Daniel Saunders, Head of Content EMEA, Qualtrics
Despite the warning signs in the lead up to the Coronavirus outbreak, the global pandemic caught most companies relatively unprepared, forcing them to suddenly switch to ‘crisis mode’. Since then, many businesses have struggled to survive.
As the situation turned the service models and economics of companies inside out, those that were still able to keep their heads above water had to find new, inventive and cost-effective ways to stay in business.
Smart companies took the opportunity to adapt the brand experience: established brand strategies were questioned, innovations were accelerated, e-commerce and digital channels were introduced. In brief, long-term, competitive growth was the focus. In fact, putting a positive spin on things, the pandemic has arguably led many companies into the future.
Covid-19 has brought to light shifts in consumer behaviour and highlighted operational weaknesses that some companies were previously unaware of. Some of them have used the time wisely and adapted or even expanded their brand experience — after all, with limited options to hit the high street, more and more people are going online and spending their money there. Some for the first time ever.
So, with the situation ongoing and the future unclear, what lessons can be learned from this challenging time?
A good brand experience is more important than ever
The travel sector has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Flights were cancelled, airlines were challenged in new ways and some even went out of business. All of this meant that travellers were left feeling uneasy. How could they comply with local rules while feeling safe and confident enough to visit another country?
With restrictions on travelling varying hugely depending on where you’re based, airlines are trying their best to claw back some of the bookings they lost over the peak summer period.
Some airlines have slashed prices in order to lure back holidaymakers. However, while a cheap deal would normally boost sales, if people don’t feel safe, they’re highly likely to stay away.
Now that people are slowly travelling again, they are placing more value than before on the customer experience that airlines can offer them, with safety measures high on their list of concerns.
Instead of focusing on discounts, which would at any other time result in some sales, measures that allow for more distancing (for example removing the middle seat on flights) are far more likely to reassure travellers and encourage them to travel.
Understanding your customers
No company has a crystal ball and the future is certainly unclear at this point in time. So, as a business, how do you unearth these key insights about your customers?
Nobody can say how the pandemic will affect the future of airlines in the long term. Nevertheless, every provider should keep track of how travel behaviour and customer preferences are shifting. With restrictions and rules changing regularly, this is the only way they can react in good time and avoid being left behind by brands that are taking this seriously.
But it’s not just the travel industry struggling in the current climate. Numerous companies, regardless of the industry or category, still rely on tried and tested measures or even trusting their instincts, believing that it’s not worthwhile for brand performance to reflect market fluctuations.
Instead of increasing the frequency of their listening programmes in uncertain times, many companies suspend measures or eliminate them entirely.
However, while it can seem easier to stick your head in the sand, this approach only leads to further blind spots in terms of customer behaviour. Can you be sure that your competitors are doing the same thing? Or are they listening and adapting to the feedback they’re receiving — positive or negative?
Not doing so can also result in dissatisfied consumers, poor customer loyalty and larger areas of attack for the competition, at a time when it counts more than ever.
Avoid flying blind
After the high street was shaken to its foundations, customers quickly adopted new behaviours. When physical shopping sprees were no longer advisable, consumers had to switch to purchasing everything online. Since then, they have been satisfying their needs online — regardless of whether it is shopping, entertainment, education, healthcare or financial transactions.
While this has taken some getting used to, it would be a mistake to believe that the newly discovered options, including improved usability, greater convenience and an optimised customer experience, would not affect future purchasing decisions – potentially forever.
As the ongoing pandemic continues to change the consumer landscape in a shift that’s likely to be long-term, companies must step up efforts to keep track of dynamic shifts in demand for their brand.
No matter the sector, it would be presumptuous to assume a full recovery once the storm has passed. The motto “back to normal” is neither realistic nor goal-oriented when brands want to meet or even exceed consumer expectations in the short or long term.
If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s to be prepared at all times. The cross-industry upheavals during this pandemic show how important quick reactions, adaptability and flexibility are when it comes to allowing brand to continue being successful in the future and into a “new, better reality”