular focus group, on a more intimate level. Offer customers easier ways to communicate with you via Online Chat and WhatsApp
Ultimately, what they are looking for is connection, protection and distraction.
Communicate with them where they are, both physically and mentally. Whilst it’s undeniable that everyone is living very different versions of lockdown right now, we do have some fundamental things in common. Nobody is going anywhere. Everybody is missing their friends and family. Everybody is concerned about the future. So, be human, and talk about your own experiences now. Help them daydream about what they are going to do when this is all over.
In terms of channels, social media and email are seeing a bigger focus than ever from retailers. The increase in time spent online means you have your customers’ attention for longer. So, increase live content on social media, and make sure both your newsletters and automated emails are adapted and optimised to the situation.
Maintain your tone of voice. You shouldn’t change your tone of voice, but adapt it. If you're always casual and employ humour, carry on doing this. Stay true and relevant to your brand and your product. Sweaty Betty is posting endless memes about everyone wearing leggings, which is clever because a) it’s true b) it’s their best selling product and c) it’s funny. And fundamentally, it speaks to their ethos of supporting and empowering women — there’s no judgement in their tone that people are wearing leggings everyday. There is understanding and unity.
Build long-lasting, more connected relationships with the customer that will keep you in contact with them. You have to be present and open up as a brand. Tell them the story of your business, your products, your archives, your team, your ethics. It’s imperative that you share your brand values, because that is what is driving consumer purchase decisions. Note: If you are thinking about what matters to customers, sustainability should be firmly on your radar. The movement of conscious consumption has been hugely accelerated by COVID-19.
Provide new services or products that meet the customers' needs now. If you are a beauty brand, offer workshops on how to do the ultimate at-home facial. Provide self-isolation gift packages that people can send to loved ones. Recipe box company, Mindful Chef, has just launched a new one-off Care Box in response to customer behaviour, that enables you to send someone a package of fresh food.
Also, involve customers in your brand in new ways and offer them activities to pass the time. Fashion brand, Dundas, has launched an illustration competition, encouraging anyone to share their artistic interpretation of any Dundas piece with the chance to be featured at Conde Nast College. Jewellery brand, Maya Magal, invited their audience to design their own ring, with the winning design being made and delivered.
Support the wider community — most importantly your staff, keyworkers and those who are vulnerable. Customers want to understand how you are keeping your teams safe, and also how you are doing what you can to thank those on the front line and help those in need. This is a great place for collaboration - smaller brands are working together on charity initiatives, whilst bigger brands are completely rewiring their companies to produce PPE. All of this will be remembered when we are on the other side.
In summary, listen to customers, put them at the heart of your business and your communications, and be genuine and engaging. Every brand should now consider itself in the service industry, as we come together to help each other through this challenging time.