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.

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