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There’s one thing we know about 2020: the world changed. Among the many uncertainties around the pandemic and how we manage it, we can be sure that things will not return to ‘normal’. Or at least the old ‘normal’.

This is certainly the case in customer interaction management. Whatever sectors and geographic regions you operate in, your customers have changed and your business has to change too. 

Admittedly, it is early days to understand the New Normal, with different countries at different stages in their management of the pandemic and their embarkation on economic recovery. But based on research and analysis with businesses around the world, Comdata experts proposed five lessons to be integrated in order to better navigate towards the New Normal. 

CONSUMERS ARE SITTING ON A ROLLERCOASTER; VISUALISE THIS WHEN YOU NEXT ENGAGE WITH THEM

Business has been changed by Covid-19; so too have consumers. To date, consumer behaviour appears to be polarised, with some keen to compensate for two months of lost spending, and others likely to stay in a mental bunker for months.

Global consumer research by McKinsey in late April 2020 showed more consumers feeling pessimistic regarding economic recovery than optimistic. However, when it came to spending intentions, consumers in around one third of the countries surveyed, expected to increase spending over the next fortnight – even though some of these countries were among the less optimistic about economic recovery. 

Consumer forecasting was already a tough game; now in a kaleidoscopic world, it’s become even tougher. Volatility, shifting sentiment and polarisation are likely to continue.

Polarisation is also on display when it comes to consumer behaviour. Through the pandemic, businesses have seen evidence of consumers’ behaviour becoming more relaxed and accommodating – from greater flexibility around delivery scheduling, to a decrease in after-sales claims due to customer goodwill.

But concurrently, and as in other times of economic uncertainty, we’re seeing higher levels of consumer anxiety. This translates into higher expectations in terms of access to staff and customer service. 

In short, many of us have experienced swings in mood and in optimism levels over the past few months, and this extends societally. Good customer management should anticipate this volatility and cater for it.

SOCIAL DISTANCING HAS HASTENED THE SWITCH FROM PHYSICAL TO REMOTE

Pre-Covid, we were already seeing remote replace physical. For example, e-commerce was expected to drive 60 per cent of total global retail sales growth in the coming years, according to Euromonitor1. Covid-19 is likely to accelerate this change, and not just in retail. Sectors ranging from healthcare to financial service may see a shift towards remote service delivery.

This raises the importance of digital channels at each step of the customer journey. For instance:

  • in ‘Search’, online research has increased, raising the importance of online FAQs and customer service 
  • in ‘Conversion’, delivery platforms and click-and-collect solutions have gained importance over retail presence and in-store experience and inventory 
  • in Delivery, customers are looking for contactless delivery and remote scheduling, with collaborative ‘crowd’  delivery also developing
  • in Payment, use of mobile and online payments will likely increase - in the UK, over 72% of consumers say Coronavirus will affect their use of cash.

Campaign management, customer acquisition and retention, investment in online development (web, app, ecommerce, chatbot and social channels, video), handling of claims and complaints - it’s the entire journey that needs to be rethought here, and businesses that move quickly could seize the advantage.

SMART WORKING MEANS WORKING WITH CLIENTS, NOT FOR THEM

Covid-19 was unprecedented and unique, but not a one-off. We will get other shocks and disruptions, and businesses that work smartly will be better equipped to deal with them. This means embedding a rich mix of flexibility, technological capacity and capability, the management skills to take staff through change, and the creativity to come up with new solutions, tools and ideas in the midst of disruption. 

Now and in future, businesses need BPO providers who are problem-solvers and partners. Smart working is about delivering that – having the right teams, culture, processes and skills in place to partner, adapt, deliver and excel.

In the words of scientist and Nobel prizewinner Marie Curie, “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

Another eminent physicist, Stephen Hawking, also had useful advice: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.”

The two of them together very nicely encapsulated smart working.

UNDERSTANDING INTERNATIONAL VERSUS LOCAL IS MORE CRITICAL THAN EVER

The global versus local question is one of the most-discussed business issues of our age, and here too, the pandemic has turned up the volume. 

At the start of 2020, the global nature of 21st-century life quickly turned an epidemic into a pandemic – oceans and borders were no barrier to its spread. 

But the exit from the pandemic and lockdown now brings ‘local’ to the fore. National, regional, even local governments are setting their own rules on physical distancing and working practices; they will also set their own routes to economic recovery and approaches to business support.

To operate in this environment requires – more than ever before – the ability to understand the international and the local.

Under the New Normal, multinational businesses need customer management providers that can quickly transfer skills and tools to geographies where there is a gap or rising demand. That’s the international dimension.

But they also need the local dimension - customer management providers who understand the latest local arrangements on lockdown exit, agreements with unions on the new working arrangements, local expectations for service or capabilities, and the behaviour attitude, and habits of local consumers.

WE NEED TO RETHINK WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT FLEXIBILITY

 The need for operational flexibility is not new – it’s something we’ve long managed in Customer Management operations day to day. We operate in a business where every customer has different needs, and we flex to that. Day to day, we readily adapt to volatility in volumes, shifts in volumes, and rapid scale-up of lines of business.

We  now refer to that existing flexibility as ‘Classic’ flexibility, in contrast to ‘New’ flexibility: “Classic was in the contract; New is not in the contract.”

The ‘New’ flexibility should include for examples:

  • Handling the physical, technical and logistical challenges of moving thousands of staff worldwide to work-from-home (WFH), along with IT, software and other equipment they need to do their jobs – all while maintaining levels of service and stability
  • Moving between clients, sectors and projects at speed, as lockdown caused demand to stall in some sectors, and services and to soar in others
  • Rapid recruitment and training of staff with ‘remote profiles’ 
  • Launch or prioritisation of new services 
  • Exploration of new business models with clients, such as new ways of risk-sharing. 

Many businesses see the new flexibility in terms of business continuity planning. Sure, that’s a part of it, but it goes far beyond that.

 

Few people will deny the strain and uncertainty associated with operating during and post-Covid, but Comdata’s research with businesses reveals strong levels of optimism. Only 6% see the coming months as a very risky period for their business, 32% think they are in a better position than competitors, and 36% see more opportunities than threats. 

Among their expectations are strong increases in traffic volumes from the March low, in the use of fiber, data and streaming, bundled offers, technical assistance, and opportunities to engage positively with customers and to upsell. 

Sir Winston Churchill famously said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” For many businesses, the exit from Covid-19 is just such a time. Comdata teams look forward to helping them through it.

 

About the Comdata Contributors

  • Ronen Melnik, Head of Comdata Digital and International Division
  • Mehdi Benabdallah, Partner at Comdata Consulting Practice
  • Patrice Mazoyer, Group Chief Transformation and Integration Officer

https://www.luxurysociety.com/en/articles/2020/01/e-commerce-become-biggest-retail-channel-2021/

https://www.link.co.uk/about/news/coronavirus-cash-usage-data/

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