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In the face of COVID-19, it’s tough for companies to know which strategies make sense in terms of progress and growth. But the pandemic isn’t slowing the shift to digital — if anything, it’s accelerating it. And there are a few digital strategies you shouldn’t wait to implement.
1. Improve and expand self-service
Even before COVID-19, customers placed a high value on the ability to access services from their providers on their own. With culture creating such a range of different work and home circumstances, they liked being able to autonomously handle their own needs on-demand as was convenient. At the same time, their expectations for what they can do online has shifted — they expect to be able to do much more without needing to call a support center.
As a result, self-service is already now business as usual in industries like retail, travel, healthcare, and financial services. And the pandemic is only accelerating consumers’ use of self-service. With so many brick-and-mortar locations reducing their staff, created safety limitations for buyers, temporarily closed, or even gone entirely online, a DeviceBits study found that customer self-support has shot up an impressive 86 percent during the virus crisis. Customers likely will become even more comfortable with self-service through the rest of the pandemic and continue demanding it after the virus has gone away.
To accommodate this increasing demand, rework your operations and processes to provide a simpler, more seamless experience. Your setup should allow your buyers to search, select, buy products or services, and return or exchange at the touch of a button. Trusting the customers to monitor their own accounts in these ways, while still being available for one-on-one service, will help build the trust-filled relationship you want with them.
2. Integrate contactless payments for the long haul
COVID-19 has made people wary of touching traditional point of sale (POS) hardware and handling/transferring cash. In fact, according to Mastercard Contactless Consumer Polling, 79 percent of respondents around the world say they now are using contactless payments because of safety and cleanliness concerns. So, contactless payments are taking root in less developed markets and being reinforced in more mature ones. Consider, too, that they are up to 10 times faster than other options. With this extended focus on a single, fast way to pay, 74 percent of respondents say they’ll keep using it after the pandemic is over. By revamping your payment system to accommodate no-touch checkout, you’ll both calm current anxieties (which will encourage people to stay) and ensure they have an improved experience into the future.
3. Build an app
Specialized apps are a benefit to both buyers and businesses. For instance, they can offer a more consistent experience for shoppers, and by sending push notifications, companies can ensure that their products, services, or updates are always at the front of consumers’ minds. Having an app is becoming just as standard as having a great website.
But as COVID-19 continues to run rampant, apps are an even more vital lifeline between buyers and businesses. Thanks to social distancing and lockdown measures, people are using these programs to get what they want and need more than ever — mobile app usage increased by 40 percent year-over-year during the second quarter of 2020, with downloads reaching almost 35 million. As mobile technology becomes the dominant or growing channel for customers, creating and distributing your own application will allow you to expand your channel strategies and reach on-the-go consumers even if they can’t travel to you and interact face-to-face. It also simultaneously meets the growing demand for more self-service options.
4. Compare yourself with the competition before customers do
Well before the pandemic hit, people were eagerly scouring business offerings for the best deals. A 2012 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), for instance, asserted that 83 percent of American consumers go online to research electronics, computers, books, music, travel, movies, and a full range of other items before buying products in brick-and-mortar stores. So, the ability to do price comparisons or visit a few competitors is already a well-established consumer shopping behavior.
As the pandemic continues, however, buyers are being cautious about spending. Thousands have lost jobs, been laid off, or had to file for unemployment, and people are afraid that the virus will lead to a full-blown recession. Subsequently, the desire to find value based on features and cost is also tied to prudence and genuine need.
So, do your customers a favor and do the comparisons ahead of time to add value to your offerings. In addition to providing competitive rates, leverage your technology to acquire new customers and evolve your messaging and offers to accommodate new pandemic and post-pandemic realities.
5. Rethink customer digital engagement
The need to communicate with your customers hasn’t stopped just because of the virus. You still have to figure out how customer behaviors are shifting and how quickly you can adapt to those shifts. But because customers often can’t engage with businesses in person, your communications must shift to be more online.
To start, build surveys and work with experts to identify ways to keep connecting with customers over the Internet to understand their priorities. Enhance the virtual experience and try to make up for what buyers lose with a lack of face-to-face, link the digital experience to your physical one, and build a real community with more interactive activities. These preparations will leave you in good shape to accommodate the increased digital engagement that inevitably will be present in a post-COVID world.
Companies have been pushing for better use of digital tools and infrastructure for a while now. And one positive consequence of the pandemic is that businesses are finally in a position where implementing more digital strategies makes good, competitive sense. If you get out ahead of the pack and get started now, you’ll enjoy real stability — not just in the present moment, but for the long term.