With the complete absence of face-to-face customer interaction that has occurred as a result of COVID-19, many companies have been forced to rethink their strategy and many are making a complete shift to servicing customers digitally.
In the last three months, online activity has surged dramatically, and we’ve seen online shopping and deliveries spike. NZ Post recently made a statement that they have been receiving a record-breaking number of parcels every day, with an average of 200 parcels per minute.
Many companies are struggling to cope with this rise in demand and are finding it increasingly hard to respond to such massive growth in enquiries.
There are two directions companies are heading as a result of this. On one hand, there are companies considering new innovative ways to solve this challenge - like smart chatbots and online methods of engagement. Whereas other companies are fence-sitting and hesitant to start any new projects, in the hope that the spikes in online engagement we have seen will diminish post-COVID.
So that begs the question, will online demand actually slow down once this virus has done its dash? Or has the behaviour of consumers changed for good?
A recent article posted by Westpac has suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic has introduced a new generation of consumers to online shopping. Chris Wilkinson, the Managing Director of First Retail Group, stated that “many consumers who have never shopped online before have been forced into it during the lockdown. This is creating a new wave of digital customers, a lot of who will continue shopping online even after the situation ends.”
What is the cost of not adapting early to the requirements of a digitally changing world?
Mckinsey has stated that companies which take action early in a downturn are best positioned to accelerate to the top during the recovery. In the 2008 recession, the best-performing companies were those who rapidly adapted to the situation, propelling them ahead of their peers by 20% in terms of cumulative total returns to shareholders. Eight years later, this lead had grown to more than 150%.
Related to this point, NZ entrepreneur and investor, Josh Comrie, recently sponsored a survey covering 262 NZ businesses. The survey found that 24% of these businesses are expecting to increase their revenues post-COVID and are feeling positive. The reason for this, they stated, is because they're acting early, and looking for opportunities in this new normal. Comrie said there was a clear mood to embrace change.
At Ambit, we’ve seen many of our clients experiencing spikes in online demand. For example, Noel Leeming, Hallensteins, and Glassons have all witnessed a surge of demand 10 times the size they are used to servicing. Fortunately, through the use of the Ambit platform, these companies are able to handle this surge in demand by offering their customers a reliable and scalable level of service through digital chat.
Innovative technologies like Digital Employees (otherwise known as intelligent AI chatbots) are cutting through this challenge, as they provide the means of a consistent level of customer service, at any scale. They can rapidly respond to large volumes of customers simultaneously, which shrinks the strain on human agents and, in some cases, can reduce cost-to-serve levels by as much as 30%, according to a recent article by IBM. As Digital Employees can administer customer care outside of standard business hours, they can also meet the 24/7 availability that many customers now demand.
It’s impossible to tell just how customer behaviour will change in the months after the COVID pandemic is done, but one thing is for certain: companies that can adapt and provide a seamless customer experience online are better positioned to succeed against others.
Whether companies decide to take action in this time of change, or if they decide to remain passive in their business practices - we will soon see which brands ultimately rise to the top.