If you tried to predict what 2020 would bring, it is safe to assume most of us would not have predicted the current situation. As COVID-19 bore down, business and consumers alike were forced to rethink and re-strategize to accommodate the “new normal.” Essential businesses have been hard at work trying to keep the supply chain moving, while consumers seek to locate the items they need on a day-to-day basis. Anxiety is running high among consumers, due in part to an increasing unemployment rate due to businesses being shut down for extended periods of time. It is critical for companies to strive to better understand their customers with an empathetic approach.

How do you better understand what your customers most need in this difficult time? The key to best understanding the needs and wants of your customers is approaching them with empathy. Taking time to really listen and understand your customer base is key to understanding the overall customer experience. By utilizing empathy as the first step of design thinking, companies take the time to listen to their customers and explore the customer’s needs, wants, and what resonates most with them. Taking a customer-centric approach allows the customer to feel heard and validated, as well as shows the customer that the brand they love is taking time to listen to what matters most to them. This perception of a company which cares about the wellbeing of the customer is a key component in building brand loyalty.

Approaching customers to best understand their wants and needs should be considered carefully. How do you decide which method of reaching your customer is best? An online co-creation community can help facilitate discussion with an engaged group of customers through means such as online forum discussions or one-on-one in-depth interviews. Open dialogue through qualitative means allows for in-depth moderation to best mine to the heart of what the customer is thinking. Through these conversations, trends are likely to emerge which may help guide the business to make strategic, customer-centric decisions to help guide new products, services, or even communications with customers. Additionally, customers are likely to feel a sense of pride for their input, and it’s critical for businesses to share back any major developments their feedback helped build. By better understanding how customers think and feel about the brands they interact with, companies find themselves in a unique position to build an innovation partnership and discover insight to determine what customers need most.

Taking the customer co-creation approach a step deeper, businesses may also choose to integrate customers directly into finding solutions to work around the troubles the pandemic has created. This partnership between businesses and customers can allow brands to integrate customers directly into the process by allowing for a co-creation workshop, where customers provide direct and immediate feedback to ideate and strategize solutions which could assist them in their daily lives. This removes the guess work from design and innovation teams, as access to a willing group of customers is available at the company’s fingertips, ready to provide feedback at every step of the process. However, in order for this to work the company needs to be ready to really listen to its customers and be willing to incorporate this feedback. If implemented correctly, this will form an even deeper bond between customer and company, allowing both to feel a sense of pride and connection in a time when things feel uncertain at best.

In short, as companies seek new ways to innovate and find their strides to navigate a new normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to consider customers at all steps of the process. By taking time to understand the customer experience, not only as they relate to brand interaction, but the world as a whole, companies may find themselves in a unique position to build a new wave of brand loyalists who will help carry us through to the new normal.