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Safety has long been considered a core human need, and with continuing fears about the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, safety has once again returned to the forefront of people’s minds. It will likely remain so for a long time, and thus must be considered an important part of the customer experience in 2020 and beyond.

In 1943, American psychologist Abraham Maslow unveiled his now-famous “Maslow's hierarchy of needs” – a psychological theory comprising a five-tier pyramid of human needs, ranked from physiological at the bottom (the most basic needs) to self-actualization at the top (the needs most difficult to attain).

“Safety needs,” which include both safety and security, are considered basic needs, ranked just above “physiological needs” such as food, water, warmth, and rest. Safety needs can also include physical safety, psychological safety, and emotional safety.

In today’s world, the need for safety stems from other emotions that countless people are feeling as the world collectively awaits a vaccine: stress, fear, loneliness, and even anger.

So what can companies do to ensure their customers feel safe, particularly when some businesses are reopening for the first time in months while others may be closing once again?

Take care of your employees.

It is a common customer experience mantra that happy employees equal happy customers, and like many things in the COVID-19 era, that feeling has been exacerbated.

It is incumbent upon businesses to ensure that their employees both feel healthy and safe, and actually are healthy and safe. Do not require anyone to come into work who doesn’t absolutely have to, allow employees to take care of their families during this stressful time, and practice social distancing religiously. We cannot expect employees to help customers feel safe if they don’t feel safe themselves.

Deliver “Psychological First Aid.”

Dr. Mary McNaughton-Cassill wrote in Psychology Today that there are five elements to what is commonly referred to as Psychological First Aid, often administered to victims of natural disasters. It is equally applicable to the current pandemic. Those elements are:

  • Help people feel safe
  • Create a sense of calm
  • Help regain a sense of control and self-efficacy
  • Feed the need for social connection
  • Believe in the power of hope

Focus your outbound messaging around these five elements to help put your customers more at ease.

Follow the lead of businesses that have remained open.

Grocery stores and pharmacies have set the standard so far for processes and procedures that strive to ensure the safety of both customers and employees. The availability of hand sanitizer, contactless payments and directional signage resulting in a one-way traffic flow are all considered best practices.

A Cox Business survey in May found that 79 percent of respondents said limiting the number of patrons inside a business would also contribute to a feeling of safety. Of those surveyed, 76 percent said requiring all staff to wear personal protective equipment would make them feel more safe, and 45 percent each said installing plastic shields at checkouts and accepting contactless payments would make them feel more safe.

Additionally, curbside pickup and delivery options for stores and restaurants have remained popular and appreciated options.

Communicate in an authentic manner.

Customers want to know what companies are doing to keep them safe, but they also don’t want to be pandered to. Many companies chose to just “check the box” when COVID-19 first surfaced, sending largely templated emails detailing cleaning processes and including links to the Centers for Disease Control and other government agencies.

It wasn’t enough, as most consumers tuned out these incessant emails, just like they did with mandated privacy policy changes a couple of years ago.

In communications with customers, focus on their needs (See: Maslow) and then detail what your business specifically is doing to attain them. Don’t feel as though you have to solve any pandemic-related issues beyond the scope of your business; just concentrate on what you can control for your customer.

Customer experience incorporates every single interaction a customer has with a business, and the strong psychological need for safety means that customers’ perceptions of their safety (or lack thereof) will continue to play a large role in determining where they spend their hard-earned dollars.