There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had an unprecedented impact on global economy and yet where there has been worldwide misery, some sectors, (see e-commerce, subscription services FMCG etc), have thrived. In devastatingly stark contrast though, we’ve also seen a slew of major brands across travel, manufacturing, fitness and entertainment to name but a few, suffer through no fault of their own. The issue is then compounded further if the business has been focused more on its product and less on its customers…
With the luxury of hindsight, many things make sense but during a pandemic on the scale we have seen and are still witnessing, keeping the lights on is a logical focus. The question is, could brands have learned from the past and in 2021 can brands really afford not to be customer-centric?
The nearest ‘comparison’ we can look to is during the 2002-04 SARS outbreak and if we look deeply enough, there are some lessons that perhaps we could have learned for future outbreaks. In 2003 for example, in the midst of this pandemic, Taobao was born, which went on to become the world’s largest ecommerce site. One major difference between Taobao and eBay, which at the time was already a global powerhouse of online retail, was its customer-centricity. Taobao understood what the Chinese consumer wanted – free listings helped acceleration of uptake but an improved returns service and innovations such as Aliwangwang – instant messaging which allowed buyer and seller communication using video, audio and text, commonplace today but ground-breaking then, helped to set the brand apart during an uncertain time. Meanwhile, eBay refused to modify its global template and even drafted in non-Chinese speaking senior management to run the operation, whilst Taobao on the other hand, led by example through Alibaba’s value system and its ‘customer first’ policies.
Listen, learn and nurture
Ultimately eBay failed in China but 15 years have since passed and times have changed – or have they? During any disaster or recession, consumers are understandably cautious with their purchases and perhaps need more assurances than ever and always have done. So how many brands today have been listening to their customers, their market and the ever-changing environment in which we work during the COVID-19 pandemic and what have they put in place to nuture these customers, allay their fears and provide actual assurances rather than just paying them lip service?
Do you have a plan for your postponers?
Recently, I’ve been working with some high profile brands, looking at trends in their customer data – sales inevitably waning during the last few months but engagement strong and even increasing in many instances (a symptom of customers having more time but less will or ability to act?)
If you are in the business of any of the aforementioned COVID-19-affected industries, there’s no doubt you will have what I call ‘postponers’ in your database. These are customers that either through conscious decision or through no choice of their own, are putting-off what they would have ordinarily purchased. Our ability to identify and nurture these customers is key to ensuring future stability. Once these customers are identified, communication can be both efficient and effective. That’s when a smart data and content strategy can really give you the edge.
Not buying but not forgotten
Do you know who your postponers are and do you know when they will return? How many of your best customers will defect because your competitors have held their hand tighter than you have throughout this period? What impact will the handling of the situation have in the long term, to reputation, to brand loyalty and profitability?
If you are somewhat customer-centric, are your systems and processes properly geared up for a rapid response in similar future situations and what will be your strategy to mitigate future risks?
Now more than ever before, we must aim to understand our customers and communicate effectively. This means assessing our capabilities, our platforms, our content, our product and services, our markets, our competitors and something that we mustn’t ever overlook – our plan…
Want to hear more about how I’ve been working with brands like yours to retain customers by planning for changes in customer intent? Get in touch for a friendly and free initial consultation at DR CRM