Stephen HewettStephen HewettJune 15, 2020
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12min1171

Take time now to prepare for change and get ahead of the curve by anticipating the evolving needs of your customers. A common understanding of customers’ needs and a consistent method for measuring those needs is critical for businesses to be sustainable in a post-COVID-19 world.

This applies to both B2B and B2C and across industries. In this post we’ll provide key strategies that will help you be well-positioned to meet customers’ emerging needs.

Take this quick on-line survey to find out how prepared you are to meet your customers’ emerging needs.

Make CX a priority

“At this point, depending on your brand’s category, you might think that your primary issues are oriented to your supply chain and not to changes in customer preferences, attitudes, or behaviours. It’s sensible to plan ahead for interruptions to your production and operations, but customer-centric organisations will also prepare for how their customers’ questions and needs will change rapidly in the coming months.” Augie Ray (Gartner Blog Network)

Typically, customer experience focuses on supporting operational change to meet their customers’ needs. However, the transition period is much faster than organisations realise and it is both systemic and radical. This rapid speed of change is driven by the general market, rather than competitors.

Your future success depends on being able to anticipate the needs and wants of customers in the ‘new normal’. Customers will not likely return to the same place after the crisis passes and some of the current measures will become standard practice. A Customer Experience (CX) programme is key to making informed decisions as you position yourself for the post-pandemic world.

Have a common understanding of CX terminology across your organisation

The first step to being well-positioned in meeting emerging needs is to be able to differentiate between yesterday’s and tomorrow’s needs.

An understanding of needs is typically delivered through your CS programme. However, everyone must be on the same page when talking about customers’ needs and wants.

Having a consistent, concise method of summarising the key needs of your customers and a way of measuring them is the starting place for understanding emerging needs. It’s a huge red flag if you don’t have these things in place.

Stay informed of emerging consumer trends and adapt quickly

Buying behaviours have changed due to COVID-19 and some of them will be permanent. Accenture’s report, COVID-19 will permanently change consumer behaviour identifies three key trends:

  • A focus on health – supporting a safe environment that puts the health of consumers, shoppers, and employees first will be “a strategic differentiator”.
  • A desire to buy local – consumers want to support local business in the way they shop and what they buy
  • A rise in conscious consumption – limiting food waste and providing sustainable options for consumers

“Brands will need to explore ways to connect locally—be it through highlighting local provenance, customising for local needs or engaging in locally relevant ways.” (Accenture Report)

Being virtual has become a virtue

Experts predict that consumers will continue to buy online after the pandemic. As well, they predict the number of people working virtually will likely be higher than it was pre-pandemic. Companies like Twitter are permanently allowing employees to work remotely. What techniques are you using to engage clients virtually as they shift to working from home and do more of their shopping online?

But don’t get caught in the trap that everything has to be digital

Digital will definitely be a significant enabler, but don’t get caught in the trap that everything has to be digital. We are in agile times so if you rely only on digital transformation then you may not be able to transform quickly enough to a completely digital environment.

Deliver on needs by human and non-human assets and understand the remix of these assets to maintain a permanent model from a cost POV. In the short term, there are solutions that you can implement until you can optimise digital solutions.

For example,

  • Safety concerns can be addressed by posting a sign to indicate the number of people allowed in a shop at one time or tape on the floor to mark physical distancing.
  • Customers can simply phone to place food orders vs an on-line food ordering website

To be sustainable you have to do things at the lowest possible cost. Use tape on the floor to mark physical distancing and use human assets where they add the most value.

Imagine the Impossible

What was once a barrier or thought to be impossible is now possible. Cultural and historical barriers have been knocked down. The need to engage beyond your house is now being done virtually.

Zoos, museums and art galleries are doing to virtual tours to provide customers with a safe alternative during COVID-19. In the future perhaps they will consider moving to a more robust virtual offering. This model would be sustainable and collect revenue and reduce costs by using non-human assets—guides could give online lectures, the website could have advertising or click-throughs, there could be an extra cost for a special part of the tour such as feeding times. The need for car park attendants would be removed and car parks could be turned into more space for the animals.

COVID-19 has forced us to think in new ways. Film crews are being replaced by one person. A popular garden show in the UK has homeowners filming their own ‘virtual garden tour’. Are media companies going to decide on a scaled-down version? Late-night talk show hosts are broadcasting from their homes and interviewing a wide list of guests who are also sitting at home. Less people travelling is having a positive impact on the environment.

Decide if your pop-up model is a temporary fix or a long term solution

“Retailers and consumer real estate providers alike are benefiting from the fast-paced, short-term format of pop-up tenancies and shoppers are engaged with fresh, seasonal retail offerings. Compressed lease terms that recycle available spaces in shopping centres and in retail street fronts give retailers an opportunity to roll out new product offerings quickly and test-drive new entrepreneurial concepts. Pop-up retail is here to stay.” Michael Kehoe (Real Estate News Exchange)

Agility is essential to sustainability. Businesses go bankrupt because they can’t afford to move to the next stage. Does your pop-up model embrace all of the emerging needs or is it a cheap perversion of your existing operating model?

  • What and where are the lost opportunity costs?
  • What are the possible outcomes of freezing your product where it is now, making few or no changes, to save money?

Restaurants, for example, must consider whether to wait for the increased need to eat in a place that provides some ambience over concerns for safety. Can you make more money just by operating the kitchen or do you want people to come back?

In response to the pandemic, Tesco changed their operating model because they discovered a new need – health & safety. They were challenged about increased profits due to panic buying, but other areas of the business such as clothing and petrol were down 70 percent. The costs of installing safety measures were balanced out by the loss in profits in other departments.

Whether or not your pop-up model is temporary depends on your industry, centre, and context. But no matter the situation, you must deliver needs at the lowest possible cost in order for your business to be sustainable.

Tips on how to be prepared

  • Listen to your customers – Use platforms that capture the voice of the customer (e.g. BigEars)
  • Choose cheaper solutions you can implement in the short term – solutions don’t have to be digital
  • Work with your customer care team to find out what feedback they’re getting from customers
  • Provide consumers with local choices in the way they shop and what they buy
  • Be proactive with information for customers – convey what your brand is doing to ensure a safe shopping experience in physical locations to earn consumers’ trust
  • Re-envision marketing plans to include emerging needs and brand purpose

We are in unprecedented times

The world has changed and continues to do so rapidly. Both governments and organisations are entering unknown territory post-COVID-19. Different economic drivers caused the crash in 2008-09.

It might be dangerous to look at the current situation and try to understand the needs through this lens. For example, supermarkets didn’t need to understand social distancing, now they do. It is vital to understand the needs and wants of your customers and how they are changing now as well as in the future. Evaluating your customer data and forecasting shifts in future wants and needs is a customer-centric way to prepare your brand to better serve your customers. Are you ready?

 

This article is the second part of a two-piece series on changing customer needs post COVID-19.


Stephen HewettStephen HewettJune 8, 2020
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10min1402

Research shows that today’s wants become tomorrow’s needs.

Great organisations respond by thinking strategically about emerging needs. What your customers need from your business may be dramatically different from a few weeks ago.

This applies to both B2B and B2C and across industries. In this post we’ll discuss emerging needs post COVID-19, highlight examples of how organisations are responding to these needs, and provide 8 tips for getting started to determine emerging customer needs for your company.

What is the difference between a need and a want?

Before we continue, it is important to have a common understanding of the terminology. We define a need as something that must be there or else the experience, service or product is failing. A want is something customers may notice, positively comment on, and may pay extra for, or invest time in.

Usually it takes time for needs to evolve, but once in a hundred-year events like COVID-19 cause needs to mutate rapidly. Emotions and needs are running high compared to regular periods. Customers will perceive different brands in different ways. This event will alter consumer motivations, expectations, and actions.

Our opportunity to delight, or disappoint our customers is greatest right now.

Take our quick on-line survey to find out how prepared you are to meet your customers’ emerging needs.

Emerging trends in consumers’ attitudes, behaviours and purchasing habits

There probably aren’t any genuine new needs, but there may be new needs for your business.

For instance, infection control was always a need in hospitals, but it is a new need in a supermarket setting. Face masks were always part of equipment in a healthcare setting. Now, they are potentially required in supermarkets and on public transport.

The overriding emerging need is safety. Putting measures in place to protect people’s health is an emerging need no matter what type of business you run.

Going beyond the focus on health and safety, there are three other trends:

  • The balance between global and local supply chains has changed. Global supply chains are too extended and aren’t resilient to this type of event. There will be increased pressure to bring supply chains closer to home.
  • A virtual presence will be a higher priority because it offers the ability to go beyond the home.
  • Retail will become highly specialised where physical interaction is a genuine need and not a ‘nice to have’.

A recent study done by Accenture discovered that, “Digital commerce has also seen a boost as new consumers migrate online for grocery shopping – a rise that is likely to be sustained post-outbreak.” The study also noted that 55 percent of people will continue to make time with their family a priority post-pandemic. This will impact the way people spend their leisure time. DIY and entertainment will benefit from this consumer shift.

Source: Accenture

 

Be genuine

“With the right customer-centric attitude and an awareness of what people need right now, companies can emerge from this crisis having strengthened their relationships with customers. Give consumers your HEART during this difficult time. It will cultivate long-lasting goodwill with past customers and help ensure they will stay with you in the future.” Harvard Business Review

People will remember whether organisations genuinely tried to meet their needs, or the needs of the business. This will be a major driver of business in the future.

Price is always a major motivator. If a business can redesign their operating model to use lower costs (e.g. non-human assets) and then share that saving with the customer, they will keep more customers.

For example, if an organisation meets a need by offering the lowest price and does so by implementing changes such as installing self-service screens to place an order vs placing an order with a person, it generates a warm feeling on the part of the customer because that business has met their needs.

On the other hand, there are businesses that profess to be worried about the needs of their customer but are just trying to generate business. The problem arises when businesses reduce costs but keep the extra margin.

If self-service screens are introduced, but the price of the food doesn’t come down then people will feel that the business was not genuinely concerned about meeting their needs.

Another example of a business that is demonstrating a genuine interest in meeting their customer’s needs is a music website in the UK promoting small bands and individual artists. They encourage their listeners to buy music on Fridays because all the money from the sales that day goes to the artists. That brand is genuinely being seen as supporting the artists. The artists love it because it’s helping them generate an income when they can’t play in the local pub. The customers love it because they are supporting the music they care about. This action is seen as a genuine sacrifice on the part of the brand. It sends the message, “We believe in the music we support.”

Eighty percent of people buy on price so it’s difficult to determine how long this effect will last. However, there will be a percentage of customers where this will continue to influence their buying preference.

The economy will have an enormous impact as well. We will be faced with more poverty and unemployment. It is important for businesses to genuinely meet the needs of this group of individuals without being insincere.

Actions you can take right now

Great organisations not only meet their customers’ needs but also deliver against the changed perspectives of their clients. Identify potential changes in customers’ journeys and the touchpoints that may be most important to customers in these unusual times. Understand, anticipate, and go above and beyond to fulfil customer needs.

Use this time now to:

  • Ensure that whatever pop-up model you’ve created is sustainable
  • Invest in your CX and UX – research customers to uncover the changes to customer needs and journeys
  • Leverage the right technology to stay ahead of your competitors – invest in building end-to-end, personalised digital strategies vs simply adapting your live events strategies to virtual ones.
  • Communicate messages focused on helping customers
  • Improve or expand on what you offer, driven by meeting needs and wants
  • Go through all the fixes teams wished they had time to do – stop putting band-aids on flawed products
  • Walk through a proper user-centred design process to make improvements
  • Service design your internal workers’ experiences

People are changing in ways they don’t realise

The impact of not meeting needs can be significant. Events like COVID-19 force people to change in ways they don’t realise. What we can be certain of is that our customers have changed their perspective on something, and possibly in very dramatic ways. Prepare for these changes. Get ahead of the curve.

Evaluate your customer data and forecast shifts in future wants and needs is a customer-centric way to anticipate the evolving needs of your customers. The best companies in the world will prepare NOW for how to meet the future needs of their customers.

 

This article is a part of a two-piece series. Stay tuned for the next part on how to prepare for the emerging customer needs in post COVID-19 world.




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