Pandemic vs. Customer Relationship – or the other way round?
How long is too long? We have just been looking faithfully to spring, when the reports of extensions of lockdowns and tightening of other anti-Covid-19 measures are already rolling over again. Yes, of course the health of employees, customers, guests, friends, family and, last but not least, your own is a valuable asset to protect.
But the restaurateurs among us, the customer advisors, the hoteliers, the project and team managers, the executives from the middle tier to the very top have been living for a long time with limited opportunities to meet with one another and with others. As creative and digital as we all get to keep the business going, however much optimism we want to exude – the soul suffers, that cannot be denied.
Social beings like us have not only physical but also psychological basic needs, on which our well-being and our motivation depend directly. You can roughly describe them by three terms, based on the Self-Determination Theory of Deci and Ryan:
- Autonomy: a feeling of being agent of your own life
- Competence: feeling capable of mastering tasks
- Relatedness: being connected to and interact with others
The first two are served quite well by the modern online world (although there’s a lot to learn from the gaming industry, but that’s probably worth a separate article). The third point is the classic habitat of communication and social media.
Now, as the largest imaginable field study is currently being carried out, we experience firsthand not only to which extent these needs can actually be satisfied online, but also what the problems are. Today and here, we are talking primarily about the third need, for social relatedness. The deficiencies in this regard are obvious:
Informal meetings: Everything with a specific purpose and clear goal is still going very well. But the social exchange, the friendliness on a human level, the many small rituals on the stairs, in the elevator, in the coffee kitchen, at the trade fair or conference are no longer there. Not to mention larger team meetings, company outings, in-house exhibitions, anniversaries, etc.
The friendly smile, the handshake, a clear situation when greeting – all that is history. Behind the mask, it is difficult to see how the other person is feeling, and this leads to insecurity, which in the worst case can turn into an irritable mood. How can we to deal with this, if we are to avoid direct, personal contact as much as possible, when we are required to wear masks almost everywhere, and telephone and web meetings are the order of the day? Time for a few practical tips:
1. Use your interfaces.
We use a techy metaphor here, because in our tech-heavy industry, interpersonal aspects often receive less than the attention they deserve.
Technology meets people at the user interface, and the customer meets the provider at the customer touchpoint. These are important points, they should even be a top priority. But we are nowhere near that point. In an alarming number of medium-sized companies, “someone in the IT division” is taking care of customer touchpoints. After all, we’re paying for a CRM software, this should ensure efficient communication, and social media marketing is something for the interns, right? FALSE.
Even in the large and multinational corporations, where agencies or entire departments for company and customer communication do professional work, it often becomes clear how much the communicated image deviates from the lived reality. We medium-sized companies should take advantage of the relative manageability on our scale. Communication is a matter for the boss. Or at least the management.
Browse your own website, update your blog, visit your company profiles on social media. Check where a message can be placed that connects you with customers and business partners in pandemic times: It might be called story, company information, description, profile quote, status – none of these features should be treated like static content and be left unmodified throughout the year. Place your message more often, make a reference to current topics that move everyone. Oh, and don’t forget your email signature too.
2. Send messages everyone can relate to.
Who are you talking about when you use the word WE on your website / company profile? The we-relation can be narrow or broad. Use it consciously. If you are only talking about your company, make this clear: “In the Sample Company, we…”, or “With us from the Sample Company …”
Show your solidarity with customers / business partners by extending the WE relation to them: “In our industry …”, “We all want to satisfy our common customers …”, “Together we can …..”,
In this context, optimism can do no harm, because we all need a ray of light in times like these: “… together we will take this hurdle”, “… we will continue to stick together”, “we are still there for you despite … “