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  • Writer's pictureDerek Bildfell

How does the pandemic affect your personas and journey maps?

Virtually EVERY organization has been affected by the pandemic.

Whether struggling or thriving, we've all had to re-examine how to offer our products and services. Status quo hasn't been an option. And, life for virtually every person, at any age, has also been affected. We experience differently what it is like to leave home, to be in a household, to work and study, to feed ourselves, to consume media, to socialize and celebrate, etc.

I believe that customer journey maps, personas, and experiences will need to change since companies and the people they serve are no longer the same. Curious if my views were shared, I reached out to some of the most respected Customer Experience experts in Canada, and here are their observations, opinions, and cautions.

1. More Canadians are living at the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy (perhaps for the first time).

"In the current pandemic situation, we’re all humans first and safety is a basic human need," states Stephan Sigaud, EVP Marketing at Phase 5 and Chair of Toronto CXPA. "This resets the whole system of expectations that drive experience design and management."

"For example, while safety was, until recently, an important attribute in choosing to travel by air, it was not a driver of choice (because all airlines were essentially offering the same perception of safety). But as airlines implement different safety procedures, safety becomes a critical driver of choice."

2. Canadian confidence is down.

According to recent Nanos polls, consumer confidence has reached a 12-year low with respect to personal finances, Canadian economy, job security and real estate. Fears over physical well-being and personal finances are cited as main worries. This combination spells a shift in spending and priorities.

3. Customers have new expectations.

"Customers of virtually every company in every sector in the world have experienced an unprecedented disruption to their lives and livelihoods in 2020," notes Aviva Shiff, VP of Customer Experience and Strategic Alliances at CDSPI. "This has had a tremendous impact on how customers value and interact with the organizations they patronize. Not only have processes changed, but also customer expectations."

"For example, a mere three months ago, a five-minute wait at a checkout would have been deemed unacceptable by most, while today, masked people, 6 feet apart are waiting 45 minutes just to be let into the store. A previously pleasant shopping expedition has now morphed into an anxiety-evoking dreaded task."

Roger Pugsley, President of Pugsley CX Consulting, adds, "Customers and employees have endured many restrictions associated with COVID-19. But they've also enjoyed (and have come to expect) continued access to services, like retail curbside delivery."

Personally, I hope this shows a resurgent interest in sustaining neighbourhood vitality while enjoying the convenience and hygiene of online shopping.

During the eye of the storm, most people were tolerant of less-than-ideal experiences when food was delivered cold, when grocery stores were out of cleaning products when it took weeks for their online order to arrive, but patience will wear off.

"From an external point of view, the tempo during the pandemic set new expectations," says Natasha Renaud, Head of Customer Experience and Relations at HSBC Bank Canada. "I believe customers will be less accepting of bureaucracy and red tape."

4. Companies learned they're capable of more than they thought.

"The pandemic demonstrated that even notoriously slow-moving industries like banking and government, could move faster," Natasha adds. "COVID-19 created a situation where the need to adapt outweighed the internal discomfort for many organizations (with decision-making, technology roll-outs, and risk)."

CRA, an organization not well known for customer experience or communication clarity, was able to very quickly implement a near-seamless experience for financial aid. They've shown what's possible if you're willing to get out of your comfort zone.

5. In the age of COVID-19 (and beyond), communication is king.

"The tone, frequency, and format of what we convey to each other matters more now than any time in recent history," explains Lawrence Levinson, VP of Product at Pulse Profile Analytics Inc. and CX Engineer with The Inside View.

"Authenticity and audience relevance have never been more scrutinized. One-size-fits-all messaging falls flat, often with collateral damage. Organizations that are thriving are demonstrating integrity by walking-the-talk and living their core values. They make health & safety (both physical and mental) critical priorities. They 'do the right thing' and are being recognized by customers and employees who choose to align with them."

6. Those who were once your best customers may no longer be.

Those who were your best customers pre-COVID may not have the same needs and disposable income. Trend-spotters see shifts in countless areas -- back to basics, home comfort, commuting, open-concept office environments, travel, hygiene, and the shared economy, to name a few.

Similarly, employee perceptions, needs, and priorities have also shifted. Who will stay and thrive is yet to be seen fully.

So, if every organization and every person has changed... shouldn’t Journey Mapping and Personas?

“For all of you whose journey maps are hanging on the wall of that office you haven't been to in two months, now is the time because they're definitely not accurate anymore,“ Shannon Ballard, VP Jan Kelley, said candidly at a recent CXPA virtual event.

Aviva Schiff: "How better to understand the impact of a global pandemic but with constructing new journey maps that capture every touchpoint and identify problems, opportunities, effort and emotion? As with every disruption, there will be winners and losers. The winners will be the agile organizations who fluidly construct and leverage personas and journey maps to help deepen engagement and create more valuable relationships."

Roger Puglsey: "COVID-19 has fundamentally changed the world. Many experts agree there will be another 'normal' following this pandemic. Now is not the time to guess. To quote Winston Churchill, Never waste a good crisis. We must increase the use of tools such as personas and journey maps to get in front of the challenge of uncovering and exceeding revised customer expectations."

Stephan Sigaud: "As a result of this situation, most companies will need to redesign their CX. That's why journey mapping (and personas to illustrate the journeys of different customer segments) become an even more critical tool to discover how customer needs have changed and generate the insights needed to inform their experience redesign strategies."

Lawrence Levinson: "Journey Mapping is one of the most powerful methodologies accessible today (even virtually). With the right inputs, it enables a data-driven 360° view of performance and engagement. As we all reassess and adjust our strategic frameworks with flexibility to the world around us, Journey Mapping takes decision-making beyond gut-feel assumptions or subjective influences. It's the perfect vehicle for the moment to marry datasets with creativity - to better understand who our customers and employees truly are, what they value, and how to make their relationship with us that much stronger.”

Experts also share cautions, like: Don't ignore important segments.

The pandemic has brought to light that experiences were not working for certain customer segments. Natasha believes that one under-served (or ignored) customer segment is our seniors or customers who are not technology-enabled.

"This pandemic was an eye-opener for me because it demonstrated that customers who are not digitally-engaged, are left behind," she says. "Both in my professional and personal life I saw how, during the pandemic, they were left to their own to do the basic things that we take for granted (like paying bills or ordering online). Particularly because organizations focused so dramatically on online solutions and less with phone or other channels to serve them -- while their stores were closed."

Don't forget the need for human connection and a sense of belonging.

The perceived productivity risk of allowing employees to work from home has been debunked. Unfortunately, some organizations see this as a sign that they can remove choice as a way to save on rent costs. The open concept may need to be revamped, but allowing people options will be important for employee experience.

Resist the urge to focus solely on digital touchpoints.

Natasha agrees that journey mapping and personas will need to be reviewed, but worries that organizations will forget the notion of channels of choice. She strongly believes we shouldn't only amplify online channels.

"In my industry the reliance on call centre remained key -- outside of our digital offering," she says. "Our branches remained open and we did see an important decrease in visits. However, we still have specific transactions and/or reasons to meet face-to-face with customers - and that didn't change during the pandemic. So, yes, review journey mapping more in understanding customer expectations than focusing on one channel as the only pathway to serve customers."

While there has been an uptick in digital shopping/engaging during the lockdown, the need for human connection will remain. Think of your own behaviour. Just because you could order take-out and eat home-cooked meals, wouldn't you still prefer prefer date night at your favourite restaurant or meeting up with your friends at the pub vs Zoom? Companies that jump to digital-only conclusions, risk missing so many touchpoints important to their customers.

Alignment is challenging without co-creation.

"Sensitizing the organization to the need for change in light of revised customer expectations is important," Roger cautions. "CX practitioners will need to co-create solutions - not only with customers, but also with decision-makers to build commitment and internal alignment, fighting the urge to design change on their own."

This is especially important for Canadian companies where research found that a lack of internal alignment is the #1 internal barrier to CX success.

Experts agree that very likely, your personas and customer journey maps DO need refreshing.

Until an approved vaccine is widely available, we will continue to adapt. Even afterward, there will be residual changes to perceptions and attitudes that will live long into the future.

You’ve now read why Journey Maps and Personas will need to be updated. Need help to determine the very best options for your organization? I can be reached here.

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