Customer Experience in Phase 4 of the Pandemic

There is light at the end of the tunnel. What will customer behavior look like once we are in the post COVID-19 era? Nobody knows. Having the flexibility to adapt to the fast changing customer will become a crucial skill in the next months and years. In this blog, I would like to share an overview of the evolution of the pandemic. In my opinion, we are currently in phase 3, but I invite everyone to create strategies for phase 4.

Phase 1: Compensating the physical world

In the first week of March 2020 I was still very naive. In my emails from that period I was convinced that by mid-May 2020 I would be travelling the world again as if COVID hadn’t happened. Just a few days later full-blown panic set in as it dawned on me I was basically out of a job. All my keynote presentations were cancelled and my mailbox was empty. I was caught off-guard.

Sound familiar?

The impact of Covid caught most companies by surprise. It all happened so fast. In just a few weeks’ time we had to make sure we could keep the business going in a world where personal contact was no longer possible. As a direct consequence, digital usage exploded in a matter of weeks.

At that point, the focus was on surviving and keeping the business going, safeguarding the basic customer experience to keep your customers coming back. It felt like our world hit the pause button and we woke up two weeks later to a world where virtual was the norm, but many of us found it hard to deal with that change. Online meetings were a discovery, new mobile stores were very basic and online events had the same quality as a website back in 2001.

We were all trying to use digital to compensate for the loss in the physical world.

Phase 2: Discovering and understanding the benefits of the new world

By the fall of 2020 more and more companies started to understand that the big digital jump of 2020 would lead to permanent changes in behavior.

One of those permanent changes is flexibility in terms of working environment while mental well-being will have to be created in a different way than in the past.

With regard to customers it is clear that digital communication, digital customer service, digital sales and marketing are all here to stay. By this stage (Q3-Q4 2020) most companies were making plans for new flows, new processes taking into account the permanent character of the digital world. The virtualization of the world is real and the only option is to adapt. The two key benefits that most companies see are an increase in efficiency and less negative impact on sustainability.

For instance, as a keynote speaker I witnessed first-hand the steep increase in the overall quality of online events. By Q4 2020 most online events were like TV productions: cool content, great host, beautiful setting…

In addition to optimizing procedures and the existing business, many organizations started to try out new business models. Some discovered new revenue streams while others doubled down on experiments that turned out to be very successful.

The most successful new business models bring the business to the customer. In the old world the customer went to a location (both physically and virtually) to consume a service or buy a product; today services and products go where the customer is. Peleton brings the fitness experience to the comfort of your own home, Disney+ brings Disney content directly to the living room, social media offer direct shopping possibilities…

 

Phase 3: from compensation to a better experience

In the beginning of the pandemic, companies were using digital to compensate for the loss in the physical world. In phase 3 of the pandemic (Q1 and Q2 2021), we will start to feel the real benefits of the virtualization of our world. It will no longer be about compensating for the loss, it will be about creating value in a new way: sometimes more efficient, sometimes with more impact, sometimes using a completely new business model.

The pandemic will probably last for eighteen months (March 2020 – fall 2021), which is plenty of time for humans to adapt to new behavior. The better the virtual services, the more we will get used to them and the more permanent certain behavior will become.

I’m convinced that during the early months of 2021 we will see more and more bold decisions from organizations. Some signals we will see: large enterprises that start to sell some of their real estate as they install a permanent new working culture, geared more directly to consumer business models, more subscription-based business models… Hotels, airlines and companies in the event industry will develop new business models that cater to their new consumer.

The focus is no longer on compensating our loss but on creating more value than ever.

Phase 4: Best of both worlds

By the fall of 2021 the pandemic will be behind us. For many people it will feel like picking up where we left off but it will only seem that way. In reality the post-pandemic world will be fundamentally different from the world we knew before the pandemic. We will keep all the new, more efficient and more sustainable business models. They will remain successful and they will put old business models under pressure. Of course, we will go back to where we were in terms of visiting bars, restaurants, concerts, tourism… I think we all miss that part of our old lives. The thing is: we will add some old-world flavors to the new world. The starting point is different. Having a real live drink with friends is of course a thousand times better than an online drink, but for a functional business meeting organizing a zoom meeting is a better option than being stuck in traffic for two hours or being away from home for two days. Do you think people who bought a peleton during the pandemic will go back to the gym? I don’t think so. If Disney content is going straight to Disney+, will we still go to the movie theatre? The answer is probably yes, but maybe less frequently than in the past.

In this phase we will combine the best of both worlds, but the building platform to start from will be the new world that we all created during the eighteen months of the pandemic.

If you’re just waiting for the pre-Covid situation to come back I think you are taking a big risk. It will feel like we’re going back to the old world but in reality our behavior will have changed fundamentally. Create a strategy that is ready for phase 4 and beyond. Don’t try to compensate for the loss, try to build new value models.