Kigali – In times of crisis, a customer’s interaction with the company can trigger an immediate and lasting effect on his or her sense of trust and loyalty. Businesses are facing tension between generating sales during a period of extreme economic hardship and respecting the threat to life that has altered customer priories and preferences.
The consumers’ ultimate measure of a fulfilling experience is likely to be how businesses they frequent and depend on day to day are reaching out to meet their changing needs and adopting to the ‘new normal’.
This is the time business leaders should move and act to secure lasting and memorable impression in the mind of their customers, as these are bound to stay with the customer even after the pandemic comes to an end.
This is especially important because the customer loyalty stemming from these memorable experiences will be a defining factor in the recovery phase of the business once the pandemic has ended.
Meet your customers where they are today
Customer’s normal patterns have been strongly altered by the pandemic. Due to safety restrictions, simple things such as dining out and grocery shopping have taken a different norm. Even now that the lockdown has been lightly lifted, movement remains restricted to particular early hours, and crowded places still pose a risk.
Demand patterns have shifted, and with-it consumer behaviour trends. Digital delivery has proved itself to be a necessity in this period of crisis. In Rwanda consumers have generally been perceived as digitally resistant, but the pandemic has propelled a shift in consumer dynamics and brought about rapid growth in the usage of digital services. Lifestyle changes like switching from market visits to online shopping for groceries and having items delivered to homes has become more of a necessity nowadays.
One of the most significant consumer behaviour shifts in Rwanda has been the jump in the use e-commerce, digital payment services, and usage of delivery services.
A number of agile businesses have been able to swiftly adapt to this transition. The shift has also called for a rise in business to business (B2B) partnerships, for instance there has been an increase in the number of restaurants and supermarkets registering on food delivery apps vubavuba and Rushfoods.
KFC Rwanda has revisited their model to include home delivery.
There has been a growth in shops, and other services partnering with e-commerce platforms like HeHe and Olado to reach customers. Iposta has re-invented postal services to include home delivery for postal packages.
Banks and telecom companies have been driving mass awareness on the convenience and necessity to use their digital and self-service options in the pandemic period, leading to an upsurge in mobile money and e-banking payment transactions.
The question for the other businesses and organisations in Rwanda today then becomes, what are you doing to align to the ‘new normal’ that a growing number of consumers in Rwanda are now adapting to?
Business leaders need to innovate, and re-align their business models to meet the shift in the needs and preferences of customers today. For example, the digital-led experiences that for a long time have struggled to find ample demand in the Rwandan market has been widely embraced and tested in this pandemic period. Now that consumers have had the opportunity to try the new norm and adapt to it, the trend is set to grow upwards, calling business to continuously align their customer experience approach to embrace this new dynamic.
Organisations that are quick to act and re-invent their business model to adapt to the ‘new normal’ helping customers navigate the pandemic crisis will be positioning themselves for a longer-term competitive advantage.
Re-imagine customer experience post Covid-19 era
The Covid-19 pandemic will come to an end at some point, however the economic impact, and shift in consumer behaviour and preferences will remain. Many consumers will be leaving on reduced incomes, and most likely restrict consumption to essential purchases.
Many customers after adapting e-commerce, and digital-led experiences may switch to these options on a longer term or even permanent basis. Businesses will need be innovative and craft their offers and propositions in a manner that allows them to make savings without sacrificing affordability and quality of service experience in the face of this transition.
Business leaders should aim to have a clear picture of their customer journeys beyond the pandemic period. Focusing on service innovations tailored at giving a well differentiated service experience should be at the core of their strategic planning.
Building capacities for a fast-changing business environment
To be able to maintain strong customer experience in times of crisis, organisations need to be able to conduct rapid and timely research, well-tuned in to their customers’ pulse (shifts in sentiments, attitudes, behaviour, and preferences) to be able to understand customer pain points.
Traditional research methods such as surveys may be best for longer term planning. For real-time insights, business should seriously consider listening to and acting on viable ideas from their employees, especially frontline staff to create improvement as they have direct access to customer’s daily interactions.
Direct customer engagement on phone or physical branches as well as social media are also helpful.
Customer-centric organisations also need to align their product and service innovations to adapt to the rapidly changing business environment. In the current time of crisis and beyond in to the recovery period, business leaders who master this approach will be able to create value for consumers, and have a strong competitive advantage.
The author is a consultant/strategist in business management, service experience, marketing communication and research.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.