All too often, change occurs in small, incremental, and sometimes organic stages; the history of flight or the automobile, the emergence of information communication technology (ICT) as well as modern healthcare are just a few examples of modern-day aspects that have emerged gradually over the years, decades and even longer timeframes.
But occasionally, change happens at a much faster and rapid rate; in the process dramatically altering the way we live, work, and relate to one another. The current pandemic is just one contemporary illustration of a global event that has induced major societal, social, and demographic transformation within a relatively short timeframe.
We currently continue to live in unusual, challenging, yet thought-provoking times. When viewed from an objective distance we can already see the gradual emergence of two principal schools of thought. On the one hand, we are witnessing those who believe that when all this is over, we will steadily return to the ‘old normal’. Within such a scenario, the various conditions familiar before the current pandemic will gradually make a return and everything will revert to what we were once used to.
In contrast, there is an emergent cohort that believes that the post-pandemic world will present us with a kind of ‘new normal’ that is largely still unclear, although it is widely acknowledged that it will be different from what we were used to more than a year and a half ago.
To date, most of the discussion about the ‘new normal’ centres around whether, post-pandemic, we will still be wearing facemasks, will need to transform work practices or persist in the current need to wash our hands in a quasi-obsessive manner. In contrast, this assessment will consider the potential and likely profound impact that a ‘new normal’ may induce upon tomorrow’s corporate environment.
It was the great philosopher George Santayana, who once expressed his now-famous quote, ‘Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed to Repeat It.’ In the twentieth century, during both World Wars, people living in such times of turmoil were similarly asking, ‘Will the post-war world be a continuity of the one we knew before?’ And anyone having even a passing interest in modern history acknowledges that the answer was often an emphatic ‘no.’ The overwhelming changes brought about by such historic and global events tended to completely transform the social fabric and the general landscape – and in so doing, rewriting what was generally considered ‘normal.’
Consequently, if we believe that life post-pandemic will be different from that which we were used to before, then it makes sense to try and determine how different it will be.
How does the post-covid corporate environment look like?
Unfortunately, none of us possesses the mythical crystal ball that can allegedly peer into the future and show us what may be different tomorrow with respect to the recent past. However, a retrospective outlook may help us understand what the near future may be like.
However, as we gradually inch towards a post-pandemic era, it is becoming increasingly important for business organisations to proactively seek to understand the impact of today’s pandemic upon the consumer of tomorrow.
Irrespective whether one subscribes to the ‘old normal’ or the ‘new normal,’ one just cannot negate the impact of the recent global lockdown, the enforced stay-at-home regulations, the widespread work-from-home transition, or the explosion of online and digital alternatives to nearly every aspect of modern-day living.
Even before the pandemic, we could openly recognise a set of characteristics that typified the representative consumer. These included:
- Possession of quasi near-perfect (digital) product information.
- An increasing demand in terms of service levels.
- No toleration to errors, no matter how trivial.
- An expectation of instant fulfilment in the form of needing everything ‘right here, right now’.
- A demand for convenience anywhere and anytime.
- An expectation of ever-higher quality levels, but at an even lower price.
- A need for a reasonable degree of personalisation.
In the face of such a relatively demanding consumer, most client-friendly business organisations adopted a strategy focused upon four key factors:
- the use of powerful, state-of-the-art, technology to capture customer information.
- the implementation of powerful customer relationship management (CRM) solutions.
- an insightful understanding of data trails to build representative customer profiles.
- the mapping of complex process journeys to ensure a seamless customer experience (CX).
Pre-pandemic, most organisations invested heavily in the technology through which to understand and address the changing traits of consumers, an investment that, we need to acknowledge today, generally proved a resilient operational platform during the pandemic days, as more consumers were driven towards the online landscape at a time of global crisis.
Today, we are already observing how those who tend to believe that we will return to the ‘old normal’ may persist in upholding an operational status quo and possibly tweak a retrospectively successful technological infrastructure to support a consumer who, during the pandemic, opted, some for the first time, to try-out online shopping and digital entertainment. The pandemic, some might say, has merely and rapidly increased the overall population of consumers who have been drawn towards the online, digital environment. The worst that can possibly happen, they might speculate, is that with the passing of the pandemic, people will go all out to enjoy themselves and this may put a strain on the technological infrastructure that such consumers have now become used to.
On the other hand, various studies and surveys are already starting to indicate that even the so-called ‘typical’ consumer, appears, even today, to be exhibiting transformational behaviours that may be the direct result of the current pandemic. It is already clear that the way consumers interact with online organisations, the motivation for interacting, and the very mindset influencing such an interaction have been altered significantly during this challenging pandemic. And business organisations must possibly transform and adapt their strategies to address the ‘new normal’ consumer.
Who is the “new normal” consumer?!
The management firm Bain & Company recently conducted a survey of consumers across seven different countries, detailing consumer expectations once the pandemic is over. The survey shows how post-pandemic these consumers:
- want to feel less anxious.
- will seek a more balanced & healthier lifestyle.
- want to feel more connected.
- aspire for kindness & purpose.
- Will be more mindful of their spending; assessing essential vs. frivolous
Without going into the merits of the individual aspects of this survey, it is already clear that, at a high level, the current pandemic will induce a major shift across all aspects of the consumer’s general outlook including:
- new buying behaviours.
- return to basic desires.
- a desire to overcome daily challenges, and
- a relatively emotional mindset.
No matter the mix of these traits, they will undoubtedly challenge the traditional and standard user profiles (i.e. personas) that we have developed during the pre-covid years and which we still use to benchmark consumers and personality types across customer journeys within our respective organisation.
Customarily we have exploited data analytics and predictive business intelligence models to understand the decision-making process of consumers to understand purchasing:
- objectives, &
However, contemporary studies are already pointing towards a post-covid era in which we will additionally need to analyse and understand consumers’:
- outlier behaviours, and
- the underlying sentiment(s).
All business organisations need to start now to get to know what consumers will want in the post-covid era and consequently develop quasi-new customer profiles to reflect the new traits and behaviours. In the very near future, it will be more important than ever before to monitor consumer complaints, sentiment and unusual expectations within a wide-ranging context that may be unfamiliar, possibly even surprising, for most organisations.
The sceptics amongst us deny the scientific possibility of time travel, asserting this to be a figment of a fertile imagination. And yet, all business leaders are somewhat time travellers; not paid to live the moment; reacting to present issues and operational matters as they arise. On the contrary, they are expected to be focused on tomorrow, next week, next month and even next year and beyond. All business leaders are future-focused strategists, before anything else, with data, technology, and creativity their time-machine.
And that is why it is important that we start assessing today the ‘shape’ of consumers to come in a post-pandemic world. We need to think today, what tomorrow may bring in terms of consumer proclivities and attitudes.
It was the great Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw who once noted that: ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ If we are to address the customer of tomorrow, now is the time to consider a change.
Hadrian J Sammut is the Chief Officer, Advisory & Projects with the local firm of iMovo. He can be contacted at [email protected].