Whether for better or worse, coronavirus and the resulting global lockdowns have sparked a new era in consumer businesses, with some arguing it has accelerated digital transformation by seven years. Businesses are under immense pressure to adapt, or they might not survive. Believe that’s an overstatement? Well, you only have to look at retailers like Toys “R” Us for proof. They filed for bankruptcy in 2018, with the then-CEO admitting they were late to evolve to the emerging growth of e-commerce. “Some organizations recognize faster than others there are shifts in the ways customers want to be communicated with and the way customers want to purchase products. It probably took us a while.”
With the world moving as fast as it is, “a while” is longer than it used to be. Business owners must always have their fingers on the pulse and be prepared to adapt to change. Here are five tips to ensure your brand is equipped to do so when necessary.
1. Hire leaders who know how to adapt
Evolving businesses need people at the top who are prepared to grow and adapt. As management consultants Egon Zehnder explain, “What’s needed: leaders who are all about growth and value and who can create and support bold new customer experiences to drive engagement. The industry’s traditional talent management strategies created in the last century have yet to catch up to this do-or-die reality.”
As a result, businesses must recruit people who are open to change and up for a challenge, especially with the continuous introduction of new technologies, software and social platforms. If your leaders aren’t keeping up, the business could struggle to survive. Sometimes acting early may seem “bold”, as Egon Zehnder put it, but boldness is often necessary when it comes to change.
2. Think about staff needs and expectations
Part of adaptation is changing to provide the best employee experience and meet their changing expectations. For example, the COVID lockdowns sparked the realisation that working from home is a valid (and often more productive) way to structure a thriving business. This can also result in happier employees who are more likely to stay longer and produce better work, which will ultimately benefit the business. Where feasible, employees will come to expect a flexi-working policy wherever they go.
It’s also important to consider different personality types. As much as some entrepreneurs may want them to, businesses can’t function as machines. Just like how different pegs won’t fit into the same holes, people are different too: some are extroverted and gain energy from being surrounded by others, while others are introverted and gain energy from being alone.
You might question how acknowledging different characters helps run the business in a practical sense. Well, introverts are more likely to prefer working from home than extroverts, for instance, as the extra time alone may make them more productive. Moreover, you might think twice before judging certain people’s actions in an office environment. Just because they don’t always want to be the centre of attention doesn’t mean they aren’t as committed or engaged as extroverts, who may do their best work through talking and collaborating with fellow employees.
3. Understand contemporary culture
Being in tune with what’s going on in contemporary culture can give your business a great advantage, especially for branding purposes. A good example of this is how Tesco responded to England’s success in Euro 2020. They gave all their employees the evening off the night of the final, and changed their well-known motto “every little helps” to “every fan helps”.
This advice does not apply to events alone, but also shifts in online behaviour. For instance, Facebook and Instagram have dominated social media for years, but TikTok has now taken significant market share. It seems inevitable that another social media platform will come along and steal attention away from the current dominators. Taking steps to be prepared and knowledgeable about these shifts can give businesses a huge advantage over their competition, especially if the platform is particularly popular with their target audience.
4. Be personal and interact with your audience
Our sense for fakeness is fine-tuned and people can spot automated messages from a mile off. As a rule, the best way to stimulate audience engagement is from real, authentic interactions that are personal and responsive.
But be careful. Personalisation does not mean putting in a line of code at the start of an email that puts in a customer’s first name. This is cheating, and in the long run will hurt your business if you rely on it too much. Marketing guru Seth Godin talks about the trap of faking mass personalisation in his blog, saying “there’s an uncanny valley here, that uncomfortable feeling we get when we know we’re being played, when someone mass customizes and tries to steal the value of actual person-to-person connection”. By taking part in this, you are ruining the relationship you have with your customer: “Don’t waste your time and money on this. You’re wasting the most valuable thing you own — trust.”
Social media is the natural place to interact with your audience as you can respond to comments in a human way. Take a look at the social media activity of brands in tune with their audience (like successful D2C brands such as Gymshark and Dollar Shave Club) to see how to do this effectively. The tone of voice depends on the brand and the industry, but this personal touch is ultimately what is required to create better relationships between brands and customers.
5. Make use of the latest digital software
The sheer number of software available to businesses now cannot be ignored, and the ability to take advantage of them may make or break your business. There are certain creative aspects, like physically designing a logo, that cannot be replaced (although you can still use software to execute this). However, the organisational sides of businesses, whether it be accounting, employee management or customer service, can all benefit from automation.
Zendesk and Conversocial, for example, are two pieces of software that allow customer questions to be filtered through a manageable ticketing system, organised into different query types, countries and times. This allows customer service employees to answer the queries with adequate context, promptness and efficiency. The customer support experience is vastly improved as a result and their satisfaction is increased. Without this software, customer emails or DMs would be near impossible to respond to manually.
It’s important, however, to not rely on software to do everything for you. As we discussed before, a personal and authentic experience is vital, and that includes customer experience. In other words, technology can facilitate your ability to provide a more personal customer experience, not render the personal approach unnecessary.
Cover photo credit: Mikhail Nilov / Pexels