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Post-pandemic trends from a futurist: what consumers and employees want next

Bernard Salt, one of Australia's leading social commentators on trends and business, shares how you can adapt to change and thrive.

By Martha Castro

Last updated March 23, 2022

We’ve heard it a thousand times: “the pandemic is unprecedented.” And it’s true—COVID-19 has changed the lives of billions of people around the world and many of those changes are here to stay.

The good news is that the pandemic has also shown that many businesses are able to adapt and thrive. Bernard Salt AM, one of Australia’s leading social commentators on trends, business, and society, has a hopeful view for the future.

As he shared during a recent CX Moment with Zendesk, “It could be that the coming of the coronavirus separates the world as we knew it—flawed and with faults— to the world that we want.”

Salt is a futurist who helps businesses keep up with emerging trends. Here’s what he had to say about how the pandemic has changed us, what customers want now, and what you can do to successfully adapt.

[Related read: CX and COVID-19: What agile companies are doing differently]

Bringing business to the ‘burbs

The proportion of employees working remotely is higher than ever before. In fact, data from the Pew Research Center shows that 71 percent of employed adults are working from home, compared to 20 percent before the pandemic.

Salt explains that while some workers will return to offices after the pandemic, many will continue working remotely. As a larger proportion of the workforce remains at home, more people will shop in the suburbs, or near home, instead of commuting into central business districts.

“This is a vast social experiment where we are changing the narrative of urban life,” says Salt, who recommends that businesses embrace the shift to suburbs.

Salt suggests working near home instead of from home as the pandemic restrictions continue to lift. Given that the work-from-home life still contains many distractions for some households, Salt predicts that suburban shopping centers may consider housing smaller offices to shorten the commute for suburban workforces.

While this shift is good news for suburban businesses, Salt says that small businesses located in central business districts may continue to suffer. This is because suburban residents won’t drive long distances for services offered close to home. To thrive in this new scenario, question whether you’re bringing value to your customers—why should they choose you over a competitor?

Salt presented a harsh reality: businesses that failed during the pandemic likely already struggled to keep pace with trends and bring real value to their customers.

[Related read: How to support your remote team’s mental health]

New customers looking for new experiences

As in-person interactions become scarce, services have become increasingly digital. Salt shares that customers have become more tech-savvy—even among older generations. Customers are more open to digital services going forward, whether it’s a remote doctor’s appointment or getting customer support from a bot.

Consumers also have higher expectations for customer service. They want to streamline their lives and get support wherever they are and whenever they want it. In fact, Zendesk’s 2021 CX Trends Report shows that of the 40 percent of companies that added a new communication channel last year, 53 percent turned to messaging, including apps like WhatsApp and SMS/texting, which allow companies to reach consumers in channels they already use.

“Customers have lifted the bar of expectations for the digital transformation of many customer experiences,” says Salt.

Customers have lifted the bar of expectations for the digital transformation of many customer experiences.

[Related read: Embarking on a digital transformation? Here’s how to bring your employees along]

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How to succeed in a new world

Be where your customers are

Customers want to easily reach you—whether that’s through Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or a chat widget in your website. This is why omnichannel support is crucial. Offering an array of messaging channels and a mix of traditional channels is the best way to ensure you’re reaching customers through the platforms or mediums they feel comfortable with. Salt recommends making sure your customer experience is intuitive for any age group.

He also emphasizes the importance of projecting your company’s values through every customer interaction. This might entail emphasizing accountability or your commitment to customer satisfaction. Salt says that diligent training will help agents demonstrate company values while delivering strong customer experiences.

Provide excellent online training

Salt predicts that most companies will adopt a hybrid approach that allows for both in-person and remote work. Because of this, online training will become more important than ever.

Delivering online training is not an easy task. It’s more than reading a script to a camera and sending out a video; you need to actually put time and effort into designing your program. Consider how you will successfully teach important concepts to your employees, including company values.

Hold purposeful gatherings to strengthen culture

Keeping a remote team engaged might seem daunting. Salt says that the key to this is hosting more structured corporate engagements, such as interesting conferences and training sessions. Don’t gather your employees together for the sake of it—bring them together for a definitive purpose.

Salt says that purposeful gatherings will become increasingly relevant as millennials move into managerial positions. Compared to previous generations, millennials are more focused on lifestyle and working for a company whose culture they believe in. Offering thoughtful programming is likely to keep employees more engaged.

Be empathetic

Salt shares that when he started his career, empathy was rarely discussed. Now, it has become crucial for business’ success. Make sure you empathize not only with your employees, but also with your customers.

[Related read: Building a business on customer empathy]

We also live in an era of accountability. Salt explains that recognizing wrongdoing is critical. This is not just admitting when you make mistakes, but also supporting important social causes.

“If there is a bright shining light it’s that we have recognized the need for respect for one another,” says Salt.

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