Why go back to normal?

Mecca’s virtual services allowed customers to talk to beauty professionals remotely. Source: Mecca.com.au

Changes made rapidly in response to COVID-19 turned conventions on their heads and could prove to be gamechangers. Retail is now the most trusted category in Australia, with Woolworths, Bunnings and CBA strong performers in Roy Morgan’s April Risk Report, thanks to their community-minded actions and indispensable role in everyday life.

For those in a position to capitalise on the opportunity, now is the time to press for competitive advantage by driving change, not just reacting to it. What can we learn from the winners in the trust stakes and which experience principles should be applied going forward to continue to provide value for customers and stakeholders?

Have my back – and my neighbour’s

Principles that were formerly the preserve of corporate communications have mainstreamed during the crisis. Specific initiatives may change, but smart brands know there’s no going back on inclusion.

Woolworths is phasing out its Community Hour, introduced during the demand surge to provide safe access for elderly people, but continues to show practical empathy. It has begun offering a permanent 10 per cent discount on Delivery Unlimited for over-60s.

Break it down

Retail communication has typically been shouty and packed with messages. COVID has exposed just how easy it is to confuse people and the cognitive pressure on the autopilot of daily routine can be overwhelming. It has underlined the importance of clarity and simplicity, which are at the heart of behavioural science and design thinking.

The 3-step framework for a COVIDSafe Australia uses a technique of chunking information into digestible snippets. Design thinking harnesses storytelling and visualisation, evident in Australian Unity’s new retail ad for private health Insurance. It cuts through the clutter with a simple animation and clear steps.

Full disclosure

Organisations are facing more demand for candid supply-chain-related information. The food industry is under scrutiny on multiple fronts, relating to hygiene, animal welfare, ingredients sourcing and fair treatment of suppliers.

The beauty industry is under pressure to prove products are safe and sustainable. To increase business resilience and protect your reputation, while risk-proofing your supply chain with health in mind, why not revisit climate and social welfare-related risks?

Dairy company Stonyfield Farm is dedicated to the idea that healthy food means healthier people, healthier business, and a healthier planet. It uses supply chain mapping to drive its brand mission of transparency and get closer to consumers, retail customers and suppliers. With the right technology, businesses can achieve fully traceable, end-to-end visibility.

Sourcemap provides visualisation tools like heat maps for risk due to changes in weather, drought, deforestation and so on. Its Livelihoods toolkit helps improve quality of life at the first mile of the supply chain. 

Stay closer, further apart

During the pandemic, as people have given more credence to experts and authorities, CEOs have stepped up. The direct and personal communication of leaders who’ve provided relevant and useful information will continue to be of value to customers and businesses. 

Online retail has burgeoned and for some customers, this will remain the primary interaction. This means real people, not just bots, may have a bigger role to play in the online customer experience.

Mecca’s FaceTime make-up consultations were a COVID virtual services initiative, but even with stores now opening, some customers will prefer a virtual touch to the hands-on experience.

Value my time and space 

Lately, I’ve enjoyed the luxurious serenity of having a reserved lane all to myself at Sydney’s outdoor pools. The ability to book ahead, to get time and space dedicated to you, not having to wait or queue or jostle for space, now that’s a worthwhile experience.

From drive-throughs to pre-booked amenities, many contactless services serve multiple needs and would be missed if withdrawn in the future. 

Kennards Hire redesigned its process overnight to enable contactless equipment hiring. Now a customer places an order and pays online or on the phone, drives to a Kennards depot where the equipment is placed straight in their boot and they’re away.

No paperwork, no payment, no hassles. Returns are similarly contactless, as Kennards is building the equivalent of a library ‘after hours’ returns hatch into each of its depots. Customers are valuing the contactless service so much, the company is planning to make it a permanent offer. By encouraging customers to plan ahead, Kennards benefits from better inventory utilisation and returns management. 

Recent months haven’t just been a glitch in the system. New ways of thinking and operating, initially motivated by safety concerns, could continue to promote well-being and inclusivity, driving traffic and building customer loyalty.

It’s now a matter of identifying what endures and what matters, as the principles above suggest, and focusing investment. By aligning your experience principles to your values and distinctive brand idea, you can ensure the experience you create is also a source of competitive advantage.

Moensie Rossier is a strategy director at branding agency Principals.

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