Change happens. And this year the pace of change hit warp speed. If anything, change has been our one constant.
Sooner or later most businesses identify a need for change which can come in many forms – mergers, rebrands, new (or discontinued) products or services, technology, or changes to leadership.
Businesses often make the mistake of being inwardly focused when it comes to navigating change, mistakenly thinking change management applies only to the business internally.
Your customers and clients however may take a very different view.
Whether it’s a shift, flex or full-scale transformation, success will depend on your customers’ receptiveness to the change, just as much as your internal team’s ability to embrace and deliver it.
Complicating things further, consumer behaviour itself is changing and leaving businesses trying to manage immediate challenges while also get themselves in a strong position for business post-pandemic.
Here’s a few tips on how to engage customers so that they can feel more like a partner in your change process.
Will it work for customers?
Change should be driven by customer need and whether that change is successful can hinge on whether your customers will ultimately accept it. Your approach and your messaging should revolve around one central question: how does the change affect our customers?
Don’t leave them out of the process – if you can, start engaging with them as you begin planning for change. They may not all be interested in why a change needs to take place, but they will certainly all have something to say about how it impacts their experience of your business.
Better they voice that before you get too far down the road to change.
Get your customers involved as early as possible to:
- test the change with them (if you can)
- walk them through the benefits and what they may need to do
- seek their feedback – it could provide valuable insights that ultimately gives you a better outcome, while also move your customers down the path to acceptance
- identify what tweaks you might need to make to your plan to ensure that the business can achieve it’s ‘why’, while continuing to deliver a great customer experience.
Ultimately, if you were your customer, what would you want to know? How do you want your customers to feel about the change…and about your business?
Usually, customers will just want to have their needs met. Make sure what you are proposing does just that.
Your customers have changed too
COVID-19 has barreled through our lives like a Category 5 storm, markedly changing our daily life and work. The need to work from home, physically distance ourselves, isolate ourselves from family and friends, and observe strict hygiene practices has significantly changed the way that we live, behave and act as consumers.
In a recent survey, 96% of B2B companies in the Asia-Pacific region have shifted to remote selling during COVID-19, with 83% expected to maintain these changes post-pandemic.
Trends that we once thought would evolve over time are now reality due to the events of this year. Companies who were perhaps a little behind competitors before COVID-19 have either had to quickly play catch up to meet evolving customer expectation, find new opportunities within a rapidly changing landscape…or simply fall by the wayside.
And those who felt they were sitting pretty through all of this still face COVID-19 generated changes to customer behaviour that are yet to fully reveal themselves.
Many people are re-evaluating more than just their spending – they are re-evaluating what they value most and the things they may have taken for granted. This has the potential to fundamentally change your customer ‘profile’ – their priorities and their decision drivers.
Considering this, how well do you really understand your customers now?
Get in front of any news…or rumours
So, what happens when you are finally ready to roll out your changes?
There are some things that staff will need to know before anyone else. Similarly, there are some things that your customers will need to know before they hear about it from someone else.
Getting out ahead of it is the best course of action. Be proactive and transparent.
Gossip gathers pace internally during organisational change, but gossip and rumour in the market can be downright damaging. You don’t want customers or clients to feel that they know less than the media, the rumour mill…or worse, a competitor looking to gain advantage.
Being proactive allows you to better control the narrative and demonstrate you are being honest with customers about what is taking place.
During change, customers can respond very similarly to your teams – they’ll want to know what impacts them, how it will impact them, and what you are doing to minimise their discomfort. Anticipate questions and provide honest, easy to locate answers.
When it’s a change that the business is excited about it’s tempting to want to keep things under wraps and tease out a ‘big reveal’. Depending on the change, this can be very effective with the general market, but for your customers…less so.
They need to be in on the news, at least to some degree, well before it becomes common knowledge. It reinforces that you value them and that your relationship is based on a level of trust.
Your people are your ‘ace in the hole’
Aside from your customers, your business’ greatest advocates are your people. They are your not-so-secret weapon in helping to ensure customers can embrace any change process.
While they will be dealing with impacts of the change themselves, and some more successfully than others, customers are more likely to response well to change in a business when they see that your people are embracing that change.
This can be difficult as your people may be struggling to adjust but a team that is enthusiastic and optimistic about the change will carry over to customers or clients.
This is why communicating change well internally is also a critical success factor for change.
Align your customer communications plan with your internal communications plan. Equip your teams with the necessary information to address customer questions and concerns, and empower them to talk with customers about the changes taking place.
Importantly, provide a channel for them to let you know what customers are saying and how they are feeling.
Activate and engage your customers
Your customer insights data is not just to inform your marketing or business development. It can help you to plan more effectively and engage customers on the change ‘journey’. Understanding how your customers want to engage with you can help you to meet them where they are most comfortable.
Think about whether you need to create a feedback channel or online community for them to share their thoughts with you.
Share information regularly – what’s changing, how the process is progressing, what impacts it will have on them, insider information that helps to build trust, or specific instructions or information that might make the transition easier for them.
Additionally, anticipate questions and answer concerns before they are raised. At the very least, respond to customer questions and concerns as promptly as you can. Keep it simple and be honest.
When it comes to customer relationships, the cost of change failure can be high. Poor communication with customers can lead to frustration, confusion, commercial impacts and loss of trust. Or loss of the customers themselves.
Involve your customers in the change, communicate with them, and support them so that you maximise the chance of success – for you, your business and for your customers.
 McKinsey & Company, Survey: Asian B2B decision maker response to COVID-19 crisis, May 11, 2020