Cloud-based society has well and truly been put to the test. While digital communication was of course ubiquitous before March 2020, even the most outspoken ‘digital native thought leader’ would be unlikely to predict how well and how quickly many elements of society could be switched from a physical to an online experience. Although of course, they would claim now that they saw it coming all along.
Nevertheless, we are now over a year into our forced experiment into how far digital living can go. It has been through necessity so far – the human motivations to socialise, buy, eat, and be entertained have all manifested themselves online like never before, and certain businesses have been big winners (despite recent speculation of Netflix slowdown).
But as lockdown lifts in the UK, we can now all speculate what behaviour is likely to revert to those heady days of 2019, and what may continue. One thing is certain - that people’s expectations of the way they interact with each other and with companies will continue to evolve. In this article, we explore what these changes mean for customer journeys, which Covid behaviours may stick and which may turn out to be 2020 anomalies.
Here to stay: Trust in digital
For many people that have been surrounded by digital technology for most of their lives, trust in tech was never much of a barrier. However, particularly in older generations, the uptake of things like digital banking has been much slower. Covid changed all that and it’s not likely to ever change back.
Financial Reporter reveals 73% of UK consumers are using digital banking channels every week, higher than the global average at 71%. Mobile banking rates are up too. The fastest uptake during this time has been among that older demographic. A McKinsey study in Germany found that the increase in the over-65 age group was 107%.
While older people were forced to digital channels, this might not indicate that they prefer them, so catering to that demographic digitally must become more of a priority. Businesses can respond by offering personalised support for people who aren’t as comfortable with technology. This has to be done by humans initially but taking the time to take this demographic on that digital journey could be a strong point of difference.
Will change again: Delivery with purpose
More than 100 billion parcels were sent in 2020, according to McKinsey, which reckons that number will double by 2030. Driverless vans and drones are predicted to be key in realising that figure but as lockdown lifts, there will be more practical barriers to this growth in customer experience that companies must be able to navigate.
Firstly, in lockdown it has been easy for many of us to plan when we can receive deliveries at home – we have not been allowed to be anywhere BUT home. As national house arrest becomes a thing of the past, receiving parcels with minimal effort will be one challenge companies must overcome. Receiving a ‘Sorry we missed you, come to the post office’ was annoying at the best of the times – now it will not just be an unnecessary trip, but one that could carry with it unnecessary risks of spreading Covid. Drop boxes for parcels will become more common, as will the ability to reroute deliveries to a different address on the day.
Amazon does this well, of course, through its app and Alexa but for brands that don’t have the luxury of that tech omnipresence, managing this with automated texts, emails and social media messages enables you to be there for your customers with helpful updates exactly at the point that you are needed most.
The second limiting factor is to do with sustainability. The packaging and transport costs of 200 billion parcels a year does not sit quite right with today’s eco-conscious consumer. For many, it is not quite enough to put them off the convenience, but how many of us have tutted at the amount of plastic wrapping in a parcel as we throw it away, only to order something else later that week?
While Covid placed personal concerns about sustainability largely on the back burner – particularly in food retail and delivery where more plastic was considered essential by many to feel safe – once the pendulum switches back, no excess packaging will be safe. Brands risk social media backlash and lost sales if they are filling up consumers’ bins with each interaction.
Businesses relying on deliveries will need to build packaging recovery into their logistics. Later this year, Scotland will see the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme, which will embed that behaviour of consumers returning packaging to the place they bought it. It will roll out to the rest of the UK in the coming years and with it, it will make every day recycling a bigger part of everyone’s lives. Sustainability and customer service will be intrinsically linked. Are you ready?
Will return (kind of): Socialising with real connections
Zoom’s success during the pandemic has been well documented, with share prices and revenues increasing by triple digits throughout 2020. However, from a share price peak in October, they are now down by 42% as investors bet on a strong ‘real-world’ recovery. It is the same shift in mindset that caught Deliveroo out with their IPO earlier this year. Fabian de Smet, head of investment banking at Berenberg, was quoted by the Guardian as saying: “Investors are turning away from the work-at-home play and putting their money into the economic recovery play.”
So what does a return to a face-to-face social calendar mean for customer experience? It means that companies that aren’t flexible will more than ever lose out to ones that are. The blurring lines between ‘work time’ and ‘home time’ are here to stay and that means that 9am-5pm is now 24/7. For customer service – whether that’s a multinational bank or a local barbers – it means that you have to have the ability to be able to book an appointment and get some level of help for what you need all the time. The days of waiting for that valuable after work appointment or having to squeeze in that quick personal phone call at 9am before your shift starts are long gone – finally!
Customers should be able to get all their answers quickly without making a phone call, but if they do have to then your customer service team must have all the information about their previous purchasing and individual needs to hand. A customer should not have to explain the same issue multiple times. The good news is for any business that’s adapted at all to the past 12 months is that you should by now be sat on a tonne of customer data to make sense of. Whether that’s simply the time they tend to contact you, or the details of what they need you for, the chances are you already have the building blocks to offer this greater level of care and service.
Time to adapt
The pandemic has shown just how quickly humans can adapt when they have to. The fact that the economic effects of Covid are unlikely to be as apocalyptic as first predicted shows that businesses can adapt quickly too. Benefits of staying at home, such as a reduction in pollution and unnecessary spending will not be forgotten, but this digital life we have ramped up for ourselves in the past year now needs to adapt to the pressures and unpredictability of the physical world.
Most companies will have rapidly adapted and upscaled their customer services in the past year, broadening their digital options and building new solutions under immense pressure. If you haven’t already gained customer feedback on these investments now is the time to do so. You should also use this opportunity to find out what they expect from your customer service team going forward.
Businesses need to focus on what they can control; good data management, sensible sustainability investments, customer experiences that work for all demographics and needs, intelligent automated customer services, and of course a flexible work culture that enables all staff to play to their strengths.