Retail and F&B businesses reopening after lockdowns will be benchmarked by a more demanding client base: time to get digitally personal.

Even as lockdown restrictions ease up across the region, we can expect consumer behavior to change. While some customers may resume previous habits of shopping or dining out, others will prefer to stay home.

As brick-and-mortar businesses go online, there is an increasing need for digital solutions to connect with customers, because online shoppers and diners ordering more food online are also likely going to expect to engage there.

Retailers and dining establishments should not look at their current digital efforts as temporary measures to keep the lights on. Instead they should look to leverage this new digital data to better understand their customers’ needs, transform offline processes to digital, and make communications more proactive to improve customer engagements.

Align your teams

Beyond providing an online transactional platform, business owners and ‘front of house’ staff should also be considering how they orchestrate this new customer journey to earn trust and loyalty for the long haul and innovate processes to keep delivering exceptional customer experiences.

A first step towards this is to nurture a collaborative organizational culture: one where information is accessible across teams. As digital becomes the new norm, businesses need to ensure that staff operations are aligned with digital too. Business owners should define how internal teams such as tech support, marketing, and customer service interact in lockstep to make sure there are no silos. This way, they can respond to urgent situations with quick, decisive action, whether online or in-store.

According to Adobe’s Digital Trends 2020 Report, 40% of businesses that were leading in customer experience exceeded their 2019 business goals compared to only 13% that did not lead in that metric.

Customer experience and employee engagement are imperative in current times and more so after circuit breaker lifts. Even as physical businesses resume, we will likely notice that interfacing electronically or digitally first with employees and customers, then using physical where appropriate, to augment engagement, is going to be critical.

As the situation evolves, retailers and dining establishments should have a planned response for business continuity. For example, inform customers about the new ways through which outlets are conducting business to further reduce exposure risks: changes in operating hours; safe entry requirements; whether they are offering a buy-online pickup in store (BOPIS) service; scheduled pickups; curb-side pickup and delivery options.

Be sure to communicate proactively with customers via their preferred channels, and provide factual and clear statements to ensure information accuracy and to build trust.

Do not just ‘channel surf’

Given what is happening in the economy, it is also important to reprioritize and stay nimble. Retailers and dining establishments will have to think not just about customer acquisition but also customer retention: how to engage with customers and keep them coming back, whether through the right social media platform, the right website, the right mobile application, analytics about which customers are coming, and the ability to personalize that experience for customers.

The channels through which a business connects with its customers will be crucial with the new remote-economy shifts. Consumer expectations will skyrocket too. When they interact with a retailer online today, their digital experience is not just going to be benchmarked against that of another retailer; they are going to expect the same engagement and seamless experience the way they would get from hailing a rideshare or ordering food online.

The experience needs to be tailored to the right expectations.

Preparing for reopening

Knowing your customer and understanding their contexts is important. As lockdown restrictions ease up and restaurants reopen fully, some customers will be willing to eat out sooner and return to previous dining habits.

Look for signs of renewed interest that reflect recovery. For example, restaurants can leverage data to identify customers who dined more frequently before and add them at the top of their engagement list. The same customers may also have a higher propensity to order delivery. Engaging customers with personalized content and offers at the right time can help catalyze recovery.

For retailers and dining establishments, digital self-service may also be a new ‘muscle’ to flex. To continue to drive revenue, retailers and restaurants (and even hawker stores these days) are partnering with third-party delivery operations, while new delivery procedures such as contactless drop-off have been implemented. Many are also dealing with a large influx of phone calls that can be rerouted through alternative self-service journeys that guide consumers on how to use the brands’ digital channels to proactively answer questions and explore offers.

These changes require bridging the gap between physical and online strategies—focusing offline to essential activities while shifting the primary business model to self-service. This requires not only adjusting operation resources, but also digital resources and the alignment between the both.

Brands can also analyze phonecall- and social- media data to pinpoint the most urgent customer questions and update their FAQ pages and address concerns live via social channels.

Proactive steps to communicate clearly and consistently, and to build on digital capabilities, will help businesses emerge stronger and better positioned to capture opportunities for recovery.

Take advantage of the government schemes, such as the Fortitude Budget in Singapore and the PENJANA Stimulus Package in Malaysia, to help reskill staff, too.