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Craig Gibson, Chief Commercial Officer for the Webhelp UK region, reveals how brands can use emotional connection, integrity and unity to draw us closer, as the distance between us increases due to the Coronavirus.
Emotion. Unity. Connection.
These themes are everywhere we look at the moment. From the heartfelt children’s rainbow pictures in our windows, and chalked onto our pavements, to the frequent government communications that urge us (young and old) to curb our social interactions and stay home for the good of all society.
And across the UK, every Thursday, millions of us have been clapping alone, but together. We stand united in our universal support of the hardworking NHS and emergency staff. Our passionate applause and shouts spread positivity and illustrate the power of the very human desire to connect – across the physical distance that separates us.
Emotions are high, and rightly so – and in the business arena we have begun to see how this tide of feeling can quickly turn against brands and companies who misjudge the force and direction of the national view-point.
It’s hard for brands to find the right way through this, as they are in the unenviable position of balancing customer benefit against operational stability, and with the growing media attention it’s easy to fall foul of public opinion.
Dave Pattman, Managing Director CX Services at Gobeyond Partners, a Webhelp company, reminds us that in the pre-Covid world, discussion of how brands should make emotional connections was focused on the emotional state of the customer and how brands should detect and empathise with this, and that:
“An interesting impact of Covid is that organisations themselves have become much stronger emotional entities in their own right. They are now judged by how they have cared for their people, and how they have transformed themselves to support the community and frontline services.”
However, he concludes that this surge of emotion does not always lead to positive outcomes:
“There will also be ramifications based on how they have reacted to the fear of not being able to survive economically with fight or flight. This includes how pro-active or protracted the process has been for customers to cancel subscriptions or get refunds.”
He goes on to say that these emotional reactions will certainly have been strongly felt by customers, who have been facing stresses of their own.
In many respects the current crisis has revealed the depth of emotional sincerity in the connections between brands and their customers. It is at times like these that the difference between deeply held values and more superficial marketing activities is revealed.
But there are some positive stories, and the Forbes Coronavirus Champions list makes interesting reading, as it documents the global brands that they feel are getting it right during this crisis.
And, companies closer to home have risen to the challenge, like Pret a Manger who are providing NHS discounts and food retailers like Sainsbury’s and Asda, through their work prioritising vulnerable customers.
Webhelp CEO for the UK Region David Turner; believes that the emotional and financial turmoil brought by COVID-19 brings a tipping point in customer relationships for companies, and urges them to look at the bigger picture by saying:
“In the panic brought by the Coronavirus, brands could easily become caught up in the demands of the moment – and to forget that they have long-term relationships to maintain with their customers and employees. I’d encourage brands to step up during times of need, as this can really make a difference… and unfortunately for brands that can’t – it won’t go unnoticed!”
Interestingly, the in-depth research in the Webhelp Whitepaper on Emotional Connection provides us with a pre-COVID-19 benchmark for the level of emotional connection with sectors – and it will be very revealing to see how new relationships evolve in the post pandemic world.
It is already becoming clear that some industries will come out of this crisis with a different and more meaningful relationship with their customers – for example the technology sector.
Our original research showed that the technology sector was an area in which a third of us had emotionally connected with brands, and it is easy to speculate that this figure will continue to grow.
In fact, as more people work from home and maintain social distance, the pandemic has increased reliance on services from the technology sector, with the New York Times concluding that:
“While the rest of the economy is tanking from the crippling impact of the coronavirus, business at the biggest technology companies is holding steady — even thriving.”
We expect that this reliance will extend into telecoms and media, as connectivity becomes so much more important to communities in lockdown.
Andrew Hall, Director: Strategic Engagements at Webhelp, an industry specialist in innovation and strategy in customer engagement, hits the nail on the head here, saying:
“There is no doubt that the pandemic has radically shifted online behaviour, with a rapid increase in the use of news and social channels, as people look for connection, reassurance and information during the pandemic.”
He goes on to explain that:
“With this societal shift to online communication, conversations with brands will increasingly move into the digital realm, radically altering how people communicate – which could have a lasting impact. Brands will have a unique opportunity to build emotional connection as they react and respond to this new conversation!”
As online content increases, so will the need for swift and professional moderation, which Andrew recognises, commenting:
“We are likely to see a boom in content moderation services, but the companies who will really succeed in this area are those who use insight to understand and act on the current level of heightened emotion and respond with empathy alongside speed and accuracy.”
With capacity to create good online experiences and positive associations, these sectors will gain by increasing amounts of emotional connection across demographics – and brands that support this sector well, will reap the benefits.
In a nutshell, brands that inspire human emotion during this difficult period will build better relationships.
Moreover, emotion has been linked to heightened learning and memory,* especially in areas of motivation and attention, so any positive experiences customers have during this difficult time will affect their decisions long after this crisis has passed.
Companies will also be remembered for the way they adapted ways of working to support their people, during a time when the public focus is (understandably) on unity and standing together. Helen Murray, Chief Customer Solutions Officer, has shared our efforts on this front in her recent blog, where she comments:
“As the reality of the pandemic hit home, the most important and challenging task was to ensure the safety of our people.”
And, as a people-first business, committed to supporting essential services, we want to open a conversation on the value of connection and to encourage brands to communicate and act for their customers and employees in the most human way they can.
Over the coming months our new game-changers series will be looking at how emotion can be used to create mutually beneficial bonds between customers, employees and brands, whilst exploring the data and dynamics that can reinforce and create these connections, and the lessons we can learn from the impact of the Coronavirus.
In addition, in collaboration with Gobeyond Partners, part of the Webhelp Group, we will taking an in-depth look at the expected phases of the pandemic for business, with a guide to the Crisis Curve and what it will mean for the future of CX.
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