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    Life beyond COVID-19 – what will the next ‘new normal’ look like?

    We’ve heard a lot this year about being in a ‘new normal’ but, like lockdowns, this ‘normal’ is only temporary.

    • When the pandemic first began, businesses were told they needed to ‘pivot’ to survive. However, the reality is what most of them did was not change their overall strategy but hasten the timeline for implementation.

      The world has been moving towards a more significant online reliance for many years so a lot of businesses would likely have had plans to do what they are now doing but ‘down the track’ in say 12 months, next financial year, or 3 years. What the pandemic did was force businesses to think outside the box by changing the question from why do we need an online presence, for example, to how quickly can we get this done?

      Regardless of whether a vaccine is found or not, in time restrictions will ease, travel will resume, businesses will open, workers will return to offices, and the economy will ‘bounce’ back. It is this stage that many businesses are preparing for now.

      The world has changed as a result of COVID-19 with many new processes and initiatives implemented. Here are some that are likely to stay, or will at least need to be considered, when planning for the next ‘new normal’.

      Embrace e-commerce

      Hands up if you turned to the internet to order food, groceries, clothes, homewares, sporting goods, and other products during COVID-19? You definitely weren’t alone. When shops closed their physical stores, they turned to e-commerce to try and keep sales ticking over, many for the first time. Similarly, many consumers, again some for the first time, also turned to online shopping to avoid crowded spaces or due to shop closures.

      These habits are likely to continue beyond lockdowns as people realise the benefits to their lives. Their shopping choices are no longer limited to what’s available in their local area, and they don’t need to rush to a store before it closes. Instead, consumers have the option to shop when they have time, from businesses around the world, and have their purchases conveniently arrive at their door, sometimes without paying shipping costs. Businesses who don’t embrace this changing consumer behaviour will likely see a drop in customers.

      The connected consumer

      Prior to COVID-19, it’s fair to say there was a significant generational divide when it came to technical confidence and willingness to use it. Now, almost overnight, this divide has been eroded as many people who were reluctant to use technology before have been forced to learn it and have adopted it into their lives.

      For many businesses, this change will likely increase their customer base as new consumers begin to interact with brands in ways that were previously considered the domain of younger generations. While this is positive, businesses may need to adjust their strategy to ensure they engage different generations. This will be particularly important for those who have previously focussed only on younger generations with their marketing.

      People want options

      With people now realising that they have options around how they interact with businesses, they will want to continue accessing them in ways that work best for them. Interactions such as telehealth appointments, video conferences, and click and collect services are all options that exploded when restrictions were introduced. People have now realised the advantages of these, adopted them into their lives and will want to keep them moving forward.

      Removing these options and going back to ‘old’ ways when customers prefer something else will be a quick way to ensure they take their business elsewhere. Even if funding or other issues means you are unable to continue offering all the options you did during the pandemic, being open and flexible to customers preferences will be necessary for business growth.

      Customer experience is key

      With more transactions likely to take place digitally, a customer’s overall experience with your brand will need to be consistent across the board. Providing exceptional customer service in a store may have previously been enough to keep customers coming back, however, is this experience being translated to your e-commerce processes?

      Confusing websites, limited payment, pick up and shipping options, delays in responding to enquiries, and slow delivery can all impact the likelihood of a customer coming back. Ensuring a good customer experience involves putting time and effort into all the touchpoints a customer has with your business, which is particularly important as more customers begin only interacting with brands online.

      Location is no longer a barrier

      We’ve already discussed how location is no longer a barrier for consumers, however many businesses and employees are finding it is also no longer a barrier to them either. With the dramatic rise in the use of video meetings and virtual offices due to the pandemic, many organisations have realised they can offer their services without the need to be physically in the same city or state. Likewise, employees, many of whom will continue to work at least some of the time remotely, are realising that access to a physical office isn’t as vital as it once was.

      While the desire for connection will always be a priority, the number of times employees are physically in an office is likely to decrease. People have realised you don’t need to fly interstate for a client or board meeting every fortnight or month, for example, with the same outcomes possible through video conferencing. As businesses continue to fine tune their remote offering for both staff and customers, opportunities to work with new people and organisations are also likely to arise.

      Loyalty is up for grabs

      Many household and business budgets were decreased due to the economic effect of COVID-19. This meant many people had to make a more considered choice about where their money went. Customers who were previously loyal to a particular company or brand may have tried a competitor during the pandemic due to cost savings or logistical issues.

      When budgets increase again, these same customers will need to decide whether they go back to their original brand or stick with the new one. Now more than ever, non brand leaders have an opportunity to potentially convert those who may never have tried their product or service before. Opportunities such as these don’t come around often, it’s usually as a result of the brand leader making an error, so businesses should consider how to retain new converts as part of their strategy moving forward.

      None of us knows for sure what the next ‘normal’ will look like or how it will affect the business landscape moving forward. Right now, business leaders around the world are trying to forecast and position themselves for the next stage by redefining what ‘business as usual’ means for them. This is a time consuming process as it requires thoughtful leadership, and to some degree, educated guesses, but it is a process that shouldn’t be overlooked or rushed as the actions decided today will define a business for years to come.

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