By Conner Galway

There’s a principle in behavioural sciences that it takes people about six months to adapt to major change. There are various stages, but the general model shows that humans are incredibly resilient and, after a half a year, we will have not only accepted the change, but our minds and bodies will operate as if it were our default state.

That’s about where we are right now with the pandemic. We’re just over six months into it, which means the changes are no longer novel. They’re not temporary inconveniences anymore — we have adapted and we’re acting as though this is business as usual.

At the same time, we’re all starting to build our 2021 plans and, while the idea of a “plan” might seem like a punch line because there is such a mountain of uncertainty between here and pretty much any point in the future, there are some certainties that we can be building on:

1. Zoom is never going away
Or, at least, virtual calls aren’t. Zoom has done to meetings what Slack did to inter-office emails. While a variety of Slack competitors have popped up, the idea that we’d go back to communicating with our co-workers primarily via replies and CCs feels out of the question at this point.

Business travel, as we knew it, will not be making a comeback. It’s time to invest in webcams/microphones as basic business tools. Meeting attendees are no longer limited by geography. We should reimagine the meeting structure for a virtual world, ie. better agendas, shorter sessions. There’s an opportunity to get creative: When we can’t impress with catering and fancy stationery, what else can we do to make attendees feel valued?

2. Customers expect high-value digital experiences
Virtual tours, interactive retail, and live support are everywhere, and they’ve become table stakes. Everyone from retailers to gyms to hotels and realtors have gotten so creative with the way they’re able to deliver a digital experience that draws people in and gives them the interactions that would otherwise be missing.

What holds many people back is the need to be perfect and polished, but value doesn’t come from production. People expect that we’re taking care of them, giving them the information they need, and perhaps even entertaining them. High-quality content is a plus, but it shouldn’t hold us back from creating something that’s going to be valuable.

The website is no longer an informational step in the customer journey — for many businesses, it’s now the destination. Social media is no longer a representation of the brand experience — for some, it is the primary brand experience. Customers are looking for more from their digital interactions, which means we have space to deliver them longer videos, more detailed pages, and higher-touch virtual experiences.

3. Everyone delivers
Amazon dominated delivery from 2010-2019, and we should thank them for that. They built up people’s habits and their openness to getting just about everything delivered. Now, there’s space for every small retailer, producer, and even service-based business to be using tools like Shopify to offer direct-to-consumer retail. ECommerce, in general, has already risen by 30 percent this year, and there is a 0 percent chance that all of those purchases are going to go back offline in the future.

There’s never been a better time to sell online. With Shopify and other eCommerce tools, it has never been easier. The market is hungry to support small businesses. People are used to ordering and receiving just about everything.

In many categories, free shipping has become a near-expectation. That doesn’t mean that we all have to eat the costs, but it does mean that we should be aware of the expectation and price or position our products accordingly. Eventually, offline retail will make up the minority share of total transactions.

4. Video, video, video
This is certainly not new, but like many trends, the pandemic threw it into hyper-drive. We are so hungry now for richer experiences and more meaningful interactions that images just don’t cut it anymore.

Similarly, in a world where digital is the only touch point that we get to have with many of our customers, video is the best way we have to forge meaningful relationships with them. Not to mention the fact that TikTok, Reels, Stories, and Snapchat are the fastest growing communication channels, and they all have one thing in common: they’re video-first. Now, imagine a world that has fully adopted 5G connections and you can see that the trend is only going to accelerate.

Every step in the customer journey can benefit from video, not just the top of the funnel. It’s more important than ever that we understand the various steps in that customer journey. Video can be many things, from shiny brand clips to raw IG stories, educational webinars, and live customer support. Most public-facing video formats are becoming shoppable.

5. Omnichannel, but make it 2021
At this point, the physical experience that we have with brands has been relegated to a small percentage of our total brand experience. Over the past 10 years the idea of an omnichannel strategy has grown in popularity as digital was pulled out of the shadows and we started to appreciate that the Internet wasn’t going anywhere. Most of the strategy work went into figuring out ways that digital touchpoints like apps, websites, and social media could complement physical retail.

Now that digital is the primary way we interact, our greatest opportunity is to make sure that the physical experience is embedded in the digital one.

Consider how we book a time at an Apple store, receive a live demo, then purchase via the app while we’re on-site. Sure, that’s how a trillion-dollar company can run their customer experience, but consider that hotels and restaurants are no different from those futuristic-seeming stores. We book online, check-in via an app, pay with a QR code, and receive support with messenger or live chat.

The best omnichannel strategies in 2021 acknowledge that there is a whole ecosystem of customer interactions, and physical may just be one small part.

Does the unboxing experience match our eCommerce store? When they visit in-person after only interacting online, does it feel familiar? Are we tracking customer purchase behaviour across our various touchpoints? Are we allowing people to choose the method that works best for them?

Business not willing to make the investment
Perhaps the most surprising thing to me has been that most businesspeople have accepted that the digital world is now the primary way people interact, but they’re not yet willing to make the same investments in those interactions. That shows up most obviously in the more substantial meetings that businesses host. Once upon a time, we’d invest hours, or even days of our lives traveling to them — we’d pay for venues, catering, printed materials, and presentation equipment.

Today, those same meetings often consist of a dimly-lit webcam staring up at an executive’s chin while they ask if everyone can see their screen. What if we were to invest half of the planning and resources that went into offline meetings to deliver materials to the attendees, create an elevated video experience, and find other creative ways to engage our audience?

Now, what if we applied that same thinking to every one of our 2021 digital interactions? See my follow up commentary, Digital eCommerce: Everything Changed, Nothing Was New.

Conner Galway is President of Junction Consulting. Conner founded Junction because he saw a need for organizations to expand their thinking about what’s possible for digital value within a business. As Junction’s strategist, he spends his days researching, analyzing, and solving problems with our clients. He shares his latest thinking in our weekly email called The Brief that’s read by executives at many of North America’s most revered brands.

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