Out of the cocoon emerges the butterfly. Forever changed. So too, we emerge new from the lockdown – “new” consumers and in parallel, new ways of doing business. We have spread our wings towards new needs and have adopted new ways. The fast-tracked boost in ecommerce and social media, together with the surge of activism and the growing number of people using digital platforms to get themselves heard means that consumers are now more empowered than ever before. But the social media butterfly can in fact be the scorpion online. (The enlightened economist) Business needs to get ahead of the curve. Be careful of your decisions and actions as they create noise and at this time, you want to own your noise. Do not leave it to chance or social media alone.

 

Perception and Customer Experience

Consumer perception plays a large role in consumer behaviour and the decision making process. Essentially, it is defined as a mix of customer’s opinion and how they feel about your brand, business or product. It impacts on and is also influenced by every encounter and experience they have with your company or product, including those in the public eye.

Customer experience (CX) however doesn’t only manage relationships from a functional perspective. It also shows an understanding of customers’ emotions. Today customer experience needs to embrace amongst others, transformation, innovation and empathy. It must accommodate a repertoire of previously identified as well as some newly developed customer needs.

 

Already Known Consumer Needs

Personalization

Now more than ever, customers want to engage with companies that offer them a tailor made, authentic experience. One with which they resonate and identify. There is no average customer. An intimate understanding of who your customers are and what their specific needs are is essential in designing and offering a more customized experience.

Ease And Speed

The world is engulfed by an information explosion, a myriad of connected networks, and competitive options. This, coupled with our fast-paced lives, means that customers want quick solutions and don’t have the luxury of time to deal with complexity. According to a report by Walker Information, simplified experiences are what customers have come to expect

Customers want to deal with companies that anticipate their needs and offer real time responses. In competitive business environments, no-one has time to wait around for their business concerns to be considered, queued and responded to hours and sometimes days later. Companies need to lead and help customers back on their feet quickly by having responsive solutions available before customers have even identified the need.

The current pandemic has brought additional consumer expectations to the fore – essentially, they want your brand to show up and illustrate what it stands for.

 

Contextually Established Consumer Needs

The Need For Safety And Hygiene.

In the face of Covid-19, we are dealing with customers who have been financially impacted and have adopted touchless, digital behaviours. Consumers want to feel safe when interacting with your brand. They want to know that all the correct measures have been put in place to ensure their safety.

For the retail market, this includes the availability of sanitizers, expectation of wearing of masks or face shields, social distancing, and delivery or kurb-side collections. The accelerated growth of e-commerce has come out of this need for convenience, safety and security. E-commerce is considered more efficient, less expensive, and safer than shopping in a physical store. Amazon’s sales were up 26 percent in the first quarter of 2020 compared with the same period last year.

Those operating in the B2B market need to ensure that their customers can engage and collaborate effectively in a digital space. This all means a general increase in online consumer behaviour. We have seen a marked increase in online behaviour so for the businesses that have traditionally been slow to respond to digital trends, this could be the moment that you have been waiting for to invest and expand.

Employee Support

Consumers are also more likely to support brands they perceive to be supporting their staff and employees at this time by offering financial support and ensuring that they are working within the safety guidelines and are not at risk. With emotional agility being more than just a trending concept, these actions bring the humane side of the business to the fore.

Empathy

The consumer relationship is not governed by a black and white contractual document. It is important to remember that people buy from people. Now more than ever, during these uncertain times, connecting with empathy to our customers and employees will lead to increased brand trust and long term survival.

 

What About Ubuntu?

With the socio-economic impact of the lockdown and the gaping social divide in the headlights, it seems that consumers have yet another expectation of brands to win their loyalty and support. A sense of ubuntu. Namely, fairness in their dealings and a focus on socially conscious values, be they environmental, gender-based, or socio-economically focused to name a few.

Business is being held to higher standards. It cannot be just about profit but also about goodwill. Companies need to make balanced decisions based on what is right for all their stakeholders.

Make sure you are illustrating the good reasons to believe in your business. Communicate with a strong sense of your brand’s purpose – what you believe in and how you can and do make a difference. Ensure that you back up these statements with real action and commitment as society will hold you to account and you will want it to be the on the wings of the butterfly that the word is spread rather than poisoned by the sting of the scorpion.

The Importance Of Fairness And Goodwill

Although companies are swimming up the financial stream, businesses need to exhibit fairness in their dealings. show that you are not just a corporate giant greedy for income and focused solely on a solution to keep yourself afloat and increase shareholder value, but that you recognize the need to help keep your communities afloat too.

Case in point. Many small to medium businesses laid claims against their insurance providers for business interruption relief. Many insurers rejected these and now await legal ruling. The story however, doesn’t end there. One insurer listened intently to their communities and used this as an opportunity to be proactive and display empathy. They agreed to offer short term relief to the combined value of R1bn to qualifying clients in the interim as a show of understanding and goodwill to assist them with continuity at this time. True that the economic situation is not their fault but their actions highlight the human side of their business.

Act With A Socially Conscious Mindset

How companies step up their social responsibility further defines how consumers perceive your brand. Customers want to know how you are contributing to a solution and the “we’re all in this together” rhetoric. How brands behave today will have a lasting impact – probably outlasting the impact of Covid-19 – and define their future legacy.

Early in the pandemic the South African branch of an international appliance company donated half a million rand to the solidarity response fund to aid in the fight against Coronavirus in South Africa. They also teamed up with a fully black, female-owned enterprise based in Alexandra township, to manufacture and distribute 20, 000 face masks to communities in need.

Business must choose wisely and communication strategies need to include clear messages about what actions your company are taking to help others.  Brand messaging must be authentic, reassuring and practical as opposed to just promoting products as this will contribute to sentiments of mistrust and customers feeling exploited.

 

So What?!

Digitally Empowered Consumers And Social Media Influencers

Lock down living has drastically changed media and social connection habits. There is an increased number of people connected online at any one time. With social distancing being the new norm, more people are engaging and increasing their social networks via online social media platforms. According to research by Kantar, Facebook and WhatsApp users have increased by  43% and  45% respectively Kantar April 2020.

People use their social media platforms to obtain opinions and recommendations from others as well as voice their own. Social commerce is on the rise with 34 percent of people saying they have shopped on Instagram based on influencer recommendations. (Mckinsey July 2020) We have seen many examples of how social media has been used to influence behaviour and opinion.

One of South Africa’s prominent dairy producers were recently questioned in social media by environmentally friendly groups for the change in their packaging which does not address environmentally conscious alternatives to plastic. In 2020 people are looking for sustainable solutions to real social and environmental issues. Consumers do not want to be lured into supporting brands for the sake of a gimmick.

What Is The Media Saying About You?

Digital and broadcast media consumption has also expanded. Information is always at our fingertips in an instant. The media in general are fully engaged at offering the public influential statistics and stories.

We have seen other companies exposed in the media for unfair dealings investigated by The Competition Commission for price groupings and unfair price hikes and not complying with the Customer Protection Act and the Disaster Management Act.

The Right Actions Results In The Right Media Narrative

While I choose not to mention companies by name, the examples included in this article illustrate that there is a heightened sensitivity towards companies seen to profit from the crisis and not showing sensitivity at this time. The risk of companies not fulfilling some form of fairness and social duty leaves them open to criticism.

This kind of media cacophony is not the type of noise a company wants to be caught up in. It is therefore imperative that companies act with intent and remain on top of the publicity their actions and decisions create. You don’t want to be the company in the news for over charging or not being socially conscious. You want to create a discourse about the positive actions you are engaged in that illustrate how you are satisfying the needs of your customers at this time and contributing to the greater good beyond your immediate realm of income.

 

Balancing The Scales

The challenge that business faces is how to balance these needs of consumers for business to be socially responsible and also maintain their continuity and not be overburdened. There is a fine line between the business need to be sufficiently profitable and its capacity to contribute to ubuntu. We need to be careful that we are not asking businesses to over burden themselves to the point where they cannot ensure the health of the business.

 

How Can We Make It Fair?

It is important to present a balanced view of what is transpiring. Show that although you need to be financially secure, you are also being fair and take customer’s seeds seriously and believe in being socially responsible. Building and maintaining trust is key in driving the right outcome. Don’t wait for opportunities to arise – create them. This shows good leadership and now is the time to lead. “Proactivity will promote brand loyalty and preference for the future, because while there’s uncertainty as to when the true impact of the pandemic will subside, there’s always space for growth in crisis” Kantar April 2020.

Be forthcoming with messages about what initiatives you are supporting. Show the real impact your business has had. Show the human side of your company. Remember, what you do now will not be forgotten in a hurry. This will keep you ahead of any potential trial by media. This will ensure that you own your noise and that it is the butterfly rather than the scorpion that you attract.

Interact RDT is a leading change agency in South Africa. Our social initiative, Jersey4Jozi focuses on uplifting homeless citizens in and around Joburg.

Let Interact RDT drive and implement strategic customer experience change within your organization.

Author: Yael Benjamin

 

 

 

 

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