Adapting to Changing Customer Behaviour no Easy Task for SA Inc

Local brands have had to adapt quickly to retail and customer-facing environments deeply affected by the coronavirus pandemic. In trying to balance their survival with safe practices, an overwhelming majority of businesses believe that customer behaviour will change in a post-pandemic world, and major disruption to supply chains has left many struggling to adapt.

These views were captured in the latest Customer Experience (CX) Business Research report produced by Customer Experience specialists, nlighten.

The depth of the impact from the lockdown is evident with more than 80% of respondents saying they had experienced massive disruption to their business and supply chain. Half reported that adapting to changing customer behaviour has not been easy, with 77% of respondents agreeing that their company needs to become more flexible and agile.

“The problem lies in companies not being able to adapt quick enough to our altered reality. Customers are expecting brands to be able to deliver on service. Companies who have previously lagged in their customer experience strategy are scrambling to keep up, while their more agile competitors win market share. Despite respondent’s recognition of needing to adapt their approach to the customer experience, 40% have had to reduce their CX spend due to the crisis and lost revenue,” says nlighten CEO Nathalie Schooling.

Polling local firms in June this year as the country was exiting its most stringent lockdown, the study sought the views of business leaders on the impact of the Covid-19 crisis.

Three-quarters of companies surveyed had seen a decline in sales, with 34% experiencing a drop of more than 50%. Only 14% of companies reported no fall in sales. Education & training, automotive, hospitality and tourism were the most disrupted industries. Only 29% of respondents reported that their businesses had received government assistance.

Digitisation a CX priority

The challenges that lie ahead for businesses in the aftermath of the pandemic are enormous. Among the changes that respondents to the survey foresee are the expectation from customers for greater automation and digitisation of services. And this will have to be done despite 81% of respondents saying they also expect consumer spending to be lower in the short term.

“The agility of a company and how it responds to its customers changing needs has been put to the test overnight. The pandemic has certainly heightened awareness of customer sensitivities, and companies unable to adapt are unlikely to survive. It’s somewhat ironic that it’s taken a global pandemic to force brands into placing customer needs and preferences higher on the agenda. This should have always been given importance, even before Covid-19,” says Schooling.

The most widely identified investment priority was digital transformation and automation of services selected by 32% of respondents, this followed by product innovation and enhanced client experiences. Schooling says there are definitely some positives to take from the pandemic and the way business leaders have responded. As many as 85% says the pandemic has influenced how they think about the customer, and 89% seeing value in an efficient and flexible CX strategy.

Having more empathy with customers and taking all measures necessary to keep customers safe, by implementing strict hygiene practices was also a top concern.

“Given the visible and tangible measures that companies need to take to stay relevant, there’s no more hiding for anyone. Customers will immediately see whether a brand cares about them from how they respond to this crisis. And companies that don’t respond appropriately shouldn’t expect to survive.”

“It’s clear that the crisis has emphasised that business leaders cannot sit back and leave so-called soft issues in the hands of line managers. They have to lead from the front if they’re to be successful.”

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