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How merchants can keep moving forward

Getting to know your customers can help you find stability

By Susanne Steidl

Today is Get to Know your Customers Day, an occasion for merchants to celebrate their customers and, through engagement with them, better understand their habits, concerns and priorities. As I write this article, an estimated 2.6 billion people – one-third of the world's population – are living under some kind of lockdown. It is as if overnight, the needs of customers have been rewritten, and merchants wake up to find themselves in a totally unrecognizable landscape.

I have written this blog to offer what advice I can to help merchants keep moving forward through these challenging times.

1. Adapt to changing expectations

    I have seen many brands respond positively to Covid-19 and I believe crises such as these represent a rare opportunity for companies to showcase what they are truly made of by showing bold leadership, looking after their employees, collaborating in meaningful ways, and pivoting their service offerings while remaining true to their core values.

    • Collaboration is key. Arguably, brands have a more important role to play today than during any previous crisis. The 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer: Brands and the Coronavirus Report reveals that a majority (55%) of respondents believe brands and companies are reacting more quickly and effectively to the pandemic than the government is. And 90% of respondents said they hope brands partner with government and relief agencies to address the crisis.
    • Overcommunicate. We have all been inundated with tiresome social posts and emails about collaboration tools like Slack and Zoom, so rather than draw out a list of software tools I’ll say this: you need to communicate with your employees and customers in new ways. Find your voice, be bold and give meaning to your words by supporting your claims with actions. Demonstrate how you are going to prioritize the well-being of your customers over everything else. Show the practical steps on the customer journey that reflect the care you are taking to avoid spreading the virus.
    • Focus on solving a problem rather than selling a solution. Can you align your brand to confront some of the challenges being thrown up during this pandemic? It may require some thinking and reconfiguring, but we are all united around a common challenge and consumers want to see that you are playing your part.
    Photo by Dan Burton on Unsplash

    2. Your website is a critical source of business right now

    Retailers – and particularly those which are categorized as “non-essential” – have had to close their doors and pivot their services offerings online. Internet marketing software company HubSpot reveals that average monthly website traffic increased by 13% in March, compared to February this year. Online shoppers are initiating more interactions with businesses today than they were a year ago and they are doing more research online. While they are engaging less with sales content, they are consuming more educational content than in the past. Companies which harness technology and adapt to this trend will prosper and find stability. Here are some tactics to consider when promoting your online offering:

    • Let your customers know you are open for business. We’re slowly getting used to the idea that our local stores are closed and, unless told otherwise, it’s likely your customers will think the same about your business. Communicate with your customers to let them know your operations are still running. Send an email clearly detailing your approach. Reflect these changes into your social media profiles and company description. Put signage on your physical store to direct customers to your website.
    • Run a webinar. According to 73% of marketing and sales leaders say webinars are one of the best ways to generate quality leads. They are one of the most effective educational tools because they are informative and highly engaging. If you’re considering a webinar, chose a niche topic that addresses your core audience and involve people who are leading the way in that area. These could be customers, academics or other industry experts. Provide leadership and insight, not a sales pitch.
    • Integrate a chatbot into your website.Online chat volumes have increased over the past two months and this trend is likely to continue during the current health crisis. By incorporating conversational marketing into your website, you’ll be able to address customer questions in real-time which means more leads and lower abandonment rates. It will also demonstrate there is a human team behind your brand – something which is particularly valued at present. And that leads me to my next point.
    Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

    3. Viability, distribution and pricing

    I have already discussed how you could consider altering your service or product offering. Brands which are forming bonds with their customers are those which can adapt their offering while remaining faithful to their vision and values.

    • Viability. How viable is your offering? Perhaps your customers have suffered disproportionately due to the crisis. Be sensitive to this. You may need to develop a minimum viable product which better suits your customers in this new environment. If this is the case, do it quickly.
    • Distribution. If you have a bricks and mortar outlet with a local customer base, think about offering online deliveries or curb-side collections with contactless payment. Curb-side pickups mean you can retain your customers by giving them the confidence that it is safe to continue buying from you.
    • Pricing. If your sales pipeline has dropped, you’ll need to innovate. Can you offer digital gift cards? Can you extend your returns policy? Are you in a position to consider discounting? In the aforementioned Edelman Report, 89% percent of respondents said they’d like to see brands offering free or lower-priced products to health workers, high-risk individuals and those whose jobs have been affected. Think about the customer journey and how you can make payments as painless and frictionless as possible. Look again at your sales strategy and ask yourself whether you are offering the right mix of payment options to your changing customer base.

    Businesses are an integral part of everyone’s lives, and both merchants and customers want to see businesses succeed. In the face of this transformation, merchants face a unique set of challenges. With so much change and uncertainty in our lives, there has never been a better time to consider the needs of the customer.

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