Covid exposes lack of customer experience in local businesses

Friday November 27 2020
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Marketing guru Philip Kotler said “the customer is king,” but has this been the case during the Covid-19 pandemic? Having wreaked havoc on a majority of businesses, the pandemic has forced brands to reconsider their business models, and most importantly, the customer experience they offer.

Immersion Group’s Head of Digital Geoffrey Hardy says while many brands believe they are customer-centric, the reality says otherwise. Covid-19, according to Hardy, brutally exposed the fact that many businesses lack a robust customer-experience approach, forcing them to pivot.

“Being customer-centric is more than just a statement, it is an ethos that lives within the company and how the business is run. You need to be geared towards the customer in all aspects. At the height of the pandemic, we saw a mix of reactions, some retreating, looking internally and not addressing the customer, while others either activated a customer-focused campaign or scrambled to pivot in order to survive,” says Hardy.

As customer experience experts, I know a good majority of experiences are not informed by actual data. Working off assumptions as opposed to a deep data dive, a common thread noted among local business was a lack of an empathetic understanding of the customer: “Many of the larger organisations became change averse, they stalled several initiatives and seemed to progressively move backwards.

There was a natural expectation that the pandemic provided an opportunity to focus on enhancing their customer experience across digital channels, but in reality, the move was slow if there was any move at all.”

If 2020 did anything, it definitely forced customers online, even the digital laggards are now shopping online. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, this transformation has been brewing for some time now.

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“The inclination to be digitally transformed has always been there, the pandemic just accelerated the timelines. This placed unexpected pressure on majority of businesses and many, without the required research, scrambled to transform digitally and, have in fact, started to amount significant technical debt, which will not bode well in the future.”

Reynhardt Uys, the chief Experience officer, Immersion Group, says the pandemic also forced companies to consider different shifts within the business and, perhaps most importantly, ensure they were part of the solution and not the problem.

“Being forced into a contactless environment meant that many businesses had to completely rethink their model and strategies and in some cases, diversify entirely. They also had to show that they were part of a caring community and address basic needs of customers, even if it was not a core product.”

Servicing clients no longer in-store has proven to be one of the biggest challenges of 2020. This change in outlook and location forced businesses into a digital shift, whether they adequately prepared for it or not.

“While this was an immense change, we are more than certain things will not revert to what it was, and businesses will need to continue with digital transformation. During the pandemic, we have seen double-laggards shopping online and those who are not attuned to this digital-savvy approach will be left behind.”

While the pandemic forced a customer experience focus, a majority of the tools used have existed for some time and are simply gaining more traction. Technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality and the Internet of Things existed before, but are now just accelerating as a much bigger focus is placed on digital transformation. We are seeing the enablement of self-service, for example, as something that was on the cards, but is now being expediated as a result of Covid-19.

Mr Hardy is the head of Digital at Immersion Group.

The article is co-authored by Mr Reynhardt Uys, the chief experience officer at Immersion Group.

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