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The pandemic is rewriting the rules of customer experience. But what do Covid’s sudden seismic shifts mean for marketers long term? I think it’s wise to expect even more emphasis for the long term on the virtual brand experience – in fact 100% virtual should be the new normal.

We have all temporarily adapted our business to survive Covid. If you sell anything from lattes to legal services you’ve rapidly developed modified sales and client-contact processes. As many of us have bought even more online, and transactions grow in type and size, last year’s expectations have been swept away, prospects make a wider range of purchase decisions and spend larger budgets without leaving their desk - so marketing resource needs to be even more focused on a seamless joined-up CX regardless of the starting point, device or channel.

Humans like to meet other humans and B2B businesses have been used to building high-trust brand relationships face-to-face. But conferences are largely virtual now, trade fairs are shrinking or disappearing, networking sessions and flying to meet key clients is less common. They will return, but are likely to be less prevalent as they rely on freedom of movement and people’s willingness to go to large events. So as well as vital market presence and awareness-building, brand communications will need to fill some of this relationship-fostering void.

According to McKinsey, UK leaders think many of today’s virtual B2B go-to-market strategies will stay with us. But I also believe it’s not enough - to thrive, what B2B brands really need now is to prioritise being the best virtual brand in their category and put everything else second.

You may think that in 2020 a great virtual customer experience already happens, and users say it does for brands like Salesforce, Lemonade and Deliveroo, but very recent research showed 72% of people online still face basic challenges like:

• Finding answers to questions
• Inaccurate search results
• Poor or missing imagery
• Lack of reviews or ratings

…so for many there are fundamentals still to fix. Once a brand delivers the basics well, the company earns the chance to ‘surprise and delight’ with more engaging, immersive and upselling experiences online; such as helping the customer with more strategic needs or inviting them to join a useful online network. The kind of experiences that differentiate your brand, build loyalty and earn recommendations.

Significantly the same research said half of consumers ‘would pay more for a better, faster online buying experience whether it’s for toilet paper or a B2B big buy’ and 53% ‘won’t buy from the same seller again if they had a bad experience’.

One reason for this, particularly in larger businesses, might be that marketing doesn’t always own CX at Board level: one report found ‘IT is still twice as likely to lead [CX] than any other function’ which in my view is a fundamental mistake.

So, as a marketer working on boosting the full customer experience, it’s worth asking questions like:

  • Do we have a clear set of brand values, visible at each stage of the customer journey?
  • Are we clear on our communications goals – short and long term?
  • Do we demonstrate a strong brand personality – or is our brand somewhat ‘me too’? Covid probably gives licence to connect with B2B prospects on new channels, switch to a more standout design or build greater interactivity with new kinds of events and community-building. Let customers see and hear your brand in action, not just through carefully curated images.
  • Does the business have a strong and joined-up CMS/CRM interface?
  • Do we give priority to rapid responses to queries, wherever they come from?
  • Do we have a well-nurtured online community, and how can we improve it?

In a post-Covid world a brilliant CX for buyers should jump to the top of any marketer’s to-do list. And the businesses that figure out how to really brand-build and nurture relationships virtually are more likely to emerge winners.