How Hugo Boss, UK Post Office pivoted to suit COVID-19 customer conditions

Customer experience leaders from Hugo Boss and Post Office UK share how they've adapted customer and employee experiences in the crisis

A focus on safety, adapting products to circumstances and recognising the dotted line between employees and customers were common refrains from Hugo Boss and Post Office UK during this week’s Qualtrics 'Work Different' event.

As Hugo Boss looked to ready itself for the COVID-19 pandemic situation, head of brand strategy and CX, Tim Ebert, said the group had one big objective in mind: Guaranteeing customers and employees felt safe.

This saw the apparel brand close almost all stores globally, and enable staff to work from home. To support this, the business changed the way employees communicate with leadership, introducing more frequent opportunities to engage virtually.

“This helped everyone to build the trust to work from home and change the culture to enable people to be more flexible on their jobs,” Ebert said.

The second step was focusing on Hugo Boss’ product portfolio, and pivoting to elevate the group’s casual offer. As well as putting these products at the top of the online store, the group worked to make it as easy as possible for customers to browse these products digitally.

“We changed how we promoted these products, focusing on the right look for working from home, and sharing with customers that this is how you look cool when at home doing your jobs,” Ebert continued. “We have produced less suits, and we started producing face masks for employees… these are a core part of our business currently and we see these as a fashion accessory for the future.”

Adapt customer experience to the COVID-19 situation also meant stopping the traditional ways Hugo Boss communicates with customers and tailor messaging to the circumstances arising from the crisis. For Ebert, the biggest change has been adopting a more personal, emotional and sensitive approach.

“We can’t just spread the message of our new collection – that would have been nonsense. We stopped regular plans on every communications channel,” he said.

In addition, Hugo Boss’ CEO sent a personal note to all customers, a new step for the retailer, Ebert said, but one that was highly appreciated by customers. “Our CEO thanked them for their loyalty, emphasised the theme of safety and our messages of getting through the situation,” he said.  

Social media channels and Hugo Boss’ brand ambassadors were also tapped to share more emotional, engaging statements on how they were getting through the situation. For example, heavyweight boxing champion, Anthony Joshua, shared a day in his life during the pandemic and encouraged consumers to be resilient.

“We saw the highest engagement rates we have ever seen” as a result, Ebert said.

Another creative win was a ‘Thank you’ video featuring employees from different hierarchies and departments pitched at essential service workers, such as nurses and doctors. The creative has run in public places as well as in in-store as things opened up.

“People said it was great what we were doing, we feel better. And it paid off in a business sense - they’re coming back to stores and are loyal to the brand,” Ebert said.  

“We were forced to adapt, and we did it in a way we are proud of. We need to protect that feeling, save it for future times.”

Other lessons for Ebert from the crisis were that the business “can change more quickly than we thought we could”, and that purpose-led branding is critical for future success.

“Don’t put the product in the centre of communications, tell people what you are there for and how you make this world a better place,” he advised other brand leaders.  

Keeping up customer confidence

While the product set might be different, it was a similar story for Post Office UK head of customer experience, James Scutt, who spoke on how the customer strategy has pivoted in light of the COVID-19 crisis. Post Officer operates 11,500 branches across the UK, and offers 170 products and services.

Historically, the group recognised six customer drivers, Scutt explained: Friendly, professional, knowledge, understanding, efficiency and expectations.

“As we moved through early stages of COVID, seventh driver came into play, which we identified through Qualtrics analytics: Keep me safe,” he said. “We knew this had to feature in our CX program, and be at the forefront of our decision-making process.”  

In-store, this materialised into putting screens up to keep employees and customers safe; clear signage and floor signage regarding social distancing; and making available personal protective equipment to branch teams.

Read more: 6 ways to close the employee experience loop

Why employee experience and emotion are key to customer experience success

Post Office UK also debuted three new products. The first was ‘Pay out now’, which allows a company to come to any post office, sign up to service, then send letters to customers with a unique barcode. Customers could then use these claim cash they were due immediately at their local post office. A second product innovative, ‘Fast Pace’, allowed house-bound customers to appoint a trusted third-party cash their cheque at a post office and access needed cash.

The third change was to its ‘Cash direct’ product for sending foreign currency orders direct to customers’ homes. This was repurposed so it could be used to send normal cash to customers needing it during the lockdown.

Alongside customer needs, Post Office UK has emphasised employee experience during this time. Scutt said a key step was providing different guidance to branch teams to firstly forget about numbers and instead, elevate positivity. The key was focusing on the great comments coming back from Post Office customers around how products and services were helping them in the crisis.

Post Office UK also brought forward initiatives planned for later in the year. One of these was a ‘CX University’ allowing employees to look at things from the viewpoint of their customers.

“This allows you to take into account your own behaviours and match against times you shop as customer yourself, and see if there are small traits you could change to improve experience,” Scutt said. So far, all branch area managers have been through process.

“It’s been very difficult living through COVID-19 and more so for our branch teams – they provided amazing customer experiences to our customers through the challenges,” Scutt said. And it paid off, with the Post Office ranking first for the second time running in the UK Customer Service Index released by the UK Institute of Customer Service, he added.

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