In a very short amount of time, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated a change in how people interact with one another. Over the past six months, the digital customer experience (CX), how people interact with companies through digital platforms, has experienced a remarkable increase in adoption in response to the pandemic’s restrictions on physical interactions. The brands who have not only adapted, but re-imagined ways for customers to interact, transact, and receive goods have performed better than expected. As COVID-19 continues to impact consumers and their behavior, it is important for companies to not just adapt, but prioritize digital experiences for their customers in the near and uncertain future.
Recent research from Emory University shows that consumer behavior has significantly changed across a host of categories due to the pandemic, with a great deal of those changes driven by accelerated digital adoption. As we looked at this research, we noticed three prominent trends that are present in today’s transformed world and its industries. Through the exploration of the trends below, we will also discuss how we can prepare for our transition to the new normal.
1. Consumers have modified their behaviors through improvisation
In response to stay-at-home efforts and social distancing due to the coronavirus, consumers have learned how to adapt their daily activities in order to work and socialize in new ways. Instead of walking down aisles with their plastic shopping baskets, consumers are now more likely to fill their online cart using online platforms. Consumers have paved their own alternative pathways in order to attain similar experiences as before the pandemic. Furthermore, this adapted behavior caused by improvisation drives a deeper force of change that can alter consumer behavior long term.
Improvisation has the power to modify existing behaviors to allow consumers to find more convenience. For instance, activities such as curbside pickup, remote work, and online shopping have saved time and energy for many consumers. If consumers find these modified habits developed during the pandemic convenient, then we see improvisation turning into concrete changed behavior. For instance, a 60% spike in installation of U.S. banking applications at the beginning of the pandemic revealed how a small change in consumers’ behavior resulted in a larger change in digital CX. In order to succeed in the new customer experience, companies must adapt their existing strategies to a digital front. If that experience becomes stagnant, companies should be prepared to analyze, rebuild, and improve the digital customer experience in order to keep pushing forward.
2. It is time to embrace digital technology as it becomes the new front line for the transfer of information
Video conferencing services like Zoom and Microsoft Teams have exploded during the past few months of physical distance. While early steps taken by companies focused on enabling basic productivity and bringing workers online with collaboration tools, there has now been a more thoughtful focus on improving the work-from-home experience. Microsoft Teams announced plans to launch a virtual commute feature to allow workers time to both gather their thoughts on the day ahead and reflect on the events of the workday, providing precious alone time for creativity and retrospection in a world filled with all-day meetings.
Technology can be used to emulate old behaviors like a commute. In the case of healthcare, digital tools have dramatically changed the patient experience with the rapid shift from in-person care to the adoption of telemedicine. These behavioral changes are here to stay. It’s expected that 83% of patients surveyed from a doctor.com study will likely continue to use telemedicine even after the pandemic is over. Under pre-COVID-19 circumstances there may have been hesitation or concern with televisits, but the current environment has forced adoption of digital tools out of necessity and could see a sustained change in behavior. A new kind of thinking is required when engaging with consumers during this time that considers both reactionary and long-term shifts in consumer behavior. If you’ve managed to migrate your customer experience to digital channels in response to COVID-19, don’t expect customers to revert back to old ways. The next normal won’t be the same as the previous one.
3. Everything has come home
The virus has forced industries and companies that have always hosted a physical, in-person experience to create a new customer journey that meets customers where they are: at home. It is no secret that ecommerce has exploded in our world today. Even before COVID-19, many people would make important purchases online for a variety of reasons. However, with the virus, it is no longer a personal choice to participate in ecommerce, but rather a point of necessity. McKinsey estimates that U.S. ecommerce penetration has experienced 10 years’ growth in a mere three months’ time. Consumers are not only online shopping for clothing, but they are also forced to purchase everyday items online. COVID-19 is leading even the most traditional industries to embrace ecommerce.
One of the best examples of a traditionally in-person industry that has capitalized on the rising trend of ecommerce is Carvana. Carvana is an online used car marketplace that has projected a record-setting third quarter, with shares gaining over 30%. Carvana’s digital-first customer experience allowed them to differentiate from other used car dealerships when consumers no longer found themselves comfortable leaving the house. Other car dealerships have found themselves playing catch-up, doing their best to introduce some level of ecommerce capabilities.
Companies that are digital first, or are currently adapting to operate that way, can better serve the customer who now finds themselves doing everything at home. Companies that rise to the occasion and acclimate to the new COVID-19 customer will employ clear strategy, capability development, and advanced data capture and activation. If they do not meet their customers at home with ecommerce capacities, companies will forfeit their market share to firms that are creating a digital-first customer experience and developing long-term strategies to engage with customers.
Planning for Uncertainty: The New Normal?
To create a relevant customer experience, companies will need to adapt to the new consumer that COVID-19 has produced. As a baseline, it is essential for companies to empathize with their audience and meet them where they are. It is more important than ever to “know thy customer,” to serve them where they are, but perhaps more importantly, anticipate where they will go next. For now, customers are improvising constantly, utilizing technology in almost every aspect of their lives, and doing everything at home. If companies haven’t adapted, they must move with haste to both remain relevant and create digital customer experiences that will transcend the current dilemma.