There isn’t a single industry that hasn’t been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. This is due to a combination of shifting customer behavior, as well as the advent of social distancing. Complying with existing measures means that customers and business owners have new physical and psychological barriers to overcome. These won’t end when the pandemic subsides, either. When many stores and businesses open again, there will be a significant portion of the consumer public that will be scared to return to their old habits.

How can businesses bridge the gap?

Obvious safety measures, like masks, gloves, screens, as well as modified practices like mandatory customer distance, lowered occupancy limits, and senior citizen hours, all play a role. However, there’s also the challenge of either getting customers more comfortable with shopping or finding a way to extend that relationship to a remote platform. So, with this in mind, here is a look into the psychology and methods businesses will need to embrace, both in the immediate term as well as later on as we establish the new normal.

Expanded AI/Chatbot Automation

For some customers, speaking to a service representative in person or calling a helpline is a matter of personal preference. However, social distancing has minimized or eliminated that as an option for the time being. However, people still want to feel like their concerns are being addressed. AI chatbots are going to be a key part of handling this increased load in the months to come. One major company reported that its chatbot saw an 88% increase in tickets processed between the months of February and April.

Chatbots are going to be a key component of shouldering the burden of overtaxed support staff.

But how do you make the most out of this from a customer experience standpoint?

The key is a higher investment. More advanced AI-based chatbots already have the ability to create more complex responses and conversations with customers. Now, when chatbots are seeing unprecedented use, is the perfect time to make the upgrade.

Virtual Storefront Experiences

One retail sector that will have unique issues in the months to come is “destination shopping.” Local grocery stores or all-purpose stores like Wal-Mart or Target will likely be the first businesses to bounce back in terms of occupancy. However, for a customer still afraid of going out, it’s a lot harder to justify making a trip to something like an appliance or furniture retailer. Not only may this require a further distance to travel, but it’s not likely you will even make the purchase in person at that time.

Businesses like these are trying to extend their service to customers by recreating the in-store showroom experience online. For example, some companies are using their video conferencing technology to let clients browse through showrooms online. This gives a more personal experience than e-commerce, while still adhering to social distancing. Friends and family can even participate with you.

Secure Video Conferencing Tools

COVID-19 made Zoom a household name and now Google Meet is trying to rise to become a proper competitor. However, these tools are largely used for internal communications as opposed to B2C purposes. As the face-to-face customer experience is on hold for the time being, there are some services trying to fulfill that need, while staying compliant with data/security concerns. For example, the banking industry is experimenting with different tools to try and recreate that face-to-face meeting between bankers and their customers while still maintaining social distancing.

In many ways, the rest of the consumer industry could stand to learn from the medical world. Even prior to the pandemic, telemedicine was on the upswing and now it’s almost universal. However, the video platforms these companies use have to be compliant with HIPAA. Expect new startups and even existing companies like Zoom and Google to try and find more secure methods to serve customers as well as internal communications.

Improve What You Can

As a trusted consumer brand, one of the best things you can do for your customers is to stick to what you do best for the time being. Brand quality and principles allow for something for your customer base to latch onto in uncertain times. This may not be the time to reinvent the wheel, even if you find that you’re losing customers at a rapid rate. Instead, focus on improving what’s already there. This means doing things like honing your website or e-commerce portals to better serve your customers.

It can be tempting to push sales when things are getting difficult, but many customers are less likely to respond to that type of messaging. Instead, marketing experts say that empathy is the main principle that people want to hear. From a business perspective, this means creating a modernized, but familiar, customer experience across the board.