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Gartner: Building customer trust as a tech CEO during the Covid-19 pandemic

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The widespread outbreak of Covid-19, just five short months ago, has left much of the world in deep economic uncertainty. Businesses are faced with severe cash-flow anxiety and the difficulties of retaining their staff and preserving operations.

Technology and service providers are at serious risk of losing customers due to the negative economic impact that many companies are facing. During this sensitive and unpredictable time, tech CEOs should be empathizing with their customers whilst also looking to strengthen understanding of their needs by spending considerably more time than usual on nurturing and building stronger customer relationships.

By doing this, they can improve business performance by supporting customers at this difficult time and help keep their businesses afloat when it matters. The most appropriate response can be split into three timeframes, the short-term, the medium-term and the ‘new normal’ or longer-term, whatever that may look like for a business.

The short-term

It is important for tech CEOs to help customers survive the initial hit of the crisis. They can do this, and are doing this, by providing instantaneous solutions for problems they might be experiencing as a result of the pandemic. Businesses may be facing extreme cash-flow problems for example and struggling to pay their staff.

As a tech CEO, can you offer customers free product features that may be of extra use to them in times of extraordinary need, and that they may not yet know about or are under exploiting? Can you discount or temporarily waive the cost of existing technology you may supply for them that will massively help their bottom line and play a part in the survival of their business longer-term?

The short-term response focuses on two key elements: empathy and services. The empathy aspect is about listening to customers and understanding what they are going through. The services aspect is working through how your clients can use your products and services more efficiently and how you can develop innovations that can help your customers in the short term (and subsequently the longer-term).

Crucially, this is not the time to sell; this is the time to be humble, to build trust, to support your customers, and deepen relationships. Reach out to your customers and let them know you are there for them in these unprecedented times, with no hidden agenda other than your support.

Prioritize your outreach based on contacts that are in greater need than others e.g. by geography or industry. Call your customers rather than sending them a generic email and instruct your team to use product analytics tools, where possible, to understand which product features customers are using to help guide conversations before you get on the phone.

This initial short-term response will mean when economic terms are showing positive signals that we are moving out of lock downs and businesses are gradually starting to ramp up again, you will be in a much stronger position to help your customers innovate and move their businesses into growth phases based on the trust you have created throughout the pandemic.

The medium-term

This time frame is harder to define and will look different for every geographical region and industry as they begin to come out of the initial first wave of Covid-19.

Tech CEOs can support customers over the medium term by continuing customer dialogues focusing on capturing whether products are still aligned with customer needs and uncovering unexplored product opportunities.

Ahead of this phase, you should be thinking where your customer’s needs and values might be expected to be as things stabilize e.g. is your current product fit still relevant to those needs? Offering advice on how customers can make full or better use of their existing products and services to accelerate the road to recovery and overall improve their business.

Again, avoid trying to uncover upsell opportunities and remember the overall aim is to strengthen relationships. Continue to offer training webcasts, for example, to ensure the employees of your customer are utilizing your service to the best of its ability. And thereby creating more advocates within the business in the long run.

Many businesses will not be out of the woods from a financial perspective in the medium-term, so consider offering certain-add on services for free for a limited time to show goodwill and engage new customers who may not have worked with you before.

A ‘new normal’?

Currently, the majority of organizations do not know what their long-term impacts of Covid-19 will be on their business. As a tech CEO, it will be important to help your customers map out what their new future may look like and how you can support them as a trusted partner to help grow their business through this.

During this phase, tech CEOs should be building on the trust created in the short-term and medium-term following the Covid-19 outbreak and the economic repercussions it causes, to solidify revenue for the future. Key focus questions during this time will include: how are we mapping shifting customer priorities and how can I help support my customers as they grow post-dip? How do I focus on working with my customers to ensure mutual benefits from our ideas and innovations?

This latter point is key in the longer-term. Whilst the short-term and medium-term timeframes focus on the customer, remember to place importance on putting your own company in the best position as demand grows and bottom lines stabilize.

Start to move the customer conversation towards ROI received from regular and free services as well as support offered during the pandemic. Focus on how you can continue to build on the solutions or products they already have and how they can accelerate their (and in turn your) growth efforts going forward.

Post Covid-19, new and old customer values will inevitably change and as they look for new ideas, innovations and breakthroughs from the products and services they buy, you must be there with the right solution.

We already know that tech CEOs will need to go above and beyond for their customers this year, in ways many may not have experienced before. But these are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures for businesses to survive.

By offering unwavering support in these times of uncertainty, tech CEOs have a higher chance of standing out as a provider that truly cares for its customers and gain what can often be incredibly hard-earned customer trust. This trust will help build long-lasting client relationships and reduce customer loss through 2020 and beyond.

Jessica Ekholm, Vice President, Gartner (opens in new tab)

Jessica Ekholm works as a Vice President at Gartner covering customer experience (CX). Her CX focus is particularly on how to use AI to improve the customer experience.