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During the pandemic, many organizations have doubled-down on improving the COVID customer experience with swift action to meet the rapidly changing needs of customers. As we move forward, many of those changes may be here to stay.

For many customers, as they emerge from lockdowns and restrictions, all of this effort adds up to a big shift in peoples’ expectations of service, and as a result many previous buying behaviours may never return. 

52% of customers intend changes to their buying behaviors during Covid-19 to continue


As a customer experience leader, how can you better prepare yourself and your organization for what happens next?

1. Evident Safety

Put safety first. Any customer actions must be made clear and simple to follow.

With fears about a second wave, ongoing concerns over transmission through proximity and physical contact points, and personal experiences with COVID customer experience that require physical touchpoints will need to prove and sustain the confidence that they are clean, safe, and healthy.

18% of people have a family member or friend whose health has been impacted by COVID-19, including 5% whose family member or friend died of the disease

*USA Today

As a customer experience leader, your new service experiences will need to factor in additional steps to keep customers and staff safe and healthy and to proactively address their fears.

Changes might include physical changes to working locations, such as more open store layouts, hand sanitizer everywhere, markers to separate customers, perspex shields for sales staff, and reduced numbers in stores and restaurants. 

In addition to physical changes, organizations are looking to shift touchpoints online—such as appointment bookings, product selection, contactless payment and collection.

As a CX leader, you’ll need to consider how to keep your customers and staff safe as locations reopen, and how this impacts your customer journey. Critical safety steps may add significant work and customer challenges in many cases.

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Key Questions To Consider:

2. Digital First

Get used to the idea that customers won’t go back to shopping in the same way. The digital bar has been raised.

Customers have tasted the convenience and simplicity of online ordering and delivery, and may never return to previous behaviors. 

Organizations that have made the shift to digital may face new competition or open up markets beyond their traditional competitor set as location becomes almost irrelevant. 

We saw precisely this in 2003 when Chinese e-everything giant Alibaba grew to prominence out of the sudden quarantine and transition to online driven by the outbreak of Sars.

Firms may suddenly be benefiting from global audiences and spikes in demand—the sudden explosive growth of demand for bidet attachments during the first wave. Even Amazon was overwhelmed with demand for items traditionally bought in-store such as hand sanitizer and toilet paper (and they more recently opened a store to specifically serve customers with key medical supplies like N-95 masks, adapting quickly to the new situation).

The playing field may have shifted towards digital for good, and customer experience leaders need to quickly grasp what’s changed and what’s next and adapt their strategies accordingly to survive and thrive in the future.

Key Questions To Consider:

  • How might your organization simplify the customer experience at every step, using digital?
  • How might you adapt your customer experience in a world where physical interactions have become more challenging and costly to deliver?
  • How might you open up entirely new fields-of-play through digital?

3. Digital Interactions Relationships

Meet customers expectations for digital services beyond just the transaction.

During the pandemic, many organizations made the leap to ecommerce or digital payments or embraced it more fully than ever before (while service teams rapidly moved to work from home while simultaneously learning to support customers with new kinds of challenges).

Much of this digital shift has initially focused on single, critical points in the journey—a contact for important information, a purchase transaction, an urgent outbound communication, or support request. These shifts were critical for business survival in many cases, but they may in-turn create new challenges at other steps in the journey—digital customer ID verification, safe and contactless delivery, or simple returns processes for example. These shifts have also contributed to raising expectations of ongoing, personalized digital support—Why wasn’t it always this easy to do ALL THE THINGS online?

CX leaders in organizations will need to understand the impacts of these raised expectations, join the dots in their customer relationships, and measure the impacts of changes across the whole journey by reassessing key satisfaction metrics and measurement programs, reevaluating KPIs for customer satisfaction, and listen nofollowing to customers.

Those who are able to see the complete picture by using effective CX programs—combining systems, data, capabilities, and processes—will be better able to anticipate customer needs and build stronger, more complete customer relationships for the future.

Key Questions To Consider:

  • How have changes you’ve made impacted other aspects of your customer experience?
  • How do you reassess your customer journeys in order to support end-to-end digital relationships?
  • How can you apply modern tools such as sentiment analysis tools, customer data, and insight behind the scenes to join up your customer service experiences?

4. A Brave New World

Be ready to adapt. Entire business ecosystems may be changed forever.

Beyond the changes to individual customer relationships as seen in the COVID customer experience world, wide-reaching changes have upended entire customer ecosystems.

The tourism industry is one example where disruption is such that the end-to-end journey may never be the same again, with a collapse in demand and an increase in restrictions likely to require greater automation, contactless transactions, and increased physical limitations in the experience. This disruption across so many facets presents massive challenges for all participants in that ecosystem, and the changes will likely transform the industry.

Customer experience leaders will need to consider how their world has changed, how their customer journeys have changed, and how to support these new customer journeys from end-to-end using digital tools, data, and new ways of working as an organization and with key partners to deliver future customer experiences. 

Key Questions To Consider:

  • How have changes in your wider ecosystem affected your own customer journeys?
  • How might you explore potential future scenarios to help you thrive in a new business environment and a more digitally enabled world?

With sustained effort and more than a little luck, we will emerge from this crisis and return to some kind of normality.

Our actions during the crisis to improve the COVID customer experience—plus what we do next—will shape the future for our customers and our organizations for the long-term.

Related Read: 4 Types Of Customer Data You Should Be Using

By Warren Anthony

Warren is a design leader working to improve our experiences with products, services and systems by putting people first. He leads the Experience Design practice at EY Vancouver, working with clients including the City of Vancouver, the Government of Canada and Microsoft. He's an active contributor as part of EY's Global Future Consumer and Future Cities teams. In previous lives he led strategy, UX and digital design teams at DDB London and FCV Vancouver scooping major awards for work with Hasbro, Volkswagen and Philips.