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The new “untouchpoints” in COVID-19 times

How COVID-19 turns customer relationships upside down and QR (or quick response) codes suddenly become the measure of all things

The new “untouchpoints” in COVID-19 times

On 16 March 2020, Switzerland stood still. During the lockdown, the post-COVID-19 future emerged. For some, the “new normal” came quickly; for others, until today it is not noticeable. But there will be no going back to the past – even if many would wish for it.

The new social distancing rules demand the opposite of the much-preached customer proximity. The corresponding rules of conduct may offer advantages for misanthropists, but they present companies with significant challenges. The coronavirus pandemic demands a radical rethink of how companies can reach and serve their customers and markets from now on.

Customer intimacy despite untouchpoints?

CEOs and CMOs will have to face the question of how they will shape customer relationships in the new normality. How is the customer journey changing? Which touchpoints will win, which will lose? The blatant swing of the pendulum into the digital channels will perhaps strike back a bit – but, to put it in the words of Matthias Horx (Zukunftsinstitut, 2020): “COVID-19 has swept away the aura of the future for digitization”. The coronavirus has done what no CIO or CDO has been able to do: Digitization went viral. Eight weeks of COVID-19 lockdown has catapulted us six years into the digital future.

Much of what was supposedly not possible up to now or seemed unthinkable, is suddenly a matter of course: a large home office, virtual visits to the sick, video calls instead of physical meetings, medical video consultations, virtual field service, contactless ordering and payment, homeschooling, online whiskey tasting, webinars and social selling on LinkedIn. All of these are “Untouchpoints” (GDI, 2020), which patients, clients, students and interested parties currently prefer to use rather than suspect physical contact. 

Touching customers in times of untouchpoints

But how do you design the customer experience in a world of untouchpoints? Does “digital” and “unmanned” mean “impersonal” at the same time? And does this go hand-in-hand with the much-feared loss of customer proximity?

We don’t think so.

Instead, we see it as an opportunity to cut off old habits. Make an “inventory” of touchpoints and replace those that add little value with new ones – thus becoming more digital and agile. 

We recommend the following three steps to use the crisis as an opportunity:

  1. Change of perspective
    • From company centricity to customer centricity: It is not about our company, our brand, but the customers, their problems and the opportunities that emerge.
    • Customer experience: The buzzword of the hour becomes the holy grail, the North Star in these hectic times.
  2. Touchpoint inventory
    • Which touchpoint no longer adds value to the customer experience in this era of social distancing?
    • Which need has it satisfied?
    • Which touchpoint compensates for the lost relationship quality?
    • Which technology replaces or complements the touchpoint?
    • Which solutions can be integrated into the existing data landscape so that personal and individual communication is possible?
  3. Observe and experiment
    • Which life hacks are consumers finding to reach their goal in the emerging “new normal”?
    • How can we learn from the observations and use the newly-gained knowledge for our company?

Physical contact: forbidden! Emotional touching: desired!

With the rediscovered customer focus, all eyes are on the marketers who interface with the market and spearhead the digital revolution. They set the pace of transformation within the company. Thanks to the untouchpoints, the marketers’ decisions will be based on data. Data that can be developed as trigger chains of effect to create “aha” or “wow” outcomes for customers.

How do you create these “aha” and “wow” effects? How do you turn data into emotions?

Emotions have strategic importance for companies. Especially in a crisis environment with high dynamics, change and complexity, that is according to the clear view of Brian Rüeger in «Emotionalisierung im digitalen Marketing» (2018, in Geman only).

Emotions most often arise with the use of the product. Therefore, we must extend the perspective to the entire customer journey. This extended perspective is the basis for recommendation, repurchase and loyalty in general. After all, customers do not want the product they buy, for example, a locking system for the house, but the emotion of security that comes with it.

Emotions are not the only way to differentiate oneself from the competition in the long term. Emotions also create a high exit barrier. If you are emotionally connected, maybe even a little bit in love, there is no reason to leave. 

Does digitalisation mean that personal contact is lost completely? The COVID-19 pandemic has made us open ourselves to new possibilities and to connect in new ways – digitally rather than through personal touch, in other words, with untouchpoints.

These digital traces lead to even more possibilities to understand customers better, get to know them over time, try out new things, experiment and adapt the measures according to one’s desire, mood and individual taste. Is this not a win-win situation?

Catherine B. Crowden is CEO of BMQ Partners. Her passion: creating emotions from data. She has used the time of the lockdown to review small digital steps for clients, develop use cases, simplify processes and better design customer experiences to create emotional “aha” and “wow” moments. What emotions do you want to generate in your customers?