The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed much about our world, from the way we live to the way we function. And this impact has been comprehensive and far-spread; from the smallest businesses to the biggest MNCs, none have escaped unscathed. Yet, as the economy opens up again, companies are formulating strategies to make up for the lost business. With the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise, this has proved to be an uphill task as consumers are still worried to venture out in the open as they did before. Dubbed as the "new normal," businesses have to live with the new realities of customer engagement and management. To deliberate upon what could be the way to "Winning with customer experience in the Post COVID world" Forbes India and SAP India organized an exclusive series of interaction with top industry honchos in India. Conducted over the Web, these engagements were meant to be a window to the corporate boardroom, where a strategy to deal with the aftermath of the epidemic is being formulated.
The objective of these interactions was to look at different aspects of coping up with the crisis, and how engaging the customer can be a critical differentiator between success and failure. To get a holistic view, companies across the spectrum participated in these deliberations, from manufacturing to reality, from health and hygiene to airlines. Spread across two sessions, these deliberations touched upon various aspects of business, and what could be the right approach to conducting business in the 'new normal'.
Sectoral variance of impact
One of the first things that became apparent and was acknowledged by the participants was the sectoral variation in the economic impact of the COVID-19 epidemic. While some segments suffered severely due to the crisis like auto and airlines, others might even see an uptick because of the outbreak, like healthcare and online marketplace. This variation was highlighted by Krishnan Chatterjee, CMO & CCO, SAP India, as he listed out the underlying implications for the corporate sector. Rajesh Ramakrishnan, MD, Perfetti Van Melle India, concurred with the sectoral variance sharing the example of how the lockdown had impacted an impulse-buy category of products like candies and chewing gum.
One of the sectors that have been severely impacted by the lockdown has been the auto sector. Through April, there were no new cars sold in India, which has never happened before, according to Rajeev Chaba, President & Managing Director, MG Motor India. There were 36, 860 cars sold in May 2020 which is a pittance when compared to 2,39,117 sold in May 2019. This gives a picture of how some sectors of the economy have been unaffected, while the rest have been crippled.
The best way to figure out this puzzle is to conscious repositioning and branding. As Narasimhan Eswar, Senior VP, RB India, shares a thumb-rule for corporate relevance; one needs to assess the customer category in which a particular company operates. If the goods and services produced by the company are not unique and not missed in their absence, it means that their relevance is low and hence they need to redesign or create a new category of product or service.
Tweaking business models
There's an old English adage that talks of how when the going gets tough the tough get going. Quite similarly, companies need to gird up and prepare for the tough times ahead. There are many aspects of a business that need to be evaluated and change, right from something as basic as a product offering to as complex as a business model. Companies that can reinvent and adapt during the times of duress are most likely to survive the downturn. Take the case of Bridgestone India, one of the leading tyre companies. Because of the epidemic, customers are wary of walking into showrooms to make a purchase; hence the company is looking at tweaking the business model. Parag Satpute, MD, Bridgestone India, spoke about how businesses need to adapt and bring about changes in their customer engagement, like creating time-slots for customer visits, or launching a new service like car sanitization to help alleviate consumer anxiety.
Innovation is another way to achieve sales growth during the lockdown period. Rajesh Ramakrishnan highlighted how the end consumer needs to be engaged. For instance as families were together at home during this period, Perfetti Van Melle’s flagship Jelly brand Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly leveraged the recipe campaign asking consumers to make home-made recipes with Alpenliebe Juzt Jelly as an active ingredient to bring alive the brand proposition of “Family Fun” in the lives of the consumers to provide them with much needed small moments of happiness.
Over the past few decades, there has been a significant shift in adopting technology in the business sector. From what was earlier a business differentiator, technology is now a business need. This trend towards digitization has been further enhanced by the COVID Pandemic. Even businesses that were earlier reluctant or slow in adopting technology have been forced to scale up to meet up with customer expectations quickly. Ravinder Pal Singh, Chief Information & Innovation Officer, Air Vistara, highlighted the technological side of the business, enumerating the different stages in which companies adopt digitization. He also highlighted how new-age technology like AI and Robotics was making its presence felt in the corporate sphere with 'codification of emotions' no more being a wild pursuit.
Neeraj Athalye, VP & Head - Customer Experience Solutions, SAP India also underscored this trend, talking of how the epidemic had led to a spurt of digitization. He shared an instance of how companies are now looking at digital means, from digital contracts to online deliveries. Technology has become a mainstay for corporates.
Meanwhile, Sanjay Dutt, MD & CEO, Tata Housing & TRL India emphasized on how customer needs to be at the very centre of any business strategy or realignment. He emphasized the need to provide satisfaction, comfort and trust to the customer through the use of technology.
In the end, while all the participants in the two-part series of "Winning with customer experience in the Post COVID world" by Forbes India and SAP India agreed that the times were challenging, the emphasis was also laid on resilience and innovation. In a post-COVID-19 world, businesses that can reinvent themselves through better customer engagement will get more potent than they were before.
Watch the webisode on: https://youtu.be/H9EGalODf4I
Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.