Will COVID Drive Long-Term Changes in Customer Interaction?
May 3, 2021 Alex Woodie
The COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing lockdowns shocked companies and economies all over the world. The unprecedented events of the past 14 months accelerated the digital transformation strategies of numerous organizations. But how long will those changes last? Maybe not very long at all, according to one survey.
It’s hard to overstate the significance of the changes that the novel coronavirus has had on our way of life. Being in close proximity to other people – once a requirement for normal human functioning (not to mention commerce) –suddenly became a medical liability. Millions of businesses, schools, churches, and other organizations abruptly shut down, throwing well-ordered communities, groups, and supply chains into viral chaos.
For many companies, the pandemic presented a make-or-break moment. With offices, warehouses, and stores shut down, people were forced to work from home. Companies that could adapt to the new normal did so, often with the help of technology, while those that couldn’t make the shift went belly up.
“What we have witnessed over the past year,” said Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in January, “is the dawn of a second wave of digital transformation sweeping every company and every industry.”
According to a survey of business leaders in the United Kingdom done by Macro 4, 64 percent of organizations made technology changes to improve digital interaction with customers during the pandemic, such as using website, social media, and other digital channels. The same percentage also reported making investments to handle greater volume of digital interactions of customers who were driven online due to stay-at-home orders and the economic lockdown.
A sense of urgency drove the investments, the UK IT service provider’s survey found. More than 80 percent of IT leaders agreed that “the need to react quickly to the pandemic forced organizations to fast-track technology changes to adapt to new ways of working.” What’s more, 52 percent of the survey-takers said they “strongly agreed” with that statement.
Only 9 percent of the survey-takers say they made no wholesale improvements to digital interaction methods, or sought to boost the volume of interactions it could handle, while 22 percent say they have plans to make those types of improvements in the future (but didn’t pull the trigger on them during the height of the pandemic thus far).
The pandemic added new momentum to the shift away from in-person communication, according to Lynda Kershaw, a marketing manager at Macro 4, which is a subsidiary of UNICOM Global.
“With many face-to-face settings closed and longer wait times in call centers, millions more customers have turned to websites and other digital channels, and businesses have had to scale up their digital offerings to meet that extra demand,” she stated in a press release. “At the same time, IT departments are introducing new digital services and channels to make it easier to engage with customers online.”
However, it’s unclear whether those investments will have a long-lasting effect. Macro 4’s survey, which can be accessed here, also found that 72 percent of business leaders say they will need to invest in upgrading or replacing some of the technology they quickly implemented during the pandemic. Another 56 percent of survey respondents say they expect to make additional investments to ensure those changes work in the long term.
Similarly, on the work-from-home front, 73 percent of business leaders in Macro 4’s survey said they made changes to support home work and remote collaboration. However, 30 percent of them said they were not confident these changes would stick.
Macro 4’s Kershaw encouraged customers to take an incremental approach to building new capabilities. Flexibility will be key to adapting IT to digital requirements, she says.
“Enterprises will want to reduce waste and effort by building on the short-term solutions they put in during the crisis, rather than starting again from scratch,” Kershaw stated. “They will be looking for adaptable, scalable technology, especially in rapidly evolving areas such as digital customer engagement, where innovation can give you a vital competitive advantage.”
In the final analysis, it seems clear that life will not go back to how it was in December 2019. While we will get portions of our old lives back, the new normal will include a good helping of the technologies that companies so rapidly adopted over the past 14 months, including more Zoom calls, Web chat, and chatbots.
Looking forward, Marco 4 found that digital transformation and creating competitive advantage will be among the top budget priorities for IT leaders over the next 12 months.
The number one priority? Security. Some things, apparently, never change.