What do you do when your entire business is built around parties and celebrations, but people can’t actually get together?
That’s the question faced by Party City during the COVID-19 pandemic. But instead of slowing down as social distancing severely limits gatherings, Party City is taking the opportunity to pivot and introduce new services to customers.
After its stores closed in mid-March, Party City quickly pivoted to buy online, pickup in store and same-day delivery. According to CEO Brad Weston, the company already had these services on its omnichannel roadmap but had to quickly implement them in a few days instead of months or years as originally planned. Party City partnered with a leading digital fulfilment and delivery platform to enhance the delivery experience from start to finish. Delivery has been a huge boost for the company, especially for balloons. A common frustration for customers used to be going to the store to have balloons filled, only to find they didn’t all fit in their car. But with balloons being delivered, customers aren’t limited by the size of their trunk space.
Even in a pandemic, celebrations still happen. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, new babies, holidays and a host of other things give people a reason to celebrate, just in a different way. COVID-19 has forced the store to pivot many of its products and experiences, especially around virtual events. It now offers kits for easy virtual and at-home celebrations, including a DIY movie night in a box, beach day in a box, graduation in a box and many more. Party City also expanded its online resources to help customers plan and host virtual parties with step-by-step guides. In many cases, customers didn’t need tons of supplies for a virtual celebration, but the resources helped build the experience and push Party City to its new experiential focus.
Party City is in the business of helping people find and celebrate joy. Much of that starts online. Weston believes that to get customers’ attention, retailers need to provide aspirational and inspirational experiences to start customers down the journey instead of just making products available. In the case of Party City, that means providing inspiration for the entire party experience including entertainment, décor and food, instead of simply selling party supplies. Customers want a one-stop shop where they can plan amazing celebrations and be inspired.
Party City’s pivot to experiential customer service starts online by providing ideas and planning services. The company is making the big shift towards adding a marketplace of services that customers might want, including balloon artists, caterers, musicians and more. The goal is to help customers with every step of the party process, from brainstorming and big-picture ideas down to the little details and vendors.
Celebrations don’t stop because of COVID-19. Today’s customers are celebrating together while remaining apart. Party City’s pivot during the pandemic provides new resources and ideas for customers while also putting the company on the path to a more holistic, experience-based approach to celebrations of the future.
For decades, healthcare has had a reputation of being bureaucratic and difficult to work with. Customers expect to have to jump through hoops and wade through confusion to find answers to simple questions or manage their care. But the future of healthcare is anything but difficult—it puts customers first to create convenient, proactive and personalized solutions.
Kathy Klingler is Chief Consumer Experience and Marketing Officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, and she brings decades of experience in banking and other consumer industries. Her approach turns the traditional healthcare model on its head to put customers first.
Customer experience is crucial at Blue Cross Blue Shield. Klingler’s unique position puts her in charge of everything from brand strategy to digital marketing, customer experience and market insights. She works closely with the Chief Strategy Officer to integrate customer experience into the overall strategy of the company and the future of healthcare.
Blue Cross Blue Shield’s strategy reaffirms that putting the consumer at the center of healthcare is the most important thing the company can do. The company’s customer-centricity plan breaks into three pillars:
1. Digital capabilities. One of Klingler’s main focuses since joining the company four years ago has been to build out Blue Cross Blue Shield’s digital capabilities. There used to be disparate systems without a place for members to understand their plans or how to get the most value. A new digital hub is personalized for each member’s needs and allows them full access to the information they need to understand and get the most out of their plan. Modern customers crave digital convenience and being able to get information on their own schedule.
2. Communication channels. For decades, the traditional way of communicating with healthcare customers was by phone. But modern members want to interact digitally and in more convenient ways. Blue Cross Blue Shield aims to meet customers where they are in channels they already use. Customer-centric companies create more communication channels to match customer preferences and ensure those offerings are seamless and convenient.
3. Data and analytics. Blue Cross Blue Shield leverages data in a way that allows it to engage with members in more meaningful ways. Data paints a picture of members and allows contact center agents to proactively suggest care that members might need. Data and analytics add a powerful tool to understanding and serving customers. During COVID, Blue Cross is proactively reaching out to members who are at higher risk or live in hotspot areas to ensure they get the care they need.
The mission of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts is to put customers first, and it’s something that the employees and leaders live and breathe. By staying in contact with customers and combining customer data, third-party data and behavioral data, the company understands what its members need and is constantly adapting to meet their needs.
In the future of healthcare, Blue Cross Blue Shield’s customer-centric strategy will become the norm. Healthcare companies must become more transparent and make it easier for their customers to get the care they need in the way they want to access it. Instead of bombarding customers with information, that means delivering personalized information clearly and simply from an ally who can guide them.
The difficulties of traditional healthcare are on their way out. In order to succeed in the future, healthcare companies must put customers first and deliver on the three main pillars of customer-centricity.
A customer focus and strong customer experience starts from the top. In order for companies to be totally customer-centric, they must have strong leaders.
However, we’re facing a leadership crisis today where most leaders don’t know how to lead. Jacob Morgan (who just happens to be my husband) is a best-selling author and expert on leadership and the future of work. As he was conducting research for his book, The Future Leader, he came across this startling statistic: most people become leaders in their mid to late 20s, but they don’t receive formal leadership training until their late 30s or early 40s. That means most leaders go more than a decade without any training. No wonder we have such a lack of strong leadership.
To be effective, leaders have to take training into their own hands. The first step is to create your own definition of leader and leadership. We are surrounded by leadership, but few of us can actually define it. Establishing a definition allows companies to create filters for who they hire and promote. Those filters ensure that the organization is filled with consistently great leaders instead of a mix of great and sub-par leaders.
Jacob’s definition of leadership is being a lighthouse. The purpose of a lighthouse is to shine light on ships in the harbor and guide them to safety and success. Similarly, a leader’s purpose is to guide their people and organization to success. But a leader lighthouse is useless without ships. Leaders can’t just focus on themselves—they must focus on others.
From interviews with more than 140 top CEOs, Jacob created the Notable Nine: the skills and mindsets leaders need to adapt to succeed in the future of work. These skills are crucial to becoming a customer-focused leader and creating a culture of customer centricity.
A common element for all leaders, especially those leading through the current uncertainty of COVID-19, is to focus on people, not profits. Successful leaders develop their people, set a vision, engage and coach them to be more successful. They are focused more on engaging their employees than hitting their quarterly revenue goals. As Jacob says, putting people first is a philosophy backed by a set of actions. Don’t just believe it—you have to show it.
Customer experience leadership impacts the entire organization. In order for a business to succeed, leaders must focus on people and strive to become lighthouses that guide others to success.
For most people around the world, the excitement of attending an in-person event has been replaced by sitting in front of a computer screen. As the coronavirus pandemic cancels in-person events of all sizes around the world, more companies than ever before are taking their events online. But staring at a screen isn’t nearly as engaging as seeing something in person, and many companies and event attendees have struggled with the new format.
Abhishek Vanamali, CMO of Zensar Technologies, is a strong believer in virtual events. Although they can’t exactly replicate in-person events, he believes virtual events are the future and have the potential to offer amazing, engaging experiences for organizers and attendees.
Vanamali’s advice to create an amazing virtual event comes down to this: stop thinking about limitations and embrace what’s possible.
Many organizations focus on what virtual event platforms can’t do—things like not being able to network one-on-one, raise a real toast or test out new products. But to plan a successful virtual event, no matter if it is a huge conference or a small team meeting, organizers must change their thinking to see what’s possible. Vanamali says that everything we thought isn’t possible virtually is actually possible in some form. The first step for event organizers and marketers is to educate themselves and discover the possibilities of virtual events.
Virtual event technology has come a long way in recent years, even before the pandemic hit. There are numerous platforms available that offer features like registering attendees, facilitating breakout sessions and allowing attendees to chat with each other during sessions.
When looking at the possibilities of virtual events, the sky's the limit. Technology makes it possible to create nearly any kind of event in a unique and memorable way. Vanamali shared the example of a high-end auction house that was forced to take its auction online. Instead of being weighed down by the idea of selling high-end art without customers seeing it in person, the company created a full-blown production. It ran an all-day virtual event complete with green screens, professional lighting, expert auctioneers and interactive content to tell the story of the art. The virtual auction wasn’t simply a recreation of an in-person auction—it was a new type of event that leveraged technology and helped the company sell $420 million of art online.
One of the biggest challenges of virtual events is keeping participants engaged. It’s one thing to sit in a room with hundreds of other people and absorb a presentation, but it’s completely different to be alone at home with dozens of distractions. The Zensar Technologies annual sales meeting addressed this challenge when it added a gamification element for its 300 attendees. While the event was happening virtually on one screen, attendees were also using a companion mobile app to scan AR markers on presentation slides. The person who scanned the most markers over the three-day meeting won a grand prize, and participants got competitive as the leaderboard changed. Zensar also used the app for trivia contests and quizzes between sessions. Vanamali says participants were engaged by the unique gamification piece, which led them to pay more attention to the content and have a better experience.
The global pandemic has put virtual events at the forefront of business, and they aren’t going away any time soon. Now that companies have seen the potential of virtual event technology, more events will stay virtual or adopt a hybrid model. To create a great virtual event, remember to embrace technology and consider its many possibilities instead of getting weighed down by its limitations.
This week’s podcast is sponsored by Zendesk.
Things are a little weird right now. The sudden change in the world—and the world of business—has created new challenges. A lot of companies are struggling to keep up with what matters most: their customers. Zendesk is here to help. They put together a six-month complimentary Remote Support Bundle. To learn more visit www.Zendesk.com/modern.