3 tips to manage customer expectations during coronavirus

Business as usual has changed.

Some industries – and brands for that matter – are feeling the effects more than others. Travel, restaurant, and retail companies that rely heavily on in-person traffic are bracing for revenue shortfalls. Meanwhile, the federal government weighs stimulus packages to offer distressed businesses some relief.

In this environment, it’s tough to offer any substantive advice to businesses in survival mode. But history and experience offer three fundamental reminders on how businesses can serve customers and meet expectations in this difficult and unprecedented time.

1. Pivot to digital

Seemingly every day the number of people allowed to congregate in public shrinks in order to shield the public from COVID-19 exposure. States are requiring non-essential businesses to close their doors and advising citizens to shelter in place. “Social distancing” is our new reality, and it’s forcing many retailers to shift (or bolster) their digital strategies.

Our data has shown online is more satisfying than in person interactions in retail, and for at least the next several weeks it’ll be more important than ever for companies to maintain these channels. In the early days of the pandemic, restaurants and even some retailers began enabling customers to order items ahead from their digital apps for parking lot pick up. Others are using push notifications and other online channels to keep customers informed on the availability of products and services.

You’ll have to be nimble, of course, but make sure your customers know that, while they can’t necessarily go about business as usual, you still have the capabilities to offer them the services they’re used to.

2. Communicate frequently

Now more than ever, your employees and customers need to hear from you. They need to know they can reach you with questions and concerns.

Have customer service representatives available (remotely!). While customer support services like live chat, help pages, and cell centers haven’t always lived up to expectations, it’s certainly better to make these resources available rather than leave customers in the dark. If anything, use this as an opportunity to strengthen communications.

Send reassurance emails with key information to put your customers’ minds at ease. For example, make individuals who prefer going to a branch for their banking needs aware of your mobile app’s capabilities. Remind them that they can still access their banking information online and tell them what services are available.

These are unusual times in that many companies, by law, aren’t able to operate as usual. In the end, customers will likely understand this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have questions. Be proactive and responsive to their concerns to maintain your customer relationships in the long run.

3. Don’t increase prices without increasing value

The coronavirus is negatively impacting the global economy. Businesses are losing money and the situation may get worse before it gets better. Yet, even if you’re among the industries suffering the most, don’t take advantage of the crisis.

This is not the time to raise prices – without offering better quality – just to offset predicted losses. If you must suspend service, ensure you have a plan to make up for this inconvenience, whether you prorate refunds, extend return policies, offer future credit, or waive change fees.

During this difficult time, we need to come together and do what’s best for the collective good. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon has been removing third-party sellers who are charging insane prices for cleaning products during the outbreak.

Adapt, overcome, and survive

The coronavirus outbreak is disrupting our lives in ways we never imagined, and we’ll feel its effects for some time. But we will get through this.

Keep your customers in mind, communicate frequently, and be flexible. If you have the means to do so, don’t be afraid to innovate to meet and help customers where you can.

While business has fundamentally changed in a couple short weeks, these three elements hold true and will help you weather whatever comes next.

Going beyond green initiatives: Why the energy utilities sector needs to better support local communities

The energy utilities sector knew what it had to do to improve satisfaction. The people made that very clear.

Last year, when customer satisfaction fell 2.7%, we observed a strong desire for green initiatives. While fixing this area wouldn’t automatically repair the strained relationship between customers and utilities, it would go a long way toward showing that providers not only hear their customers’ concerns but are actively making concerted efforts to improve.

Unfortunately, it appears little has changed.

The grass still isn’t greener

Once again, energy utilities sustained a sector-wide drop in customer satisfaction, falling 1.5% to an American Customer Satisfaction Index score of 72.1 (on a scale of 0 to 100), according to our most recent Energy Utilities Report. And that “green” problem? It’s still there.

In the three categories of energy utilities – investor-owned (down 1.4% overall to 72), municipal (down 1.4% overall to 72), and cooperative (down 2.7% overall to 73) – efforts to support green programs is either the worst or tied for the worst customer experience benchmark.

Overall, investor-owned utilities earned a 70, municipal utilities took home a 69, and cooperative utilities, while finishing with the highest mark at 71, still saw customer satisfaction plummet 4%.

Providers like National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E score well below the investor-owned utilities average for green initiatives. The same goes for the group of smaller cooperatives and smaller municipal utilities, which score in the mid-to-high 60s.

Unfortunately, a lack of support for green programs isn’t the only thing hindering customer satisfaction.

Missing out on a sense of community (support)

Customers believe utilities providers could be doing more to support local communities – much more.

Within the investor-owned utilities category, efforts to support the local community is the lowest customer satisfaction benchmark – tied with efforts to support green programs – at 70. National Grid, American Electric Power, and PG&E struggle in this area too. But they’re not alone.

Eversource Energy and FirstEnergy also have plenty of room for improvement among investor-owned utilities.

Municipal utilities providers perform better than investor-owned utilities in this area – but not by much. The industry scores a 72, down 3% from the previous year.

While cooperatives remain the sector leaders for supporting their local communities, they’re doing worse than they did a year ago, dropping 3% to an Index score of 74. Smaller cooperatives have the most room for improvement here as well.

Change in business values

Although the energy utilities sector isn’t offering customers the sort of support they crave for green initiatives or local communities, many of America’s top business leaders are starting to see the light.

Fortune 500 CEOs – 181 of them to be exact – signed a letter showing these very things are important to business. Instead of prioritizing shareholders and maximizing profits, the “purpose of a corporation” needs to center on investing in employees, delivering value to customers, and supporting outside communities through sustainable endeavors.

“Major employers are investing in their workers and communities because they know it is the only way to be successful over the long term. These modernized principles reflect the business community’s unwavering commitment to continue to push for an economy that serves all Americans,” said Jamie Dixon, chairman and CEO of J.P. Morgan Chase and chairman of Business Roundtable, the group of CEOs from major U.S. corporations who released this statement.

While profits will always be part of the equation, top American business leaders recognize how important it is to do right by their customers.

It’s time to listen and act

For the second consecutive year, there’s widespread customer satisfaction decline across the entire energy utilities sector.

All three categories of energy utilities saw their overall scores drop and every aspect of customer experience either declines or remains unchanged. And at or near the bottom of it all is support for green programs and local community.

Once again, energy utility providers know what they must do. Not only are their customers telling them their needs, but other U.S. corporations are preaching a change in values and business practices.