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Why is it that some restaurants are busy, even with major restrictions and social distancing measures, while other businesses next to them are empty?

Leveraging insight gathered from design research, Leo Della-Moretta explores how a human connection is supporting retailers, restaurants, and services to evolve post-COVID.

A brisk walk down a regular high street quickly reveals a high volume of sales and promotions, attempting to attract customers into stores. Observing the footfall, it still seems that customer traffic has yet to return to pre-COVID levels, with the world often feeling very quiet.

This is supported by recently released data from the Office of National Statistics showing that footfall remains significantly depressed when compared to 2019.

ONS-1Source: Coronavirus and the latest indicators for the UK economy and society: 27 August 2020

The drivers of these changes directly linked to COVID-19 can be broken down into four categories:

Health - Customers are still fearful and conscious of the health risks
Habits - Customers are shifting into, and sticking with, digital channels
Capacity - The social distancing measures are forcing limitations on capacity in stores
Economic - The economic challenges of the lockdown have negatively impacted customers’ ability to spend

These are all obvious observations that have been discussed in detail by many. However, if you were to keep walking down that same high street you may come across some businesses that are much more popular; and are more likely to be a restaurant or café. The UK’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, offering 50% off bills, pushed up meals served to ~70 million over the month of August, but this promotion alone does not explain why restaurants remain popular on non-supported days in the current trading conditions.

Seeking connections

Lockdown and social distancing measures have changed how we interact with the world, both physically (i.e. wearing masks and liberal use of hand sanitiser) and emotionally (i.e. considering if a trip out is worth the risk). What has not changed though is our innate desire to connect with one another. Video conferences and virtual 'house parties' have allowed us to remain connected to our friends and families during the last few months, yet people desire more. A laugh with a friend over a video chat does not necessarily feel as full or as enjoyable as one enjoyed at a picnic in a park. This realisation has led many to seek out these connections and experiences, even if the form of them has changed recently to accommodate the latest social distancing guidance.

In this context, restaurants are busy because they enable human connections to flourish in this new world.

What can other sectors learn from this?

Businesses must be able to provide a truly omni-channel experience, meeting customers on their terms. While there has been talk for years about integration of digital journeys, in-person touch points, and contact centres, this shift towards becoming an entry level requirement to engage and connect with customers is only accelerating. All too many businesses still work within channels, shifting customers from silo to silo and running the risk their customers will give up and go elsewhere.

What will ultimately distinguish those businesses that thrive is the ability to provide a human connection, even as consumer habits continue to shift towards digital-led journeys.

Peloton, an exercise equipment company that streams live exercise classes to apps and connected equipment, is one such example of a business focusing on human connection and thriving in the current conditions. Peloton’s revenue has grown by 66% year on year and average monthly workouts per user have increased by 18%. While this may not seem overly unexpected with the current home-fitness surge, their customer attrition sits at an enviable 0.46% as compared to a fitness industry benchmark of 29%. This success is in large part driven by an approach to customer experience firmly based on human connection.

How do you create human connection?

Human connection is a feeling, one that can be created or destroyed in an instant. To create the connection with your customers, you must recognise them, understand their needs, and then use that understanding in your operational delivery. Tangible ways to achieve this include:

Understand your customer journey at every touch point.
Invest in technology that allows for customer journeys to be continued without additional effort when changing channels, avoiding frustrating repetition and the feeling of being a number in a system, not a human being

Focus on inclusive journey design.
While many digital natives are easily interacting in the new world, many are not. Understanding and meeting their needs will increase revenue and decrease customer effort for all your customers

Make it obvious.
Intelligent use of next best action signalling (such as intelligent use of interstitials to guide your customers to the next step of their journey) will increase revenue while reducing demand on contact centres

A simple example of where this focus on human connection has translated into business success can be found in our work with a high street bank. We worked together to improve the first-time success rate for verifying the identity of customers calling their contact centres. Here we focused not just on the task but the tone of the interaction as well, leaning into human connection and shifting from official to friendly, increasing pass rates considerably.

These actions are not new, but the value and pace with which businesses need to integrate and innovate has accelerated as COVID-19 moved us further and faster into a more digital world. By designing and delivering service with human connection in mind, businesses can continue to offer unique brand experiences and create lasting connections with customers that will be valued

Explore our latest whitepaper - reimagining service for the new world



Leo Della-Moretta, Managing Consultant

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