My mother-in-law at 84 has finally got a smartphone and is learning how to use it. She has resisted this for years, but now that travel is unlikely, she would like to to use Whatsapp video to see her family. We’ve all gotten used to video medical consultations. I’m buying stuff online that I’d have preferred to check out physically. And learning how to cook via YouTube. A recent diabetes diagnosis has scared off my sweet tooth, and I haven’t eaten processed carbs in two months. My love of faloodas and gulab jamuns is a thing of the past – I am now on a guided diet program with, sipping green tea cheerfully. Almost.  

When the trigger is strong enough we change our behaviour super-fast. COVID has led to many changes in behaviour that we would have resisted a mere 6 months ago. Now obviously, as a result of the new constraints, customer experience has to change. Much of this transformation is in making the process as digital as possible, and the balance in figuring out remote payment and contactless delivery. But that’s sort of obvious. 

So, instead, let’s look at the experience from the customer’s “need” perspective. A framework I love is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. (I love it so much it featured in my 11 year old’s school assignment.) Maslow says that our needs form a pyramid, the base being Physiological Needs (food, water, sleep), then Safety & Security, next Belonging & Love, then Esteem (Respect and Recognition), and right at the top, Self-Actualization (achieving one’s full potential).  What COVID has done is that it has shifted people across levels more rapidly than expected. So someone may have been at the top-most level, self-actualized, and may have fallen down not just one but multiple levels. Others may have benefited from this digital revolution and zipped up the ladder. People who were counting on their workplaces for Belonging and Esteem have been set adrift in this new work from home world. Others may have been major gainers as they got to know their neighbours and families much better.  Parents who were content with their choice of a good school are beset with doubts in the school from home model, and may sign up with education apps to fill the gap. Diabetes has suddenly put the emphasis on physiological needs for me. 

Customer experiences that are redesigned keeping these shifts in mind will be the gold standard.  In the new work from home world many feel they are always on and are not getting enough sleep. A physiological need that was recognized by Duroflex and Wakefit, who seem to be doing pretty well sales-wise. The desire to look good on video calls stems from a need for esteem – which brands that are offering “above the desk” focused wear in knits are addressing, as are grooming products. Others with anti-germ fabrics, and immunity biscuits are looking at the increased number of people who are now sitting at the ’Safety and Security’ level. You could consider mapping your products against this hierarchy and then addressing that need more directly in your communication. Or you could tweak your product design to address at least one of these needs. 

An understanding of what people are looking for can result in unexpected benefits. Recently my friend and journalist Chitra Narayan’s daughter, Eshna Kutty went viral with a hoop video in a sari. I had interviewed Eshna back in March for inputs on influencer marketing for my book. During the lockdown she launched her training business, focusing on small group classes positioned as a month long experience. She sold hoops. But what makes these so popular is that she speaks to her participants one on one and sends custom notes with every hoop. The result? A sense of belonging and love for all the participants.  

Last week I wrote about how to rethink events in the new normal. Next Saturday I’m going to be discussing the Future of Experiential Marketing and Customer Experience with two very knowledgeable people – Deepali Naair, CMO, IBM India and South Asia, and Piyush Gupta, President, Kestone – as a part of Imagine, a 24 hour global virtual fund-raiser festival. You can register here

In the list of 3 topics that I had shared with my Pro Readers this is the second. The third was whether you should market to a new audience or the one you already have – it didn’t have many takers so I may just convert that into an article. Y’all tell me 🙂


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