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Over the last year, you probably heard the question “So how are you adapting to the new normal?” quite a few times. It is a reflection on how the global pandemic has, in some cases, fundamentally changed our everyday lives. Working from home, not being able to do your grocery shopping, no nightlife, homeschooling, these are all things we suddenly had to adjust to. The population of many countries was expected to be flexible and become adaptive. With the changes in their daily behavior came the changes in economic behavior.

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To keep up with the customers’ changes in behavior, companies had to start meeting consumers where they were. Stuck inside at home? How can we best deliver our products to you? Overwhelmed with running a household and working within it? How can we alleviate some of that stress? To answer these questions, companies had to develop new and innovative ways of staying close to their customers. In many cases, being reactive wasn’t enough and companies soon realized that being one step ahead of customers was vital to keeping them loyal. 

The question was no longer “What’s the new normal?” but rather “What’s the next normal?”

 

How does the change affect customer behavior?

Although we could list off all the changes to our everyday life we've had to adapt to in the last year, it can be confidently summarized in one very simple phrase “We stayed home.” People stayed home and waited. They waited to hear about any new laws, rules, or regulations they had to adapt to. Constantly asking, “what could happen next?” Living in that uncertainty became in itself a form of consistency. What was early on thought to be temporary became permanent, which reflected primarily in their habits. 

The habits of consumers changed. E-commerce exploded. Delivery services were overrun and understaffed. Streaming platforms essentially replaced all other forms of in-person entertainment. And the more consumers got used to these services, they slowly turned into expectations. A restaurant that refuses to deliver to the door risked losing all their guests. Production houses like Disney and Warner Brothers had no choice but to allow previously cinema-only movies onto their streaming platforms. And unless you had an online store, retailers were sure to significantly decrease their profit margins. 

The power balance shifted and consumers now had unlimited choices and very specific expectations. If a company could not meet those requirements, they would suffer greatly. For a business to stay afloat they had to listen to their customers to promptly adapt to their expectations.

 

How empathy can help you embrace change

The first step in actively listening to your customers is building a level of empathy between you. Companies are now no longer separate from consumers or employees. In the end, even the highest decision-makers have been affected by the new social norms. And, it has become increasingly evident that most of these norms are here to stay.

 

“The events of 2020 have given the whole world something we can all relate to.”

— Paul Hagen, Principal Director at Alida

One way of showing empathy to your customers is putting their needs first. Ask them through surveys and Insight Communities how they are currently doing, what their pain points are, and how they wish for you to change to help them. This will ensure a greater understanding and allow you to build strategies, products, and services which positively affect your customers. This approach will ultimately increase their loyalty and your sales.

Empathy cannot just stop at customers. Your employees are equally affected by the changes occurring in the world. They will have developed new needs and expectations as well. Working from home is not ideal for everyone and different people might need different things to be their most productive selves. Ask them what they need to make the shift from office to home the easiest. This support and understanding of their needs will increase their productivity and your overall retention rate. 

Empathy allows you to embrace the change and be an active participant in it. Understanding all the stakeholders your company interacts with allows you to make better business decisions and improve all their lives. 

 

Voice of the Customer

To get you started on what your customers might need during these trying times, we compiled some conversation starters. These are based on trends we witnessed during the last 17 months.

1. Customer Centricity

How companies valued their customers became increasingly clear during 2020. Those companies that made the first step to check in on their customers, those that immediately put health safety regulations in place, and those that adapted to their customers' needs were the ones that shined. Due to the increasing competition from e-commerce platforms and growing sole proprietorship, customers developed harsher criteria on which they based their shopping habits. Those companies that could prove they cared about their customers beyond their depth of pockets became clear favorites. 

2. Performative Activism

One way of demonstrating companies cared was their involvement in causes relevant to their customers. Activism grew in visibility last year and being neutral was frowned upon. Companies were expected to make public declarations on where they stand and follow those up with tangible actions. Those businesses that could not put their money where their mouth was got boycotted, ostracized, or publicly called out. 

“The youngest marketable generation, Gen Z, buys on their values and priorities “feeling morally good” about their purchases.” 

—Jeannie Walters, CEO at Experience Investigators 

3. Manage Expectations

With changing habits came changing expectations. Companies had to meet those expectations and be transparent when they were struggling to do so. Customers are now aware of the complexity of supply chains due to the effect the pandemic had on logistics. They will understand if, due to some mistake along the line, their delivery has been delayed or cancelled. Just inform them and adjust their expectations. 

 

Voice of the Employee

If you wish to improve your relationship with your employees going forward, you can apply these best practices for customer experience: 

  1. Value them and their efforts to your company. 
  2. Demonstrate how you align yourself with their values. 
  3. Manage expectations and be transparent about any changes that might affect them.

One way to showcase your support for your employees is to increase employee-centric operations. These are projects that improve your employees' life in addition to increasing paychecks or benefits. Offering continuous working from home periods, providing flexible working hours, increasing health benefits in form of at-home office supplies, or virtual gym memberships. However, don’t let us tell you what is best for your employees. Ask them directly.

Ultimately, you should be confident that your employees know what value you are offering them. This will increase employee retention and increase productivity overall. 

 

Conclusion

Last year has caused a shift in corporate prioritization from being shareholder focused to becoming stakeholder focused. Companies must be humble enough to recognize their most important assets are happy customers and valued employees. Through empathy, companies can meet challenges head-on and be prepared for oncoming changes. Ideally, you can use the insights from your customers and employees to lead the next change ahead of us.

 

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