We’ve long spoken about the need to ensure that products have a purpose, that they offer genuine utility to customers in order to be truly valuable to both them and the business. The idea of making products people want as opposed to making people want products. (Spoiler – the ROI on the former is far superior).
However, what’s become very clear in the first half of 2020, is the need to consider a multi-faceted view of purpose. It’s been a year like no other. The emergence of COVID-19 and its rapid shift to become a global pandemic, the associated worldwide lockdowns and their gradual easing (and reintroduction), and the brutal murder of George Floyd and the world’s reaction.
All of this has combined to shift, both behaviours and attitudes, at a pace not seen in at least two generations. So, the idea of exploring product and service design in the same way as we did in 2019 is going to fall short of customers’ expectations.
The new weird
We’ve all referenced the term, ‘the new normal’ but it’s too soon to be ‘normal’, it’s still just plain weird.
Recent data released by Pulsar from their Public Emotions Framework echoes this, with huge rises in ‘fear’, ‘caution’ and ‘fatigue’ during the first half of the year and specific spikes when the WHO declared the crisis a global pandemic but also when the UK government began to ease the lockdown. The latter seems to infer that, while some will rush to the beaches and shops and overindulge on ‘Super Saturday’, many will take a more cautionary approach. And this is likely to be heightened by the fact cities, both close to home and on the other side of the world, are slipping back into localised lockdowns. All these factors are having a huge impact.
Rises in sustained remote and flexible working alone (Fujitsu offered this to 80,000 employees this week) is destined to affect everything from house prices and urban planning to on-commute businesses and lunchtime eateries. And a more cautious approach to being in communal spaces will affect many of our experience expectations for shopping, banking, dining out, and working out, to name but a few.
As customer-centric product and service inventors, we need to make sense of the ‘New Weird’ and all the quirks in behaviour it’s generating and design accordingly.
The power of control
Many of the best products already allow customers to self-serve, managing transactions, applications, subscriptions, and data in simple and intuitive ways, in real-time
and on their terms. With so much uncertainty in the world right now, this need for control from a customer perspective is only going to increase, and with the potential for future lockdowns on the horizon, it’s imperative for those businesses who, up until now, have been more reliant on in-branch and call centre experiences.
If businesses can’t give customers the control, they need, then their NPS, growth, and value will drop, making this, very much a hygiene factor.
Even as we see customers returning to shops, it’s fair to say that many are proceeding with caution, with added consideration when it comes to discretionary purchases. The treble whammy of social distancing, deep recession, and the tapering of furlough are clearly being felt.
While the second two points are ones for the macroeconomists the first offers some more accessible solutions. We’d previously seen Nike experimenting for AR to allow customers to accurately size themselves and IKEA’s Place app, in which people can select products to appear, at scale, in the room of their choice. This technology will prove particularly useful to the 2.5m UK citizens who are still ‘shielding’ and unable to participate in the re-opening of the high street.
But it’s not just shops, as COVID related restrictions change the way we travel around buildings like hospitals, offices and shared spaces, AR empowered navigation will really take off. Gatwick has recently launched a solution that helps passengers navigate to the specific gate for their flight.
A new code of ethics
It’s fair to say that the COVID crisis has forced most of us to slow down. And that combination of a little more headspace plus, fewer opportunities to spend money on ‘life’s little luxuries’, has led some to take stock.
While frustration and lockdown fatigue kicked in long ago, the decisions forced upon us, a huge reduction in travel, a need to shop locally and a desire to support the small businesses who were able to pivot, re leading to ingrained behaviours and the trend of ‘conscious consumption’ is again, on the up.
Increasingly customers will seek out businesses with a purpose and a desire to bounce back with a more sustainable form of capitalism. They will look for a commitment to not just sell products but to do more to help and support their customers and community during the challenging economic times. To benefit from this, products need to shift from being purely transactional to building out a wider value proposition aligned to the business’ purpose, sustainability, and ethics.
While Zuckerberg and Boohoo are hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, a number of banks have read the public mood more insightfully and are offering analytics tools that provide their customers with a breakdown of their spend based on their personal ethical priorities.
Never before have we been so conscious of touching stuff. While estimates as to how long COVID-19 can remain on a surface vary massively, it’s fair to say that it does and it’s becoming a driver of touchless tech.
It’s no surprise that a Mastercard survey of 17,000 consumers in 19 countries found that they perceive contactless payments as “the cleaner way to pay.” So, expect the use of digital wallets to have doubled by the end of 2020 (Statista).
Payments though are just one small facet of life. Returning to workplaces, restaurants, travel, and leisure scenarios comes with a myriad of other touchpoints (literally) and consideration needs to be given to making as many as touch-free as possible.
Expect to see a boom in voice, IoT use cases and adoption, the use of sensors and motion detectors (lighting, doors, etc), infrared scanners for identifying customer temperature spikes, and even self-cleaning spaces as per Boeing’s self-cleaning bathroom prototype.
It seems like the New Weird is here to stay and, if it is, at some point, it will become a little more normal. This also means that these and many other changes in attitude and behaviour will be trends and not fads so it’s critical we that we build them into our thinking as we explore new products and service design.