Bracing for impact: Strategising customer experience amid crisis

31st May 2023

Is your business continuity plan deeply ingrained within your customer journey? The COVID-19 pandemic has truly tested our preparedness and resilience. It’s not just about having a plan, but also about how effectively it has been executed and tested. While customers might be understanding during a crisis, it’s important to recognise that they also observe, compare, and remember.

No matter how well your business functions, things can (and will) go wrong – whether internally, in your industry, country, or even globally. In light of this, it’s high time to raise the bar and design customer journeys with a disaster-ready mindset.

Expect the unexpected

From my personal experience, many companies only plan for the best-case scenario when designing their customer journey. This approach leaves them scrambling when disaster strikes. A robust customer journey design includes comprehensive risk assessments and contingency plans. Our customer journey needs to be prepared for all eventualities, not just the sunny, “happy path.”

During the pandemic, it is understandable if the contact centre can’t provide instant responses due to increased call volumes and reduced staffing. However, it’s essential to keep your customers informed.

I remember when I had to wait 40 minutes to get through to my TV service provider. First, I was cut off; the second time, I managed to connect with an agent. The experience was beyond frustrating, primarily due to the lack of information regarding my position in the queue or the estimated waiting time.

However, I’m also aware that there are technologies available that can provide real-time updates on queue status and waiting times. Some even provide the option for a callback. Imagine the difference this information could make to a customer’s experience. It empowers them to make an informed decision: do I stay, or do I go?

The companies that had this solution as part of their customer journey during the pandemic have shown that they planned for any situation, including unprecedentedly high call volumes. This approach is far superior to the generic “we are experiencing high call volumes at the moment, please be patient” message, which does little to comfort or inform.

The power of empathetic messaging

The IVR (Intelligent Voice Response) journey and messaging become incredibly crucial during a crisis. Thoughtless messages can provoke frustration instead of patience. Once, while trying to change my mobile phone package to reduce costs, I was directed to the website by the IVR. If I selected this option, it cut me off with no way to navigate back through the menu.

After failing to achieve what I wanted on the website, I had to return to the phone and navigate the dreaded IVR again, desperately trying to figure out which option would connect me to a human. This scenario could have been avoided with careful thought and empathy for the customer journey.

What struck me as even more frustrating were the IVR messages that tried to redirect me to the website, promising a webchat service. Upon reaching the website, I found that the web chat had been switched off due to high call volumes. This short-sighted reaction exposes a lack of holistic disaster planning. Didn’t they think this through, did the company plan separate customer journeys, one for the phone and one for the website?

I find it remarkable that many companies switched off the webchat channel because of high call volumes. After all, webchat is a much simpler service to deliver quickly, and many customer questions can be handled by a chatbot. This type of reaction highlights to me that the disaster planning had not been thought through holistically – at least not from the customer’s point of view. It was a resourcing issue rather than a customer experience problem.

Therefore, it is vital when designing your business continuity plan, that the customer journey is consistent across all the different channels the customer may choose to use. If one channel is directing the customer to another channel, then it needs testing. Don’t just throw it over to the other channel assuming it will work.

Involving all stakeholders

One must not forget the importance of involving all stakeholders, including the marketing team, in understanding the customer journey. Once, I received a marketing email with some attractive offers. Excited, I went to the website to place an order, only to be locked out because there were no delivery slots available. This was a glaring oversight, resulting in a frustrating experience that could have been avoided by stress-testing marketing campaigns for disaster scenarios.

In conclusion: Effective crisis management takeaways

– Plan for disasters: Design your customer journey with a disaster-ready mindset.

– Customer-centric planning: Always design your strategies from the customer’s perspective.

– Channel consistency: Ensure a seamless customer experience across all touchpoints.

– Test, test, test: Regularly evaluate the customer journey as part of your business continuity planning.

– Involve all touchpoints: Every department that interacts with customers should understand and contribute to the customer journey.

In the end, it’s clear that crisis management and customer experience are two sides of the same coin. Customers may be forgiving of the challenges businesses face during crises, but they’ll also remember which companies made their journey easier or more difficult. So, once the storm subsides, will you be reassessing your business continuity plan and its impact on your customer journey?


Blog author

Nigel Medforth

Senior Consultant


    Keep up to date with Davies