The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t just resulted in changing consumer behaviors and a new economic environment. It has also pressured businesses to question how they interact with customers and respond to their needs.
Customer retention in normal times was always a primary focus for businesses. However, in this new normal, it’s more important than ever for businesses to figure out how they can position customers at the heart of both their marketing strategy and their business model.

Adapting Your Customer Retention Strategy
With fewer chances to personally interact with your customer base, you may wonder how you can possibly maintain your relationship with them and continue to build their confidence in your brand. Fortunately, there are plenty of opportunities to innovate and improve during these uncertain times.
Below, we describe the most important areas you should be focusing on when it comes to navigating the realm of customer retention in this new and unfamiliar business environment.

Build Relationships Using the HEART Framework
The Harvard Business Review offers guidelines for building relationships with consumers during a crisis through its HEART framework of communication. These guidelines call for business owners to

• Humanize their companies
• Educate customers about changes in their operations
• Assure stability to inspire consumer confidence
• Revolutionize their offerings by adapting to the new environment
• Tackle the future by determining a timeline for reevaluating and updating changes as needed

Above all, the HEART framework emphasizes the need to reach out to customers not with new marketing efforts but with information and support, providing them with much-needed value and building relationships in the process.

Make Targeted Changes to Customer Experience
Chances are your customer experience has been dramatically altered over the course of the pandemic, for better or for worse. You may have had to make spur-of-the-moment decisions regarding how customers interact with your business and receive your products and services without fully thinking through how these changes would affect customers’ overall impression of your company.
Now is the time to take stock of changes that have already been made and those that still need to be made in the face of long-term shifts in consumer behaviors. Throughout this decision-making process, focus on meeting customers where they are through innovations in online interactions and expanded home delivery options or contactless operations.
One of the easiest ways to assess customer feedback is through surveys. You can gather a significant amount of information with questions as simple as:

• How likely are you to recommend our service?
• What did you like about our services?

Additionally, now is an excellent time to survey your customers about their feelings regarding the reopening of your business. Find out where their concerns lie. Are they interested in seeing your staff wearing masks? Do they expect to see hand sanitizer at multiple locations within your store? Are they anticipating special business hours for seniors or those compromised immune systems?
At this critical time, it’s also important to listen to employees who have the closest interaction with customers, as they’ll have particularly valuable insight into how changes are being implemented and received.

Understand What’s Most Important to Customers
Customers’ priorities are changing—fast. Since the pandemic has altered their lives seemingly overnight, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that what they’re looking for in brands has changed significantly as well.
In order to gain a better understanding of how these changes have impacted consumers’ trust in brands, a recent survey reached out to more than a thousand consumers in the U.S. to learn more about these new priorities.
The results showed that this crisis has led consumers to take on a more community-focused mindset. Consumers are most concerned with how brands are making the well-being of their employees and customers their focus, rather than taking advantage of the situation to maximize profits.
In other words, consumers aren’t looking for empty words of hope and optimism. What they want is for brands to demonstrate more concrete support for their customers and employees—not their bottom line.
These factors are likely to have an impact on customer loyalty and brand reputation for as long as the pandemic is an influential part of Americans’ lives, and should thus be a major consideration as you make changes to your business going forward.

Keeping the “Non-Essential” Essential

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic crisis may feel like anything but an opportunity for small businesses. Nonetheless, changes in purchasing patterns and consumer behaviors offer businesses a golden moment to stand out.
By taking the initiative to innovate as you navigate this uncharted territory, you can help ensure your business is in a stronger position to compete against other well-known brands as consumers develop new habits and the world enters a new normal.
In these difficult times having a solid digital marketing strategy is key to keeping business afloat. So, how can you use digital marketing to integrate into consumers’ purchasing patterns and make a strong comeback as social distancing guidelines are loosened?
Read on for our tips to help keep your business relevant in an ever-changing environment.

Tip #1: Offer a Solution
Attracting the attention of customers set in their ways once required a tough, and often costly, fight with big-name brands. However, in this day and age, it’s obvious that customers are willing to forgo brand loyalty and change their habits.
The population is shopping in new ways, trying out new brands, and venturing out to unfamiliar shops to purchase essentials. And this isn’t just anecdotal information. In fact, a study presented by MIT Sloan Management Review reports new brands accounted for over 30% of surveyed shoppers’ purchases.
As shelves are emptied of many sought-after items, what consumers are searching for is not necessarily brand recognition, but the particular features of a product. Instead of delaying purchases to wait for a preferred brand to arrive on the shelves, customers are now willing to stock up on something new as long as the unfamiliar product performs the same function as the familiar one. In this context, it’s not so important for brands to focus on why their product is the ideal version, but rather how it offers a solution to the customer’s needs.

Tip #2: Stay Visible
It’s easy to get a customer to try your product if it’s the only one of its kind left on the shelf. But what about online, where the options can often feel limitless? That’s where digital marketing comes in.
Now especially, it’s crucial you invest in a digital marketing strategy that helps build your brand’s virtual presence and facilitates familiarity and trust among your audience. Here are some of the main components of a well-rounded digital marketing strategy:

SEO Marketing
Engaging in Search Engine Optimization, known as SEO, is one of the best ways to ensure your website appears on the results pages for relevant searches. Since SEO is a long-term strategy, it’s important to understand that any efforts you put in now to optimize your website are going to pay dividends in the future. Using keyword optimization, improving the format of sitemaps, and using structured data are a few of the ways you can improve search engine rankings and help position your product or service as a solution to consumers’ queries.

Social Media
With physical social distancing a must in many communities, people are turning to social media for both social interaction and information. This offers a great opportunity for brands to engage with their audience in a way that feels natural and helps bolster their presence online.
Remember that many people use social media as a form of escape, meaning they’re more open to humorous or uplifting content on these platforms. This isn’t the place for strictly promotional content, but it is a space where you can organically build a community around your brand without blowing your marketing budget.

Online Ad Campaigns
If your company has always relied on word-of-mouth marketing, how can it survive in a world where people are increasingly isolated from one another? Running an online advertising campaign is one way to spread the word about your brand as consumers spend more time in front of their phones and computers.
PPC ads allow you to insert ads in search engine results based on specific keywords. This kind of strategy is accessible to almost all businesses and makes it possible to target the right audience for a better return on your investment.

Tip #3: Adapt, Innovate, and Evolve
Now’s the time to show just how agile you can be. As you take your business online and reach out to a more open customer base who is willing to try new things, it’s important you’re ready to roll with the punches. Government guidelines and consumer preferences will change and the market will always evolve, but one thing will stay the same: businesses that choose to innovate in the face of uncertain circumstances will continue to thrive.

Many companies fail to take the time to understand the true needs and feelings of their customers, especially during periods of major upheaval. Before investing in product development or altering services in a way that could completely change the customer experience, it’s important for innovators to ensure any adjustments they make accurately reflect the voice of the customer (VOC).
The VOC process is a form of marketing research that aims to understand customer expectations as well as their likes and dislikes. This process offers insight into customers’ needs and desires—both the ones they consciously speak about and those they’ve yet to even identify themselves.
The VOC technique also makes it possible for brands to learn how customers make decisions and the specific “pain points” that may stop them from making a purchase. In addition, it offers information about how customer preferences change over time.

Changing Approaches to VOC During the Pandemic

In 2020, companies have seen customer preferences change drastically. From a sudden decline in income to new regulations that dictate their daily interactions, there have been a number of influential factors causing the pendulum of customer preferences to swing wildly.
Some of the changes have been lasting, while others haven’t. Keeping up with these shifts has given many businesses whiplash. But others have proven to be stronger than ever. The key to success in this situation is knowing exactly what customers are thinking and feeling and using that information to dictate key decisions for your company.

While many VOC collection techniques have typically been conducted in person, such as interviews, focus groups, and observations, this is no longer a safe option in the wake of COVID-19. Thus, having an effective digital feedback collection method has become more crucial than ever.
At Listen360, we’ve seen many of our brands succeed in implementing changes to how they gather and analyze customer feedback during the pandemic. Below, we’ve listed a few of the different ways they’ve adjusted their digital feedback collection strategies to understand customers’ changing preferences and respond in a way that strengthens customer relations and promotes brand loyalty.

Keeping an Ear to the Ground

With customer engagement software that allows you to analyze customer feedback in real time, you can quickly get a handle on your customers’ current needs and frame of mind. While in the past you may have only checked customer feedback on a casual basis, now is the time to increase the frequency with which you gather, monitor, and respond to customer opinions and reviews.
Not only will doing so ensure you keep your finger on the pulse of a changing situation, but it will also enable you to make quick changes based on customer reactions. For example, if you receive a comment expressing disappointment about your company’s approach to COVID-19 safety measures, you can immediately look into the problem and resolve it so no other customers have the same negative experience. The most dynamic software packages alert you of such feedback right away, giving you the chance to quickly fix the problem and retain customers you may otherwise have lost.

Adjusting Text Analytics

Once upon a time, your text analytics may have been tuned to identify issues regarding customer service or specific aspects of your products. Now, depending on the types of services you offer, you should most likely be tuning your analytics to seek out words such as “PPE,” “COVID,” “masks,” “social distancing,” “pandemic,” and any other phrases that customers may be using to express their feelings and observations about the current situation.
With the right customer engagement software, you can easily adjust your text analytics at any time to include these words. With this proactive approach, you can find and address COVID-related feedback as quickly as possible. Remember, this feedback won’t always be negative. You’re also looking out for positive customer experiences that show you’re on the right track to providing customers with a purchase process that helps them feel safe.

Assessing the Needs of Different Demographics

At this point in time, customer sentiment may vary drastically depending on where they live. Rather than looking at your customer base as a whole, you’ll likely get a better understanding of what’s going on by segmenting feedback data to pinpoint certain states, regions, or demographics.
Using a customer listening solution, like Listen360, brands can take a detailed look at how different segments feel about their products and services as well as their approach to health and safety. Region, location, customer age, and customer tenure are some of the categories that can be used to filter data and highlight important patterns. Thanks to this tool, segments of your customer base that require extra attention won’t go overlooked.
During volatile times, your customers’ voices should lead the way. When you realize your customers only want to be heard and feel safe, you can work to meet these needs in real-time and build relationships that endure beyond this challenging era.