The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping across the U.S is heavily impacting consumer shopping behavior and purchase decisions. According to a recent First Insight study, nearly one-third of consumers are taking advantage of Buy Online Pick-up in Store Services, to get products delivered without going in-store, with 18% of consumers using curbside pickup, 17% subscription services, and 13% opting for auto-ship.

Consumers still need products and services at this time. While it is true that what they need may now differ, how they want to shop and receive items and services has changed dramatically. This trend actually started well before the COVID-19 crisis, but the pandemic has greatly accelerated this transformation of consumer behavior into what we call the “connected customer” landscape.

Though a relatively new term, the connected customer describes those consumers who prefer to interact with brands through digital channels such as websites, apps or Alexa skills. Interestingly, an overwhelmingly large percentage of the population falls into this category, from Baby Boomers to millennials and beyond, spanning all generations.

For businesses that have focused on building digital customer experiences, their efforts should provide a lifeline as they are able to offer consumers a means to get what they need. Brands that prioritize investment in digital experiences are better positioned to weather this current crisis as they have a way to maintain an ongoing relationship with their customers through their digital ecosystem touch points. But, even still, they will need to do much more to remain successful.

Here are three tips for retailers to help build deeper connections with their customers.


INVEST IN QUICK DIGITAL WINS TO STAY CONNECTED

All retailers need to immediately invest in quick digital wins to stay connected with customers and leverage this situation to learn quickly. If you need to pull back on funds, do it someplace else in your business but not on your digital services, as this will be your lifeline through the crisis. It is also an excellent long-term investment which will help your business stand out and succeed long after this short-term crisis has passed.

For many brands across Asia, investing in digital services and strengthening e-commerce offerings has been a significant solution to make up for lost business. L'Oréal, for instance, moved all offline advertising budgets to only online and saw its online make-up sales rise in February.

Mobile ordering will continue to surge this year as the rise in mobile commerce becomes the new norm and more brands adopt this type of customer engagement. However, changing customer expectations and behaviors will require brands to find new ways to interact with customers through mobile ordering experiences. Brands should look to design a tailored and personalized ordering process that ensures the digital experience matches the in-store experience.


GO ABOVE AND BEYOND FOR YOUR CUSTOMERS

Brands will need to go above and beyond for their customers and show them that they are there for them no matter what. Brands must increase their efforts to ensure the best customer service and experience is delivered. For instance, if a customer orders food to be delivered from your restaurant, why not include a little something extra that might add more value to both the transaction and the customer relationship?

And in a time when customer visits are impossible due to COVID-19, brands should find ways to continue to serve their customers while also adding a layer of surprise and delight to the relationship. For example, restaurants can make delivery free to the customer and offer family dining package deals that are easy for a customer to say yes to. Every problem is solvable. And to solve problems around connected customers, you have to first truly understand the unique and powerful behavior of those customers, which takes true empathy and experience. This is how you can safeguard your brand during this time of uncertainty.


HUMAN TOUCH APPROACH

As more people purchase products online, brands must prepare for an unprecedented surge of users and higher customer expectations of digital platforms and online response times. To stay ahead of requests and ensure you are updating your customers in real time, you should look to automate repetitive and time-consuming front-end employee tasks.

It is important to note, however, that the human touch is still relevant within the customer experience, particularly as loneliness is coinciding with the virus. Brands should instead look to consider implementing hybrid chatbots, i.e. a chatbot with a combination of both automated and human intervention, as these can add that critical human touch. Video interactions, human-assisted online shopping, consultations through video calls, are just a few methods you can use to help combat loneliness and keep human experience relevant.

In the environment of COVID-19, brands will need adapt to their customers changing attitudes and behaviors and find new innovative ways to stay connected with them — and fast! In order to remain afloat now and to bounce back once the worst has passed, firms must invest in digital experiences, and add value to the digital tooling they already have in their ecosystem.

This article was originally published in Retail Customer Experience.