By Dr Yudhvir Seetharam, FNB Business: Head of Analytics, Insights and Research
While Covid-19 is certainly not a thing of the past, as a society we appear to be starting to find ways of living with the virus and, for most people at least, taking the necessary precautions to protect ourselves from being infected by it.
And the same can be said for many businesses. While the ‘new normal’ has made it more difficult for most businesses to operate, the vast majority have adapted, or are in the process of doing so. And while significant new spikes or waves of Covid-19 may still deliver lockdowns and financial shocks, many businesses are far better prepared to deal with these today, than they were this time last year.
For many of these businesses, survival has meant reinventing or repositioning themselves to align with the massive shift in the expectations and limitations of their customers. Most have turned to technology as an effective solution, expanding their online presence, offering remote ways of acquiring goods or services, and automating many processes that previously involved one-on-one human interaction.
While these are all absolutely necessary adaptations that, in many cases, have saved businesses from closure by enhancing access and convenience to their offerings, there is one potentially devastating long-term consequence of such survival-driven digitisation that all organisations must be cognisant of, and mitigate against – and that is the likelihood that the measures taken to deal with Covid-19 may also have eroded customer trust.
It’s an understandable side-effect of the pandemic. As people have been forced to minimise their levels of personal, face-to-face engagement, many businesses have lost the use of an all-important relationship building tool, namely the human touch. And the natural consequence of that gradual physical distancing by customers is a loss of rapport with the business, a breakdown in the perceived value that the business places on them, and eventually an erosion of trust due to largely impersonal customer experiences.
Unfortunately, while robots and automated purchasing processes undoubtedly provide the convenience and protection that most consumers now demand, a robot quite simply doesn’t inspire trust in the same way that human engagement did in the past. The conundrums for businesses, then, is that if they are unable to engage face-to-face with their existing or prospective customers, how can they rebuild the trust that has been eroded by more remote, Covid-19-inspired transactions?
The solution ultimately lies in focusing absolutely on creating trust-building customer experiences – even if these are not based on face-to-face human engagement. The way to achieve that, is by making sure that every experience a customer has with your business is underpinned by the three cornerstones of ease of doing business, extreme satisfaction, and a sense of value.
The ease of doing business pillar implies that a customer finds it quick and simple to locate and purchase the item or service they want, with no technical ‘glitches’ or confusing information. The extreme satisfaction pillar implies that the customer’s expectations are consistently met, or preferably exceeded, at every single point of the ‘browsing’ and purchasing process. And the value perception component implies that the customer never feels that their patronage is taken for granted or assumed, but rather, that their support is seen for what it is by the business – namely absolutely vital to its continued existence.
Depending on the nature of the business, and whether it deals in goods or services, the balance of these three components my vary; but the need to include all three in every customer experience is vital. And the role that good data collection, analysis and application plays in achieving this is patently clear. Prior to Covid-19 and the national lockdown response, businesses may have been able to get away with collecting only personal data on their customers, maybe with a view to sending out an annual birthday message or special offer. But those days are well and truly over. Data is now the lifeblood of any successful organisation, even the small business. And if a business is not collecting customer data at every opportunity, and fully utilising that data to identify and fix pain points, create optimal experiences and instil trust in its customers, then the likelihood of success – or long-term survival for that matter – is very slim.
Ultimately, in a world where more and more of our interactions and transactions are going to become digital and relatively impersonal, prioritising the creation of customer experiences that comprise the ideal balance of ease, satisfaction and perceived value is key to regaining, and then building, the trust levels of every customer. And in the business environment, trust and lifetime loyalty are two sides of the same vital, and potentially very valuable, coin.