Is Your Company in Step with the Needs of your ‘New Normal’ Customer?
Whether your current business focus is centred around discovering efficiencies, optimising your business operations, or increasing revenue opportunities, one thing is for certain. COVID 19 has irrevocably changed customer expectations, and no company can afford to continue as they were before March 2020. Policies and procedures need to reflect and meet the needs of the new customer expectations, and as always when a disruption or crisis takes place, a fast and well-researched response has to be the top priority to ensure all stakeholders know you are in control and have the ability to manage any fallout. Yet, as we move into 2021, it is important to ponder the question, ‘how does your company stack up in the eyes of the new normal customer?’
What is Motivating the New Customer Normal?
Think back to January 2020, when words such as social distancing, hand sanitiser, and masks were not front of mind for every individual, bricks and mortar outlet, delivery service, workplace, home, and transportation company. Fast forward to where we are now, where social distancing protocols affect every physical human touchpoint, and income is either stockpiled through lower inability to spend, or reduced due to redundancies and business closures. We are facing a very different norm for consumer behaviour. Ensuring that we are continuously and consciously monitoring this step change, and reacting with agility, has also become the new essential norm for leadership teams around the world. How well is your company stepping up and diving in to listen to and act on your VOC (voice of customer)?
The Customer Emotional Journey
As customers ourselves, we will all be familiar with the purchasing continuum throughout the 2020 pandemic, looping back or resetting each time a new spike or change in government policy has been announced.
Anxiety and fear --> Search for comfort and/or celebration --> Caution + need for reassurance
It’s key that companies continue to acknowledge and accurately respond to the stages that customers are living within, and ensure they are identifying and implementing strategies to ensure each and every customer feels both safe and inspired at every touchpoint with their brand.
What Are the Key Drivers for the New Norm?
1. Disposable Income
We all know that disposable income is a key factor in demand. During this pandemic, discretionary income is the first to be affected when people face pay reductions, job losses, or economic downturns. According to Statista.com, ‘approximately 9.6 million jobs from 1.2 million different employers were furloughed in the United Kingdom as part of the government's job retention scheme’ (October 18, 2020). According to McKinsey in partnership with Oxford Economics, Personal disposable is not expected to recover to pre-crisis levels until Q2 2024 in the US’.
Less disposable income means less spend and/or more conscious spending habits. In return, consumers are expecting responsibility and understanding from brand behaviour, and less waste from the companies to whom they hand over their carefully allocated money.
Asking yourself a few key questions periodically can help the team refocus and quickly adjust their marketing messages. Here are a few effective questions that have helped companies stay on track during this pandemic.
- Are we operating responsibly, and communicating with mindfulness, sensitivity, and empathy?
- How ‘essential’ are our products services, versus ‘a luxury for the future’, or are we a ‘reward or comfort’?
- Do we need to adapt our product/service range in light of the current market, or do we have enough cash flow to ride it out?
- Are we listening to our troops, board, and customers?
The pandemic has changed the way we work, study and play, with it, creating a new focus on self-directed independence, and a need to be able to deal proactively with unpredictability. With first and second COVID-19 waves already a reality, and minor and major lockdowns being intermittently announced at short notice, home, and social/work/study bubbles as the new day to day hub has become a way of life. According to Stanford Institute, 42% of the U.S labour market are now working remotely. The UAE has historically had one of the lowest remote working rates globally at circa 1%; The Dubai Future Foundation predicts that working from home ‘will be “the new norm” in the long-term, and those company policies will adapt to reflect the change’.
At a result, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated an expansion of e-commerce and online delivery services across many sectors, and this trend is likely to remain post-pandemic. Even with the news of a vaccine on the horizon, what will be nearly a year of movement restriction has reinforced new purchasing habits, propelled by the need to significantly limit physical interactions.
- Is our remote working policy up to date, and do we have the IT infrastructure in place to support it safely and securely, while still promoting teamwork, productivity, health, and well-being?
- How robust is our business distribution model and e-commerce strategy? Was it established in a hurry, and can it be revised with a new long-term focus?
- Is our communication plan making sure we reach out to the right people at the right time with the messages we need to them to hear, supported by effective tech to ensure it is cost and time effective?
3. Communication and Marketing
Technology can often be seen as the cornerstone of long-term company resilience, in terms of data protection, stability in infrastructure, and an enabler for personalized customer service. As we approach 2021, the importance of tech in powering the way we communicate with our customers has increased even more dramatically. The pandemic has significantly and permanently shifted trends about how we do business, how we produce and distribute goods, and how we spend our leisure time.
From online shopping and contactless payment to screening, information gathering and tele- appointments for key services (think medical, diagnostic and education etc.), the digital readiness of companies will be key to their ability to effectively ride the wave in the long run. Yet, even so, this capability will be severely undermined if it does not embed a human-centred approach to its online policies and processes, mindful of the stages of the emotional journey already referred to, and a new hunger for sustainable solutions.
- Has our IT and online strategy taken into consideration all consumer touchpoints?
- Does our online customer experience differentiate by segment, so we can still ‘see’ our customers and adapt our service accordingly?
- Is VOC (Voice of Customer) driving our product development and marketing strategies?
- Do we have an authentic ESG (environmental, social and governance) strategy that is sustainable, and protecting us from operational or reputational issues while minimizing any bottom-line impact?
During times of global crisis, it is tempting to batten down the hatches and play the cautious card. Customers are changing their behaviour to stay safe, with many countries showing an increasing trend in community spirit and personal accountability. Companies need to do the same to protect their brand health, with their leaders prepared to listen to their teams and customers.
What message are you sending, and are you speaking the same language as your stakeholders?
At THG Advisory, we help our clients put VOC at the heart of their business plan, policies, and processes, to ensure brand behaviour matches the needs of the New Normal Customer.