Last year saw the immediate adoption of new customer experiences, many of which are here to stay, even after the pandemic has loosened its grip. Consumers embraced drive-up and curbside service as well as at-home delivery, all fueled through digital experiences that were widely accessed on mobile devices.
We once again increased our reliance and focus on the phone as the center of our day. More and more services were derived from that little screen. You could search, buy and schedule delivery for almost anything, all from the palm of your hand.
Much of this was available prior to the pandemic, but usage and adoption skyrocketed during COVID. What happens afterward?
Consumer behavior is notoriously hard to change, but once changed, it tends to maintain itself in perpetuity until some great disruption shakes it up again. It’s probable that in the future, contactless experiences will remain the primary means of engagement between products, services and customers. These experiences are faster and more efficient. They are easy to use. The world has operated quite well with these new experiences, and reverting back to the way things were prior to COVID won’t make sense for everyone. After all, not everyone likes a crowd.
Contactless experiences are great for the buyer, but not as much for the seller. Retail, for example, thrives on the in-store experience. Engagement with a salesperson typically results in upsell. Removal of that experience for the longer term means a lower average wallet/bag per customer. That results in lower retail sales. Lower sales could lead to smaller retail footprints, and the domino effect on malls and storefronts could be felt for years to come.
I thought about this back in April: Lower foot traffic in stores means the need for lower footprints and potentially an increase in appointment shopping. I still think appointment shopping and concierge service would be a boon for the retail environment, but is it enough to overcome the lower customer wallet/bag per trip?
It’s true that humans are social animals and we crave interaction with other people, but a lot can change in a year. We now have fewer person-to-person experiences on a daily basis because of the concerns around COVID, and people are getting used to this.
Many people suffer from social anxiety, and this decreased contact suits them just fine. Others have seen the efficiency and the ease of going contactless, which lets people get more accomplished when not encumbered with the daily excesses of interpersonal interaction. I may not like the sound of that personally, but it is true. General consumers have decreased the size of their “bubble” and now engage only with the people most important to them.
Call centers and customer support have most certainly changed as we are more and more comfortable with purchasing online, delivering to home and returning or exchanging through the mail.
I don’t know about you, but outside of my immediate family, the person I engaged with the most this year was the UPS driver who covers our neighborhood. He knows our buying patterns, and he knows our kids are great at playing football in the street because they have to move every time he pulls up. If anyone benefits from the increase in digital and contactless customer experiences, it has to be UPS, FedEx and USPS. Their volume has increased dramatically!
Customer experiences are an ever-changing beast. They will ebb and flow with society, and society is less engaged than it used to be. When we get through this pandemic, will we revert back 100%? For better or worse, I don’t think so. What happens will be fascinating to watch, though.