The Covid-19 global humanitarian and economic crisis has left an indelible mark on global consumers.

As the crisis deepens, incremental improvements by organisations to adapt to changing customer behaviour no longer seem to suffice. Beyond the immediate fallout of this pandemic, customer experience has emerged as one of the key challenges facing business leaders.

Leading organisations have instituted new tools such as digital surveys and practices like social listening and sentiment analysis to track, analyse, and act on behavioural signals. Now the bigger challenge is to deliver a customer experience not just to stand out, but to pivot, reassess, innovate, and transform.

What’s visible in the industry

Movement patterns have flipped. Customers are housebound and vulnerable. Employees have atomised and adjusted their daily working practices. Supply chains are being disrupted. Physical stores are increasingly pulling down their shutters.

The customers are now more mindful of their spending. Stay-at-home orders have accelerated the transition from in-person to digital channels. Public safety has become a top priority for businesses and consumers alike in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment.

No longer can businesses devise strategies based on simple analytics and a gut feel about their customers’ needs and preferences. Businesses must jump years in a few months to offer digital customer experiences that are simple, intuitive, and reliable.

From reactive to proactive crisis management

The traditional crisis-response playbook is now broken. As the companies outline macro scenarios and prepare scenario-based contingency plans of action, the focus of this entire generation of business leaders is shifting from reactive to proactive crisis management.

Businesses have configured senior, dedicated, cross-functional war room teams focussed on tackling immediate challenges, finding innovative operational models and technologies to safeguard liquidity and recover the business today, and retool the business for the future.

To win in the new normal, companies need to identify the current noticeable customer behaviour that will define customer experience in the near term. Companies need to rethink strategic priorities and build capabilities fast to leapfrog stages of customers’ evolution in the new normal and use digitalisation to bolster operations

Customer experience delivery taking on a new meaning

Companies that make the right investments in people, processes, and technology now could build a competitive advantage in serving customers in times to come. Organisations likely to stay here during and even in the post-Covid-19 era will pursue the following priorities, differently based on their industry, competitive landscape, and multi-level organisational challenges:

Cloud-based services: Covid-19 has ushered the world into remote work and collaboration. This pandemic has emerged as the long-awaited catalyst for cloud adoption that technology companies had longed for.

Cloud technology providers, with their robust architecture, are proactively supporting their customers during the pandemic by proving the strength and adaptability of their service offerings.

Cloud-based applications for OTT players like Netflix are already in huge demand from customers spending most of their time working from home and in quarantine. Validating a huge surge in demand for remote collaboration tools to empower workforce telecommuting from home, Microsoft revealed that the number of users on the Microsoft Teams increased by 37%, with at least 900 million meeting minutes in a day in March 2020. Further in April 2020, Teams hit a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day, a 200% increase from the 900-million mark.

Major cloud computing players—Amazon, Microsoft, and Google—have made elaborate plans to manage their supply chain and have been aggressively testing the resilience of their infrastructure and processes. Cloud computing will continue to improve customer experience in these times.

Contactless and safe business environments: Customer behaviour has notably shifted towards safe and contactless operations as an immediate response to this crisis. Accustomed to this new contactless world, customers may not be inclined to return to physical operations—even when the health department deems it safe.

Amidst shelter-in-place and social distancing orders, businesses need to focus on delivering customer experiences laced with empathy, care, and safety and win the trust of customers in a touchless world. For example, once loyal to physical store grocery shopping, customers are now increasingly going digital and using contactless payment services for their daily needs—choosing cashless and opting for digital payment options to avoid stepping out during the pandemic. To address the demands of these digital shifters, many grocery chains, though they have their physical stores open, are now replicating their in-store experience on digital channels.

Another example is that of the healthcare industry, which is witnessing a huge rise in demand for virtual transactions like online doctor consultations, and safe online payment gateways. This unprecedented behaviour is driving healthcare providers to innovate faster.

Integration of intelligent automation powered self-service for touchless tomorrow: Covid-19 marks a historic pivot point for human life and the global economy. The ongoing crisis pushed businesses to switch their operations to remote within a few days, presenting a stronger need than ever for automation to help maintain business continuity.

With the physical touch points reducing to almost negligible numbers in favour of safer, no-touch self-service models, offering a smooth digital experience is now a matter of survival for businesses. Companies that had not invested in digital are feeling the squeeze the most.

However, there are some brands that have succeeded in staying ahead of the curve with their heavy investments in digital channels. For instance, retail giant Walmart has built a powerful distribution infrastructure with strong automation technology-led omnichannel capabilities.

Adoption of intelligent automation in the post-pandemic era is bound to set the narrative for companies and industries alike.

What lies ahead

Businesses with a clearly defined API-led strategy that allows a seamless flow of data across systems, are more likely to succeed in easily integrating new digital channels to offer unified omnichannel, cloud-based customer experiences, and ensure business continuity through any disruption.

There is no denying it: Businesses need to adapt to a new world order at warp speed. How companies meet this moment will influence their trajectory for years to come.

Views are personal. The author is senior vice president and head-marketing, CSS Corp.

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