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What areas did businesses invest in to make it through the pandemic?

What areas did businesses invest in to make it through the pandemic?

Optimising digital marketing, customer experience, and employee engagement were on most companies' to-do lists

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us a lot of lessons. We have a better appreciation of our key workers, which includes NHS staff, shop workers, and transport and logistics providers. A better understanding of the spread of infectious viruses has helped individuals and businesses protect themselves and their staff.

The pandemic and subsequent lockdowns also taught businesses the importance of digital solutions that enabled remote working and collaboration. Roles that could be carried out from home made the switch. For businesses that had already invested in digitisation, this was a straightforward move. In some cases, employees were already used to home working. But for others, investment was required quickly to implement the necessary technologies. 

A McKinsey survey found that as a result of this need to adapt, businesses accelerated their digitisation by a huge seven years, highlighting one positive side-effect of the pandemic. But where have businesses been investing during this time?

Digital marketing takes the front seat
Many businesses have realised the value of digital marketing in the face of an increasingly competitive industry. This is especially true for retail and B2B organisations that have traditionally operated face-to-face. For non-essential retailers, national lockdowns meant they could only transact online. While many of these businesses were already operating in the e-commerce space, they didn’t necessarily have the same presence they held on the high street.

Online visibility has been more crucial than ever because many retailers were pushed into the online space. National lockdowns also resulted in consumers spending an extra day a month online. Online sales as a percentage of retail sales shot up by over 50 per cent between February and April 2020 from 19.1 per cent to 30.2 per cent. The last lockdown saw these sales soar further to 36.3 per cent of all retail sales.

As a result, ad spend on traditional media fell by 50 per cent. Even retailers who increased their sales during the pandemic, including Amazon, reduced their traditional media spend. Meanwhile, after an initial dip due to heavily impacted sectors postponing activity, Google’s parent company Alphabet recorded record profits. Tellingly, 81 per cent of its sales came from digital advertising.

Visibility on search engines and social media is crucial to online success. While undertaking intensive SEO work should be a long-term goal for businesses looking to increase their online market share, paid search can create some quick wins. Many businesses turned to Google Ads to increase their online visibility and sales. Then, as your business grows its online presence, paid and organic search can work together as a lucrative income channel.

Customer service goes digital
As a result of the pandemic, the McKinsey survey found that businesses in Europe increased their percentage of digital customer interactions from 32 per cent to 55 per cent. Interestingly, almost half of brands with over 20 years of longevity ranked customer engagement as their investment priority. Only 39 per cent of younger businesses, however, said the same.

The demand for digital customer service has increased in recent years and has also been accelerated by the pandemic. Businesses that don’t offer digital communication risk losing customers who will seek organisations that prioritise their experience. Of the organisations that rate themselves as excellent in delivering customer engagement, 67 per cent exceeded revenue goals in 2020. What’s more, 75 per cent of these brands are increasing their budgets in 2021.

It’s important to make sure these digital options are available to your customers even when things go back to ‘normal’. It’s widely assumed that younger customers prefer digital contact methods and their older counterparts overwhelmingly favour traditional communication. However, new research shows a third of over-65s prefer digital contact. For important interactions, the same Echo survey showed 53 per cent of people prefer to speak in person or over the phone. But for information or basic tasks like paying bills, customers prefer digital communication or online self-service options.

With all of this in mind, there’s no clear winner when it comes to how you deliver your customer service. Blending face-to-face interactions (where possible), telephone, email, live chat, and web self-service will ensure you’re meeting the expectations of a wide cross-section of customers.

Employee engagement is on the agenda
The past year has been turbulent for office-based workers. The majority were instructed to work from home in March 2020, before being encouraged to go back into the office, and were then sent home again… and so on. Business spend on digital communication and engagement tools skyrocketed, with Microsoft Teams and Zoom usage growing by 894 per cent and 677 per cent respectively between February and June 2020.

With a plan for exiting lockdown in place, many organisations are now preparing to welcome staff back to the office again after more time away. While you’ve likely got hygiene and social distancing measures in place, employee engagement is important. Especially considering over two-thirds of pandemic home-workers feel less connected to their colleagues and businesses as a result of working from home.

For colleagues returning to the office, there are a number of ways you can increase engagement and keep them up to date with company news and performance. Placing digital signage screens throughout your office that display company bulletins, performance metrics, or even industry news can help your employees feel more connected to your business. Equally, hosting regular business update sessions in your office or at another venue that incorporate team-building exercises and a social element will help your people reconnect.

If you’re one of the many businesses incorporating flexible and remote working into your long-term business plans, there are still ways to engage remote employees. Keeping your company intranet up to date is key to helping employees feel like they know what is going on with your business. Team-building activities don’t always have to take place in person, either. Virtual quizzes, movie nights, or even gaming sessions are a great way to get your remote workers involved in your company’s culture.

For businesses whose operations were brought to a standstill because of the pandemic and lockdowns, cost-saving has been essential. But for those that have continued to operate throughout multiple national lockdowns, investment in the right areas has never been more important. Businesses have prioritised digital marketing, customer experience, and employee engagement, and these areas are still key focuses as we begin to slowly return to something that looks like normal.

The author
Natasha Bougourd is a copywriter for Exterity with over seven years of experience in online writing and a background in marketing. Natasha has written about a number of topics and her interests include technology, health and fitness, social media, and football.

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