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It seems rather an understatement to say that a lot has changed since early March. Businesses had to adapt to an unprecedented set of changes on all fronts such as huge shifts in customer behaviour, transformations in how colleagues and teams work, pressures on supply chains and revenue streams.
Across all sectors, whether B2B or B2C, there has never been a greater need to understand your current digital technologies, customer experience capability, and to identify the opportunities to reduce risk, control costs, protect market share and identify new ways to serve customers, partners, donors or beneficiaries.
At Netcel we have been, and are on, the same journey. We’re finding new ways to work effectively with clients and partners, building muscle around greater adaptability, and learning from our colleagues how to adjust commercially, operationally and socially.
As with any major changes, there are stages through which organisations, like individuals, go through to initially come to terms with, and then learn to positively adapt to the new conditions. One way to frame it might be by describing that process across these three stages - the first of which, of course, most of us passed through in March and April:
React (0-10 weeks) where businesses assess the immediate impact and put in place measures to protect and maintain services. This react stage includes rapid response to customer demand, scaling digital operations to shift essential services to digital, working from home, furloughing staff, and ensuring technology can meet the new emerging demand.
Respond (2-4 months) where businesses stabilise operations, build muscle and process around new ways of working, reforecast around new revenue and budget realities, and those most able to be responsive to the new environment will have a big advantage. This stage includes a reassessment of customer service priorities, securing new supply chain arrangements, building out digital roadmaps for the coming 12 months, auditing and enhancing existing digital marketing and customer experience technology, becoming more experimental and prototype driven, and making the most of new ways of working.
Reform (6-18 months) where businesses need to build upon the foundations of the previous stage and use their new flexibility and stability to boldly identify and lean into new opportunities. New strategies will need a deep understanding of existing and potential technology options, improved integration, etc. Few can yet predict the lasting level of change we will need to adapt to, but the winners will be those who can identify and respond to new opportunities quickly, improving existing and building new services in the digital space.
There are patterns emerging however, things we can make sense of, and build upon. Here are some we have noticed:
Uncertainty is the new normal - no one really knows how things will change in the coming months and years. Some aspects will change far more than expected, while others may return to near pre-Covid normal within a few months. The capability to identify and innovate around opportunities, often with a digital emphasis, is going to be a critical factor in future success.
We are doing business in a new era of caution, and trust is key - customers will spend less frivolously while employment is uncertain. Winners will understand the value of great customer experiences on and offline, and the power of advocacy and recommendation from trusted sources. As it stands, 54 percent of B2B organisations define their customer relationships as strained, developing or non-existent, which means organisations have their work cut out for them to be a trusted source during this time.
Digital is now established at the heart of the end-to-end customer journey, and the working practices to deliver it. We can expect it will be awhile before we are shopping or meeting normally in the workplace again, and many businesses will discover huge efficiencies and risk mitigation in transferring to digital platforms for key service delivery interactions and ways of working together. Much of these new behaviors will stick and become part of the new normal. When Episerver surveyed 600 global B2B leaders in March 2020, nearly 75 percent said their company has a customer-centricity gap, meaning the digital experience they offer does not meet their customers’ expectations.
Blending digital with face to face will be pivotal in the customer experience - these encounters need to really matter. Physical customer experiences have become less frequent, due to reduced capacity in stores and other buildings, and therefore these need to be more strategic to be more memorable and effective.
How do we navigate through this, while minimising disruption and identifying and building on opportunities? What is certain is that much will change, and yet a surprising amount is also likely to appear to stay the same. There will be many lessons to learn in the coming months, and it will be down to digital leaders to spearhead the necessary adaptation alongside colleagues at all levels of the organisation. Winning organisations will be the ones that strategically commit to investment and agility across technology, capability, and process, placing digital at the heart of customer experiences as well as internal processes.
Netcel host a Digital Leaders Meetup to collectively explore the challenges and opportunities businesses face, currently focusing on how the world emerges from Covid-19 lockdowns. Contact Rosie at firstname.lastname@example.org to join the group.