We’re all experiencing the extraordinary turmoil that 2020 has brought to many organisations. The unfolding consequences of the coronavirus may represent the tip of the iceberg, with further change ahead. How organisations adapt could make or break them in the months to come.
Much of this change has been driven by changes in customers’ digital needs. As one example, many people now need to conduct their business meetings almost exclusively online. This has seen Zoom experience a 2000% increase in traffic from December 2019 to March 2020.
“Usage of Zoom has ballooned overnight. […] We have been working around the clock to ensure that all of our users – new and old, large and small – can stay in touch and operational.” – Eric S. Yuan, Founder and CEO, Zoom
But beyond those obvious examples, how else has customer behaviour changed, and what has stayed the same? What are customers’ new digital needs post-coronavirus, and how can your organisation take advantage?
In this article we’ll look at three broad changes. And then we’ll summarise some UX techniques you can use to better understand your audience’s specific needs.
Customer change #1: More likely to try digital offerings
There has been a seismic shift towards digital. People are now more likely to try digital service offerings. This increase in digital to consumer (D2C) offerings forces organisations to think very clearly, and also plan very carefully, the customer experience that will underpin their D2C initiatives. Digital has become the primary channel.
Digital channels may currently, and in the future, be the only way to achieve something. Where before a customer may have gone into a store to complete a certain transaction, that option may now not be available to them. If a customer was used to phoning, the extremely long waiting times to get through may change that behaviour. Necessity has driven people online and every organisation will be judged by the quality of customer experience it provides.
Many physical, offline interactions may not be (or are still not) available, and customers’ regular patterns have altered. There may be need for an offline habit to remain in place. So, even when an offline option becomes available again, there is no guarantee that customers will return to that default approach, because their behaviour has changed. In these situations, an online offering will now have more equal appeal to an offline offering, because both options will be considered solely on merit.
Customer change #2: Lower tolerance for poor online experience
Customers are now more reliant than ever on your online offerings. As a result, tolerance for any problems with these offerings has decreased. Online is no longer “one option of many.” It may be that the online route is the only route. It is therefore of paramount importance that you round off the rough edges of your online experience.
- Increasing service availability and reliability. Microsoft Teams was caught out in mid-March 2020 when their Teams service was partially unusable for a large percentage of users due to the large increase in traffic. Tolerance for this outage was low.
- Providing an equivalence between online product and service experience, and what was previously found offline. For example, making all account management functions available online and allowing customers to self serve without the need to speak to someone.
Ensuring your online solutions are fully accessible to all, regardless of ability or device. There are over 14 million people in the UK with some form of disability, and online may now be their only channel of access.
Customer change #3: accelerated timescales for digital shifts
Many people are now more accustomed to online-only experiences than they were before the pandemic. This has shortened the timescales for when industry experts thought certain long-term digital behaviours would change.
“I think there is a general rule of thumb that will hold true: the coronavirus crisis will not so much foment drastic changes as it will accelerate trends that were already happening. Changes that might have taken 10 or 15 years, simply because of the stickiness of the status quo, may now happen in far less time.” – Ben Thompson, Stratechery.com
For example, the move away from already-struggling industries such as print media and standard cable channel bundling will have greatly accelerated. The likelihood to consider new and emerging digital solutions to problems that are now online will also have increased, such as online collaboration tools and similar cloud solutions. Digital decisions will increasingly become headline news, such as Netflix announcing during the start of the pandemic response that it would be lowering bandwidth rates across Europe to reduce network loads.
Digital projections and strategies must now be adjusted to reflect these new timescales. If you have shelved plans for a digital change because of low or questionable demand, now is the time to revisit those decisions.
User experience techniques to determine your customers’ changed needs and desires
Even in pandemic times where physical interactions are restricted, there are a number of user experience (UX) techniques you can use to gauge your customers’ changed needs and shifting expectations. Here are three examples:
- An online survey is excellent for exploring the needs of users actually visiting your digital channels, and also for assessing changing needs across all of your audience groups.
- Website analytics analysis for pre- and post-coronavirus. Comparing these in percentage terms will help reveal shifts in customer behaviour and mentality.
- Updating personas based on phone interviews and the above research techniques will help share the shifting customer landscape in an approachable way with all your employees. Then you can make smarter, collaborative decisions on what needs to change.
You may need to package multiple UX activities into a strategic approach that works for your industry. We have provided some ways to achieve this in another article, “Preparing your digital experience for an eventual return to scale“.
At the time of writing, we are still in an extraordinary period of uncertainty and instability. Shifts are happening quickly in online behaviour, and customers will not wait to see if your organisation has caught up with the changes before they consider your competitors.
Customers will wish to bypass the queues and excuses, pursuing digital offerings that give them the choices they need. Make sure you identify the behavioural changes, and quickly. Respond to customers’ commitment, motivation and attention.
In short, compete on experience. If you do so, the many challenges the pandemic has introduced could turn out to reveal new or unexploited chances to enhance your service. A better customer experience must be seen as a real and serious opportunity to explore.