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The customer games.

Madrid, April 24th, 2020

Could this have been prevented? Why was no government in the world prepared for this? These questions are on the lips of most of the world population these days. By now we have all received and seen the famous Bill Gates TED talk from 2014 from our social media groups, prompting the world to prepare for a pandemic and the virus still took the WHO, the World Economic Forum, all the world’s nations and us simple mortals by surprise.

Nassim Taleb, New York Professor of Risk Engineering and author of Black Swan, agrees with Gates. He considers this epidemic to be a white swan, a foreseeable and preventable event, in contrast to a black swan, which in his book is described as a highly improbable event with three principal characteristics: it is unpredictable, it carries a massive impact and, after the fact, it is explained in a way that makes it appear less random and more predictable, than it was.
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So now, while we close the blinds to our business or try to extinguish the fires that this has ignited in our companies, we are upset with those responsible for not seeing it coming. We hope that our customers are patient and understanding with the delays in the refunds of their cancellations, the lack of delivery slots for first need articles, the overwhelmed customer service lines. First world problems whose handling will determine the future relation of our customers with us.

So, what can companies do now? Going back to Gates talk, he insisted in that we needed to develop a response system. Governments and supranational organizations should have made simulations: played the germ games. We have the science and technology to do that, we have data from the public, we have location information, advances of all kinds. As of April 2020, companies should start playing the customer games.

Every corporation has the tools (CRM, communication channels, transactional systems…) and the data (all the customer information these systems extract). They need to be able to visualize the most relevant information and use AI to model their customer mindset during this crisis. That way they could react now, and be ready in the future, should a second wave occur. Companies should establish strategies based on how their customers are behaving to give them empathic and personalized treatment, so they can feel, today more than ever, that they are not treated like a number but like a person.

Personally, I had an especially upsetting experience when the virus broke out in Madrid. Shortly before the lockdown, I had to travel to Mainz in Germany and had booked accommodation at a hotel. Subsequently Madrid authorities recommended to avoid travelling if it was not absolutely urgent. Given the exceptional circumstances, I wrote to the hotel and I asked if I could change the dates or maybe obtain a voucher to visit another time. Realizing that it would be unlikely to get a refund, I tried to find a solution that would financially suit both of us. The hotel’s answer was: (sic) “the cancellation/modification will be charged a 100% of the total amount” under the premise that “we are open as usual and work as usual”. My translation as customer was: “your problem is not our problem and we don’t care”. Delivering this kind of customer experience in times of a crisis will not bring them good reviews nor repeat customers, factors that might be key to their future survival.

We can accept as customers that companies commit mistakes now, but we should not be loyal to those companies that do not learn from their mistakes. If they lack preparedness, the white swans will turn black for them. Understanding the customer mindset and using that knowledge ethically to add empathy in the digital space will be key to building lifelong trust and loyalty and this is what we make feasible at Whenwhyhow.

This is a wakeup call to get ready.

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