It was Deepak Chopra who said, “All great changes are preceded by chaos.” History has taught us that when we’re faced with challenging environments, we take stock and (usually) take a different direction. That’s what happened to many businesses during the pandemic – they had to evolve. As we enter the next phase of secular growth, companies of all shapes and sizes have realised the benefits of the changes they made. It’s in these tough times that forward-thinking companies deepened the relationships they held with customers. Now they have an opportunity to use digital tools to open up more opportunities for the future.
It’s been really encouraging to see a host of small businesses innovate during lockdowns, rather than licking their wounds. According to a survey conducted by Lloyds Bank Commercial Banking and UK Tech News between March and August 2020 almost half (47%) of British tech businesses pivoted to make their product or service a better fit to the current market. Restaurants, for example, have been shifting their business models from the chef’s table to the kitchen table. In addition to selling ready-made meals, some of them are now offering pantry staples and have entered new partnerships, especially with delivery service firms. There’s no doubt about it: communication and engagement moved online quicker than ever, and in a lot of cases, that move is irreversible.
According to Zendesk research, 50% of SMB leaders say Covid-19 accelerated their adoption of digital technology. And while we’re past the first sprint, the race is far from over. Those already in the fast lane of digital adoption will have a head start. But there are opportunities for everyone who appreciates the value of the tools available to them.
Direct to consumers
It isn’t just businesses who evolved during the pandemic, customers did too. People are rethinking their lifestyles and purchasing habits. They’re shopping differently, they’re living and working differently. Any type of business, from retail to hospitality or financial services, can take advantage of these changes by playing the long game and building loyalty at every touchpoint.
For some businesses, that means changing the channels through which they sell to customers. It’s difficult to build on existing customer relationships when there isn’t enough of a relationship to begin with. But that’s the predicament that businesses find themselves in if they sell through wholesalers, as opposed to directly to customers. In these cases, if businesses have any interaction with end customers, their connection is merely superficial.
To open the door for new digital products and services, a move into ongoing relationships is the direction that businesses are looking into. For those who sell a product, that might mean switching to a subscription model and building consistent repeat business. Success in this approach relies on a symbiotic relationship where both parties see the value of an ongoing relationship – aside from just more products.
Prioritising people, not products
We saw some great examples of companies doing this during lockdown. It wasn’t just about selling products directly. The best companies kept the conversation going with their customers and ensured they felt included in everything the brand was doing – even when stores were closed. Gyms, for example, offered virtual training classes over Instagram Stories to keep their members and followers engaged remotely.
How can you take a similar approach to build loyalty among customers now that lockdown restrictions are easing and stores and offices start to reopen? A good starting point is to be sure that you don’t forget your online community and provide customers with quality content that relates to your products. They will be engaged with new ideas for how to use your product and keep coming back. A seamless buying experience is also important. A fully integrated purchase experience – with access to up-to-date product information, easy troubleshooting through self-service and friendly service agents when needed – makes customers more likely to stick around for more than just a one-off purchase.
This year will be the digital tipping point when leading companies double down on their efforts to connect with people in the places where they already spend a majority of their time – online. This doesn’t necessarily require businesses to work harder, it simply requires them to work differently and more digitally. The important task now is to build on the innovation you’ve already set in motion and prepare for the new world of customer interaction.