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Topic(s): Hello Customer Human Connection

An open letter from our CEO back in covid times

This open letter was written at the beginning of the covid-19 crisis. We decided to keep it online, because it is a reminder of not only very difficult times, but also a reminder of how customer behaviour can change fast in a fast changing world. It's a reminder that we always need to stay connected and keep understanding our customers, so we can adapt fast accordingly.

Dear everyone,

First of all, I hope you are safe and healthy. Given the situation, I felt like writing down my thoughts in a message to all of you. I know, it is raining letters from CEOs and by now your inboxes and newsfeeds are probably flooded. Still, I hope you’ll take some time to read this.

I am writing this letter from the seclusion of my own home. To be honest, it is the first time in years that I have been here for more than 24 hours straight. In the meantime, we have surpassed those 24 hours many times. And we know that there are many solitary days to come.

It makes you think, doesn’t it? Humans are social animals by nature. We need and crave human contact. I spend my entire day video calling with all my teams and our customers, from the early morning until the evening. Yet, at night, I don’t feel complete.

I need human contact. I need care. I need my community. We all do.

I could talk to you about Corona, about the numbers and how it is impacting life and business. But enough media outlets are already doing that. I would rather talk about what this means for customer experience. We are all customers, we still need to talk to companies and buy from them, only the way we are doing so at this point has drastically changed. Maybe your customers can't buy from you now, because you've been forced to shut down for safety reasons. Does the engagement stop there?

Given the need for human contact and our communities, we have to reflect on how we interact with customers at this time. People are bound to their houses and a lot of interactions are happening online, via email or by phone. It’s in these moments that as a brand you can make the difference.

We are all feeling a bit confused and we live in uncertain times. No one was prepared for this. We belong to generations who never knew real adversity, at least not in the same way as our parents or grandparents did.

In scary times we prioritise and process differently, and we have different needs on various different levels. Being aware of this will help organisations to communicate better and to adjust products and services to create the value that customers need right now.

A lot of companies are taking initiative to help out in any way they can. Think of Delhaize. Only a few years back this Belgian supermarket chain found itself in an identity crisis. Today, they are supporting their customers in times of need, and they are doing their absolute best to serve a higher purpose in these unusual times. A few examples:

  • They already had invested in additional convenience services like ordering online, pick-up points at their stores and house deliveries. When all hell broke loose, they encouraged their customers to use those channels as much as possible.
  • They asked their customers to respect a new guideline so elderly people can access their shops first between 8 am and 9 am, as not to mix different age groups in their stores. This reduces the risk of infection and makes sure that elderly people can do their groceries too, without facing empty shelves due to hoarding behaviour.
  • They communicate clearly and often about their supply chain, to put people at ease that there is no need to hoard, not even toilet paper 😉 – as do a lot of other supermarket chains by the way.
  • They don’t lose focus on their employees and recognise their value. They have limited the number of customers that can access the store at once, so their teams can restock shelves and can maintain a safe distance. They don’t accept cash payments anymore and have installed Plexiglas walls at the counters to keep their cashiers safe.

On top, they have formed an alliance with another big Belgian supermarket chain, Colruyt. Since medical staff and caregivers are working hard, long hours in our hospitals, they often only get to the stores when most of the supplies are already gone. Via this initiative, they will get priority access to the webshops of Delhaize and Colruyt, and the retailers will deliver their groceries for free close to the hospitals.

Another great example is Easyfairs, who is a customer of ours. As a big event organisation, they are struggling as all events are already cancelled at least until summer. So, they thought about how they can facilitate all of their venues and services in times of need in a way that benefits society. They decided to offer their locations to the government in case emergency care facilities need to be set up.

Right now, we’re living in the worst of times. But this also gives us time and space to focus on what matters most, and what we sometimes easily forget: the importance of the human connection.

So be the brand that stands out in keeping things human in these times when we need it the most. Listen to your customers, acknowledge their emotions, understand what they need most right now, and ask how you can offer value in tough times. Don’t think about what your company wants, but about what people need.

Stay strong, and most of all, stay human, stay connected.

I promise you we will do the same.
See, hear and speak to you later.

CEO at Hello Customer