While it can be easy to overlook in more prosperous times, at the heart of it, businesses exist through creating value for their customers. In more challenging times, a focus on value creation is imperative to staying connected and relevant to customers – not only today but in the long term.

Saul Brown, Adjunct Faculty Member at AGSM @ UNSW Business School, is the Managing Director for Spring Ventures with over 13 years of leadership coaching in the areas of strategy, organisation and leadership.

Brown states that creating customer value is about creating a platform that will continue to build loyalty, grow your customer base and connect your business to the community as we navigate the new normal.

"Your initial crisis response is an important part of the puzzle. Your customers are feeling a collective level of fear and anxiety that, as a group, they haven't experienced before, and it's critical you respond to that," Brown explains.

Customers around the world are reacting positively to those brands who show they are conscious of their customer's financial concerns. Whether this is by being flexible on payment terms, pausing services or offering extra value where customers need it most. Customers are also positivity reacting well to the businesses who are responding to their health concerns through the implementation of extra safety mechanisms, closing non-essential storefronts or moving services online.

"We've also seen the opposite – organisations who don’t get on the front foot to respond to this radical new environment, putting the responsibility on customers to address changing circumstances and requiring them to request help. From the customers viewpoint, business who take this approach are saying the customer experience isn’t as important. It is likely, that while customers will stay with this business/brand in the short-term, because a contract is in place or switching providers isn’t a priority right now, you can guarantee there is no consumer loyalty left," Brown adds.

Brown highlights the importance of backing up your initial response with a plan to help customers, and businesses navigate this new normal. For Brown, this is about making genuine, authentic connections and a key part of this is building the right internal culture. He says there are three broad steps organisations should be considering to create value during and post COVID-19.

1. Create authentic, meaningful dialogue

"We are seeing customers gravitate towards organisations, experiences and brands that they recognise as authentic as they begin to question what is important to them and realign their own values.”

Brown said "Politicians are a great example of this. A lot of what is being done by politicians happens behind closed doors and is later read about in the media. In this current situation, we are seeing them in front of the cameras with messy hair, dark circles under their eyes, and sharing experiences from their own lives – we are seeing them as real human beings, perhaps for the first time."

“Jacinda Ardern is a key example. We see her live on Facebook at all hours responding to the fear and anxiety New Zealanders are experiencing. People across the globe are seeing her as their ideal leader because, quite simply, she is authentic.”

Brown states that organisations, from government to the private sector, have a unique opportunity to play a more positive role in their customer's lives and really build meaningful connections that can retain and grow their customer base into the future. However, they must be prepared to look at what is happening inside the organisation too.

2. Plan for a new normal

Connecting with your customers and supporting them through turbulent times is a great start, but the real challenge for many organisations will come in navigating the new normal.

"All the research is telling us that we are not as good at predicting the future as we thought we were. Businesses often rely on prior history to dictate their next move Businesses who are riding on the idea that things will eventually go back to normal may find themselves in trouble," Brown says.

Today’s organisations may find themselves in a whole new landscape, particularly when it comes to online presence.

"Out of simple need, customers are becoming more comfortable with using online channels and digital tools. In some industries, this will prove a challenge, for others an opportunity, but wherever your business sits, it’s a reality that needs to be addressed."

3. Build a culture that supports your customer narrative

According to Brown, organisational culture and values will play a critical role.

"It's no secret that many organisations have a wide gap between their corporate culture and their brand image. Yet both are critical to build sustainable competitive advantage."

The time to begin the transition is now. Brown notes that organisations can't create a sustainable customer experience or brand that's at odds with their internal culture. If they truly want to be a community-orientated, quality service brand that adds value to the customer, they need to create an internal culture that supports and delivers that genuine experience.

"At the end of the day, what goes on in your business will be reflected in your customer experience. If the experience you want to provide and your internal culture conflict, you're swimming against the tide."

In an environment that has radically changed, all organisations are on a steep learning curve. Now is the time not only deliver a better customer experiences, but to look at new products and services that can respond to the customer’s needs, create competitive advantages and build a more sustainable future," Brown concludes.

Alongside Shanie Atkinson, Adjunct Faculty Member at AGSM @ UNSW Business School, Saul Brown is a Program Director of Transforming and Growing through Customer-Centricity, part of the new suite of AGSM Virtual Learning Short Courses. Combining live virtual workshops with action learning and coaching.

Transforming and Growing through Customer-Centricity will help leaders embed customer-centricity in their organisations using tools like journey mapping, design thinking and outside-in thinking to support insight led change and build a sustainable future for their business.

Each course runs for approximately 14 hours over a two-week period. You will take part in live virtual workshops, action learning, and coaching designed to deliver immediate, measurable and enduring outcomes

For more information visit www.agsm.edu.au/virtual or contact the AGSM Client Engagement Team on +61 2 9385 0330 or enquiries@agsm.edu.au.