We had several plans for the coming week. We had so many things to get done at work. We probably had plans on the personal front too and were upbeat about the next few days.

And all of a sudden, the entire world around us came to a standstill overnight!

As in many other countries, the Government of India announced a complete lockdown, making it effectively the World’s largest coronavirus lockdown. The entire country was directed to stay at home to avoid any physical contact with the outside world.

The terms social distancing, isolation and quarantine became as common as social media. However, given the crisis, it appeared to be the right move by the government.

We were all faced with the big question – How does somebody live a life like that? Being stranded at home was alien to us. We had never done it. And in all of this new lifestyle, people were worried about getting their everyday essential needs met including food if they couldn’t step out of their homes.

These are challenging times. However, these are those moments when some companies can breakthrough and rise to the occasion to find ways to meet customer needs, shifts in customer demand, behaviours and expectations and stay in the minds of customers forever.

For most organizations, the COVID crisis has hampered regular business because of contractions in consumer spend and disruptions to supply chains.

Certain industries where physical closeness is irreplaceable have been hit harder than others e.g. travel, hospitality, cab services, etc. But there are a few others who have the chance to leverage this as a business opportunity e.g. insurance or healthcare.

There are brands across sectors, who have taken this opportunity to revise, re-invent and even innovate to sustain themselves. Here are a few examples:

  • Especially in the case of essentials such as food and grocery items, customers are unable to go out and buy their daily or weekly groceries. Some companies have started a home delivery option. While online grocery was always available, its usage is still largely restricted to the more affluent households or more urban cities. Also, brick & mortar grocery retail chains, started home delivery options, in addition to independent stores (who were always offering this service for years).
  • Given the need for maintaining a distance between individuals, ‘contactless’ delivery is being offered by the likes of McDonald’s wherein the delivery is left outside your home and the delivery person has no interaction with you, provided you’ve paid online.
  • Companies from different sectors are also using this as an opportunity to create marketing synergies e.g. A consumer products company (ITC) is delivering its essential products to homes using the distribution system of a fast-food company (e.g. Domino’s Pizza).
  • Some banks offered a coronavirus health insurance policy for premium customers for a short duration. With a nominal charge, this could be extended for a year. Payments for this could be done online and the policy would be delivered to one’s email.
  • Local outfits have sprung up willing to deliver a pre-packaged set of raw vegetables with a fixed price on placing an order on the phone.
  • Banks have provided a moratorium on three monthly installments for loans taken.
  • Several real estate companies and even individuals have offered to waive off the rent installments by a month or two or reduce these installments by as much as 50%.

Post-COVID, it is extremely likely that customer experience will improve compared to pre-COVID days.

Companies have been forced to think differently for their customer needs. They have started alternative sales channels (moving online, as in case of many brick and mortar companies) which may continue. These have been set up to help customers to shop online or without having to move out of their homes. This will increase the ease of shopping for customers.

We have also seen from all our interactions with customers that they prefer the self-service mode above speaking to an employee of the company.

This is a common trend seen across several industries and sectors. They prefer channels and modes of interaction where they do not need to meet a customer service manager or agent or have to speak to one on the phone. If they can, they are happier getting the job done themselves, by way of online transactions when paying bills or buying apparel or banking via ATMs or mobile.

Wherever there is human interaction there is variability in the experience. This is where experience can vary from customer service agent to agent and hence, vary the customer’s experience.

The COVID scenario has forced customers to become more self-sufficient in terms of getting transactions done themselves, primarily online.

Some of those who were uncomfortable with digital channels would now be adopting these modes of transacting. This will be seen not just in financial transactions but also in other aspects such as buying apparel, grocery, food delivery, etc.

Finally, companies who saw this phase as a crisis will be happy when it’s all over. But they would have learned little and would continue to go back to ‘BAU – business as usual’. Those who see this as an opportunity will learn from this and strive even harder and innovate to constantly provide better services.