If you asked any leader what their business had planned for 2020, navigating a global pandemic likely wasn’t in the cards. Instead, businesses have spent the past several months adopting “20/20 vision” of the impacts of COVID-19, a virus that has shaken every industry and changed human attitudes and behaviours for the foreseeable future.
Organizations need to address people’s immediate needs and health concerns while simultaneously planning for the “never normal” era that lies ahead. The way organizations design, build, communicate and run experiences will be among the most affected areas of business, as humans learn to resume activities as ordinary as shopping for groceries, commuting and visiting the office while living with an invisible threat. What was once comfortable may now be entirely uncomfortable.
In preparing to embrace the New Human Experience, businesses should prioritize what have been recognized as the five new human truths shaping how people will live.
Truth 1: The cost of confidence
Since the start of the pandemic, there has been an added layer of risk to almost everything people do. Many people are postponing big purchases and decisions, including career changes and vacation planning. But above all, the erosion of confidence has made trust a more important consideration than ever before. In response, certain industries such as hospitality and tourism have been hit hard and were forced to cut jobs. Only 9% of Canadians have said they will be comfortable going on a cruise in the near future – this number is slightly higher for flying (13%) or staying in a hotel (17%).
One associated trend that has picked up momentum due to COVID-19 is the value of the “local” – both for supporting the local economy and reducing exposure to, and spread of, the virus. Quebec’s Tourism Recovery Plan has unveiled a new wave of programs that will encourage residents to “staycation” this summer, including Explore Quebec on the Road packages and Passports attractions. The Le Panier Bleu initiative is also connecting Quebec residents to a portal of over 1,100 businesses and counting, all of which promote products produced and sold locally.
Truth 2: The virtual century
Virtual working, consuming and socializing have become the new way of life in quarantine. But as the virus’s immediate threat dissipates, we will continue to see a massive and further shift to virtual activity for anything.
The enforced transition toward more virtual experiences will affect ways of communicating across learning, working, transacting and consuming in all sectors. In fact, 36% of Canadians plan to increase the amount they work from home in the future, according to Accenture’s COVID-19 Consumer Research. Microsoft Teams saw total videos calls in Teams grow by over 1,000% in the first month of quarantine, including a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day in March.
Winning organizations will be those who test and explore all of the associated creative possibilities in the new virtual century – not only connecting individuals with products but also virtual opportunities and communities. Quebec-based mental health leader Revivre went digital during the pandemic, launching virtual support services and workshops to offer much-needed support to more Canadians during these challenging times.
Truth 3: Every business is a health business
With health now an essential consideration for consumers and businesses alike, health experiences will be in high demand from every industry. All businesses should be reassessing their experiences according to the extent to which they either enhance or diminish public health.
Soon, every brand will fill a role in the new health economy, either as a core part of it or as a part of the promise. At the height of the pandemic, Bombardier and CAE turned their manufacturing capabilities to producing ventilators for the healthcare system. Fashion brands have also entered the health market, with Canadian clothing retailer Le Chateau committing to manufacturing up to 500,000 hospital gowns and Burberry using its global supply chain network to expedite delivery of surgical masks to medical workers.
No market is immune to the heightened awareness of health risks. Since the start of the pandemic, we have witnessed a sharp decline in the use of cash, and potentially the start of its phase out. This was already a trend identified in Fjord Trends 2020 and is now accelerating. Half of Canadian consumers say they have increased their use of contactless payment methods.
Truth 4: Cocooning
COVID-19 gave everyone new reason and purpose to stay home. This pattern will endure in the months and years ahead with meaningfulness and comfort carrying new value – and a price premium. There have already been substantial rises in home spending – and for things made at home. Brahm Mauer launched BMBS At Home – a delivery service for market fresh mixology cocktails perfectly suited for “isolation medication.”
Leading businesses will be able to capture new ways of innovating experience, including the use of new platforms and technologies. However, businesses can only unlock full potential if they are able to create a scaling roadmap and continue to maintain sensitive and secure handling of data.
Truth 5: The reinvention of authority
Amid ongoing global uncertainty, dependence on experts, strong government recommendation and executive powers – backed by citizen compliance – has promoted the concept of central authority. If governments get their handling of the crisis broadly right, expect top-down control to be back in fashion; if not, the reverse.
Many brands will have to rethink what they stand for, prioritizing solving problems before selling products. With safety top of mind, air operators are now mandated to conduct temperature checks as the latest health screening procedure for Canadians looking to travel. Many companies will also make changes that set new industry standards. Several Canadian telecom providers temporarily removed overage fees on home internet plans, thereby radically changing market norms.
The redefinition of authority should be expected post-pandemic, recognizing the importance of collective behaviour.
What to do Next?
As we get closer to settling into the “never normal” world awaiting us post-pandemic, all organizations must commit to ongoing Experience Audits, hearing the early signals from customers about what they want and how they feel then responding accordingly (and appropriately). Organizations will benefit from developing a tight interlock between listening and pivoting to ensure they remain relevant and future-fit, reassessing their brand and business throughout any transformation. This is the way forward – and we all need to get comfortable.
About the author:
Claude Chaffiotte is a Managing Director at Accenture Interactive where he currently runs the Communicate pillar for Accenture in France and Benelux. Claude also leads the Health and Public Sector client group and is in charge of the acquisition program in the region.
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal. As a result, the Chamber cannot be held responsible for published content.