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Today's trends for tomorrow's business

How a Global Emergency Changes Consumer Behavior

Reading time: 4 minutes

New ways to reach them with tech

Chances are your business has radically changed the way you’re connecting with consumers since the world changed in March. Many companies have had to quickly pivot their outreach methods to stay connected with their clientele in a very remote world, including launching new technology features they’ve never tried before. Consumers have also embraced new tech to reduce physical contact: One example is contactless mobile payments, which have seen a huge boost now that no one wants to exchange cash or touch keypads.

Now that parts of the country are opening up, we are seeing new consumer patterns emerging that may stick for the long haul. Areas such as telehealth visits, online fitness apps, and store curbside pickups have gained popularity that’s expected to last after the world goes back to normal. And these trends are especially likely to stay with Gen Z and Millennial consumers, according to a recent McKinsey survey.

As you plot out your tech investments and areas to focus on over the next year, here are a few guidelines to keep in mind.

Minimize physical contact with low-touch alternatives.

If your company’s business model includes any elements that require physically interacting with consumers, you’ve probably already implemented some temporary strategies to minimize contact, and your technology team is key in carrying out some of these changes. A couple small examples are curbside deliveries and BOPIS (buy online, pickup in store), which reduce foot traffic and are very easy to add as a checkout option if you already have an ecommerce site set up. The restaurant industry is a good example of this: They’ve quickly implemented Bring Your Own Device technology so customers can browse menus and pay for their food using their phones. Brainstorm more ways you can build low-touch options into your business model while finessing your customer service.

Break down your department silos.

While your small- or medium-sized business may not have the resources and budget of an enterprise company, your size is on your side because you can pivot faster. Any new ideas your tech team has can be rapidly developed, modified, and discarded or replaced if they’re not working. To do this, you need the buy-ins of other departments in your company who are willing to support your digital-first goals, and a leadership team that’s willing to invest in any technology that’s needed to make these initiatives happen. Streamlining your tech can improve efficiency and accuracy by 2 to 5 percent, according to McKinsey, so you can make a business case for it.

Carefully monitor your data and analytics.

The current situation has radically shifted the data models of many companies—you may be receiving new and different data, or your usual data channels are decreasing or increasing output. Things like supply chains and inventories need to be monitored differently to match the rapidly changing patterns of consumers and clients. If you have a data analyst on staff, their job has never been more important—make sure they’re receiving the support they need.

Don’t make customer engagement a one-way street.

If there was ever a time to make sure your customers are getting what they need, it’s now. China is leading the way with a variety of consumer engagement techniques that we haven’t explored yet in the US, including livestreams that integrate purchasing, hiring influencers who answer questions and offer prizes to viewers, and creating private channels on the social network WeChat to engage VIP customers. These tactics are based on sophisticated infrastructures that can enable these kinds of fun digital experiences; while it might be beyond what your tech team can handle right now, it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

Try new things. Because your competition will.

If there were ever a time to throw new ideas at the wall and see what sticks, this is it. Because your business rivals will be doing the same. In a crisis like this one, innovative ways to reach customers through technology may be just what’s needed to edge out competitors. It’s also a time where customers are willing to try new brands and may develop new long-term brand loyalties—two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Z say they’re purchasing new brands right now. A well-planned digital outreach might win over customers that stick around long after our world returns to normal.

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