Customer experience in the era of the new normal

Digital and non-contact are now integral parts of our lifestyles, and the arrival of the new normal requires consistent and intuitive experiences along customer journeys.

One year into living with COVID-19 and it’s hard to fathom that the world once operated in an entirely different way. The unprecedented pandemic has not only wrought many changes to our daily lives but also spurred the coinage of many new words. One of the more notable concoctions in Korea is untact, which means doing things without face-to-face contact. From the word untact, others derived ontact (which refers to connecting with other people online) and intact (which emphasises non-contact communication within a group).

Such new words share one commonality: all of them reflect the accelerated and increasingly pervasive movement toward digital technology. Amid this transition, an increasing number of consumers are becoming accustomed to the convenience that digital technology affords.

The IAB Annual Report on the Evolving Consumer Ecosystem finds consumers in 2020 shopped digitally more often than during the pre-COVID-19 era, with e-commerce preference overriding brick-and-mortar stores. According to the study, the shift toward digital also fell across most consumer goods and services. Additionally, an Adobe Digital Insights report found that US consumers’ online spending totalled USD 188.2 billion in November and December last year – a sharp year-on-year rise of 32 per cent and a record high.

Even if we are fortunate enough to see a lull in the number of new COVID-19 infections in the near future, consumers around the world - who have experienced the ebbs and flows of the virus - are likely to remain anxious about health and safety. With this in mind, and the growing expectation of digital-driven experiences, offline shopping may never return to what it once was.

Having experienced seismic changes in a matter of mere months that would otherwise have taken place over many years without the virus, companies face the challenge of resetting their business strategies to remain competitive and grow in the era of the new normal. Last September, Amazon announced that it would join hands with ExxonMobil and Fiserv to provide Voice Commerce, a digital experience that speaks to our rapidly evolving virtual landscape. If a customer with an Alexa-enabled car, for example, makes a voice request saying, “Alexa, pay for gas,” the station location and the pump number are recognized. The pump is then activated, and a secure payment process proceeds – all automatically.

Companies across the globe are demonstrating ways that in-person contact can be replaced at all stages of the purchase journey while keeping the shopping experience smooth. That’s not to say that human desire for physical experience is nonexistent. In 2020, companies focused on transformative digital experiences that mimic in-person contact - take Amazons’ use of voice, for example, which resorts to sound as one of the five senses. While maximizing convenience, customers still feel connected rather than alienated from the physical world. Here, we welcome a new realm of connected experience.

Digital and non-contact are now integral parts of our lifestyles, and the arrival of the new normal requires consistent and intuitive experiences along customer journeys. As technology continues to evolve, we will afford new experiences. Businesses must muster ever-greater courage in their innovative approaches and investments for more creative and more immersive customer experiences.