Key Points
  • COVID-19 has changed customer priorities; companies should now focus more on offering empathetic and meaningful experiences

  • Innovation, powered by data, will be key for retailers to deliver differentiated customer experiences

  • Understanding customer pain points and re-looking strategies will have long-lasting impact

COVID-19 has led to heightened customer emotions and a dramatic shift in shopping priorities. Each customer interaction now is crucial, and is likely to have long-lasting impact on a customer’s sense of trust with that company. Businesses therefore need to deliver what is called, ‘Empathy at Scale,’ as outlined in a recent WNS-sponsored IDC report. The research aims to provide a foundation that can fuel customer experience differentiation at scale — an aspect that becomes even more relevant in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak.

It is heartening to see organizations put this approach into action. For example, Walmart has a senior shopping hour every Tuesday with drive-through facility, and contact-less curbside pick-up and delivery. Gap, which shut down its stores across North America, is working with its factory partners to make gowns and scrubs for healthcare workers. Estee Lauder is making hand sanitizers specifically for essential service personnel and other high-need groups.

Innovation: A Necessity

Innovation will be pivotal for retailers to contribute positively in the current environment. For example, changes to assortments and planograms may be deployed to cater to essential requirements such as food, cleaning supplies and baby products. Supply chains will need to be optimized to prioritize such products for tracking and re-stocking. Mapping supply and demand will need to be a two-way street.

Even as retailers place limits on the purchase of certain essential items (such as sanitizers, toilet paper, soup, bottled water and milk) for better access and distribution, manufacturers must step up their production capacity. Manufacturing plants will need to focus on production that enhances the supply of essential goods, while balancing the reduced production of low-demand items.

Figure: From The Physical to The Virtual

Consumer Demand

Seamless Buying Experience During COVID-19

Companies will need to re-visit their operations to meet consumer demand that has migrated from physical stores to e-commerce channels. A smooth buying experience will be propelled by a combination of multiple strategies — accelerating digital merchandizing, ring-fencing online inventories, onboarding new supplier partners, re-aligning marketing budgets and re-calibrating delivery networks.

Data: A Crucial Asset

Identifying, gathering and analyzing relevant data from multiple sources holds the key to consolidated customer records and real-time contextual data streams from partner and supplier ecosystems. I will admit this is not an easy task. To map huge volumes of data that are continuously generated across the value chain, and to understand the specific data that will help meet, predict and exceed customers' expectations will be an extremely challenging, but an equally critical ask.

In conclusion, I express my appreciation and gratitude to the entire retail community. I laud the efforts of store staff and delivery associates who are tirelessly working on the front-lines to keep our daily lives moving in these trying times.

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