What to do when your customers have vanished?

by Roger Hurni

March 26, 2020 at 2:17 pm

The world has changed. It is now more critical than ever to model the behaviors of your customers.

As a Behavior Designer, I’m often asked how I would apply behavior modeling in a variety of situations that have nothing to do with marketing. These questions have ranged from “How do I get my son to clean up his room?” to “How do we change the behaviors of our internal communication structure?”

Due to COVID-19, business is far from usual. It may not feel normal again for quite a while. As expected, everyone’s first concern is (and should be) the health and safety of family members, loved ones, friends and colleagues. But, a big part of that revolves around staying employed, ensuring people have jobs and are able to continue to work. Keeping a business going, retaining customers and growing your consumer base cannot be ignored. So, what is the solution? And how does Behavior Design fit in?

At the heart of the most effective customer communication programs is personalization.

Far too many companies get personalization wrong by trying to figure out who each of their customers are. True personalization comes from knowing how your customers behave. Understanding that will help you examine why and how your customers are behaving in a COVID-19 world. In turn, that is the first step to the right kind of empathic and personalized communications you need to employ.

Recently, I’ve seen every kind of company put out a message about what they are doing to help manage the current situation. It seems most are trying to put out one or two emails and be done. Many of these email communications come across disingenuous because of the somewhat underlying subtext: trying to get you to buy from them as soon as possible. In fairness, there are a few that have gotten it right.

I wrote this post to help you navigate getting it right because this situation not only calls for a brand to understand its customers like never before, but to also have empathy for what he or she may be going through.

Our daily motivations are in a game of tug of war.

Let’s start by evaluating what is affecting a consumer’s motivation to take action. First, fear. Fear is suppressing a lot of motivation for customers to do anything except prepare for the worst. Pushing against fear is hope or faith. When motivation is in a tug of war like this, it is difficult to make decisions. People can feel somewhat paralyzed which, more often than not, leads to inaction. But people will cling to any seed of hope or message that this bad situation will be over soon.

In this situation, brands should focus on the constructive actions their customers can take, such as how their customers can stay healthy, be better prepared should things turn worse, increase a positive mindset or connect with their community in new ways. Knowing this, it is critical for your customer touch points to address the emotional push and pull first. Be empathic in a way that isn’t pushing your business or service. Your customers will remain more loyal because of it.

Going dark is not necessarily the right thing to do right now. But neither is selling.

Now comes the hard part. I know many of you are from various industries around the world so what works for one, won’t always work for another. Allow me to share with you how to think through the next step, without necessarily sharing any specific action as that truly is personal to your brand and business.

When facilitating behaviors, nothing is more important than making a behavior as easy as possible to perform. The question you need to ask yourself is, “What behavior could our customers perform that is in line with their current motivations?”

This will most likely have nothing to do with buying your product or service. For some companies, this could be sharing a positive story on social media that is associated with your brand. If your company is in the health industry, this could mean providing customers with tips on preparing a pantry meal menu for the week. Or how to perform an entire exercise routine with common household items.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Staying in touch with your customer base is more critical than ever. Now is not the time to completely turn off your communication channels. Instead, rethink how you are using each channel as a prompt while keeping in mind the motivations that are driving your customers to take action or inaction. Finally, simplify the behaviors you want to see performed and be certain they are aligned with those motivations. If you shift your goals toward supporting and helping your customers and not selling to them, you will come out of this much stronger than your competitors.

March 26, 2020 at 2:17 pm

Roger Hurni