CX Cracks Under COVID-19 Pressure

Photo credit: iStockphoto/LoveTheWind

A friend took her fury to Facebook last week after doing what she said was a big online shop with a major Australian grocery chain.

When the order arrived, she posted a photo online. A large cardboard box containing two lemons, a packet of potato chips and another box of some sugary biscuits: four items in all.

“Did a HUGE online shop and this is what just arrived. I mean, seriously?” was part of her caption.

The rest of what she said was unfit to be reprinted here.

Her experience was one example of how online fulfillment, and digital CX, is under pressure and often compromised by the surging demand of this COVID-19 lockdown in many countries.

Demand and JIT

The first issue is pure demand, a question of sheer volume. With vast numbers of people living in lockdown, they are inevitably turning to the digital channels to buy things they ordinarily go out to the shops to buy.

In Australia, the online deliveries of major grocers Coles and Woolworths seemed to cope for a few weeks. Then, suddenly, people were informed you could no longer make a home delivery order unless you were elderly or in a group considered being at risk.

For the rest of us, it was back to the brick-and-mortar stores where the queues were massive because they needed to enforce social distancing. It meant slowing things down to a snail’s pace.

The second issue is that the whole modern supply chain has been predicated on “just in time” delivery. It cuts inventories and storage requirements and while it makes good financial sense in terms of the businesses’ bottom line, it hasn’t worked well during an unprecedented pandemic.

Not only are inventories of many essential items being plundered at a record pace, but the actual movement of goods through the supply chain has been severely disrupted by the closure of businesses and borders, both internal and external.

All this has meant that for many, this lockdown period has raised serious issues about digital CX as retailers have been pushed to the brink.

The reckoning

One view is that this will, post pandemic, create a backlash against ecommerce and something of a return to bricks and mortar.

The chief of U.S. digital signage company Raydiant, Bobby Marhamat, expressed this view in a post for Forbes magazine last week: “Research suggests that people still need physical stores in their lives. I believe the in-store experience defines retail for people. Touching products is part of that experience but helpful staff, well organized showrooms, unexpected activities, smart technologies and other components all combine to create exceptional experiences.”

This view is perhaps a little retro. It is also at odds with others who see the current problems as just another stage in the evolution of digital CX, which will develop at a more rapid clip because of what is happening now.

Forrester analyst David Truog also pondered these questions in a blog post in the last few days.

“With customers worldwide coping with the pandemic, companies need to recalibrate customer experience efforts,” writes Truog, a Forrester vice president and research director.

“With most people cooped up at home, it’s suddenly more important than ever to get digital experiences right, and that means urgently redirecting funds toward the people, processes, and technologies required for digital user experience (UX) to deliver.”

Truog cites three key areas to focus on as below:

  • Excellent interaction design. Are your workflows, forms, controls, and responses well designed?
  • Compelling value. Does the value that customers get out of your websites and apps match with the amount of effort, data, and money they’ve got to invest in the experience?
  • Intuitive presentation. Is the user interface as easy, effective, and emotionally resonant as possible for customers to use — including layouts, grid systems, graphical elements, typography, and more?

He then suggests some priorities for organizations as they “double down” on their UX, recommending scaling up production teams, hiring outside help, rigorously reviewing results and updating the UX.

Get emotional

Another Forrester analyst, Rick Parish, focuses on emotion, saying it is “the most important dimension of customer experience (CX) quality — even for digital.”

“Contrary to what many companies think, the right emotion is not necessarily delight — it might be confidence or trust, for example,” writes Parrish. “Delight may be way off key at a time like this.”

Reading this brought to mind the frustrated Facebook post of my friend, and the very negative emotions it manifested.

The upside is that while her experience was the polar opposite of delight, we can be confident that a lot of work is being put into CX right now. Leading organizations are likely to move quickly to improve.

The genuine test will come if we ever have another period like this again.

And while it is so often described as “unprecedented”, a precedent has now been set. So, organizations now have no excuse not to make sure they are prepared and their CX is ready.

Photo credit: iStockphoto/LoveTheWind