Many businesses have seen their customer journey transform and in some cases, become unrecognisable due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with digitisation and the need for social distancing giving rise to different habits and ways of doing things.

During Day Two of the Festival of Marketing 2020, Econsultancy editor Ben Davis spoke to a panel of experts from different sectors about how they had responded to this and what it would mean for their sector going forward: Inés Ures, former Chief Marketing Officer at Deliveroo; Rav Dhaliwal, Chief Marketing and Digital Officer at easyHotel; and Chi Evi-Parker, former Head of Ecommerce at Monica Vader and a consultant for a Premier League football club.

Each panellist recounted how the onset of Covid-19 had impacted the customer journey at their organisation and how in many cases, digital experiences were needed to bridge the gap. For many businesses, when the pandemic took hold, delivery companies like Deliveroo were the solution that allowed them to keep operating, as Inés Ures explained.

“If you think about food – people do not want to go to stores any more,” she said. “They want to have things delivered.” Restaurants, meanwhile, were forced to close their doors – resulting in “amazing demand, [but] no supply.” Deliveroo had to adapt on the fly, working with restaurants to communicate government regulations, and retrain its fleet of 90,000 riders to deliver orders in line with social distancing requirements.

They also implemented new options within the app to allow customers to specify how their food should be left, and branched out into new areas, including on-demand grocery delivery. The central question, said Ures, was: “How do we adjust every single step of the digital and physical journey to make consumers and restaurants feel safe?”

“What’s happening now is that the restaurant model is changing,” she added. “Restaurants are becoming delivery first, and dining second. I think it’s the beginning of a new model in the industry, overall.”

Rav Dhaliwal of easyHotel also found himself looking at a radical overhaul of the hotel experience as habits around travel changed and demand grew for a digitalised, contactless customer experience. “We have to manage what is quite rapidly a changing expectation, around two things: one is flexibility around booking, and the other is hygiene and social distancing,” he said.

“We’ve implemented new protocols for our managers and staff to follow, but we also understand that what customers want is a more unified, digitised experience. We’ve been thinking about online check-in and check-out; people want a genuinely contactless experience, and how we reassure on that will build brand, and build loyalty. What was a ‘nice to have’ in the past is being seen more as a necessity now.”

In Premier League football, meanwhile, clubs have found themselves needing to be creative in how they bring the games to fans and vice versa, often relying heavily on technology to do so. “There’s a big question of how you can get games to as many fans as possible, and also getting fans engaged in football matches as much as you can,” said Chi Evi-Parker.

“This happened, for example, through allowing fans to stream games, and encouraging them to bring some of that excitement and that community spirit into the home, by downloading kits, dressing up, and sharing that on social media.” Football clubs also worked to ‘transport’ fans into the arena, via live video fan walls and virtual mascots, in order to give players the psychological boost of having supporters present (in some form) during the match.

Ben Davis speaks to Chi Evi-Parker, Rav Dhaliwal and Inés Ures on a stage at the Festival of Marketing.

Chi Evi-Parker, Rav Dhaliwal and Inés Ures discussed the changing customer journey with Econsultancy Editor Ben Davis during Day Two of the Festival of Marketing. (Image: Festival of Marketing)

A lasting change to the customer journey

While earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic there was a general expectation that things would go ‘back to normal’ before too long, there is now a growing acknowledgement that we will see lasting change to industries, customer expectations and consumer habits as a result of the coronavirus. Each of the panellists speculated about what form that could take and what brands should do to cater to it.

“We’ve certainly seen a reshaping of demand [in the travel and hotel industry],” EasyHotel’s Rav Dhaliwal said. “We know that international and domestic corporate travel has depleted, due to macro-level factors and also reshaping of demand through things like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, et cetera.”

However, there has been a significant increase in customer demand for certain types of experience: “The ‘staycation’ element of holidaying, this year, has seen us exceed our expectations for occupancy. What we’ve seen is a shift away from short-stay corporate travel and more into short-stay leisure. How that evolves over the short to medium term, of course, is the big unknown – but if we have those fundamentals in place, and can service those customers well, when the other segments come back, we’ll have a track record of delivery through a really tough period.”

Inés Ures predicted that many more experiences in future will revolve around the home and living spaces. “It’s going to become the centre of everything you do. For example, if you think about personal training, people are doing it digitally, virtually … if you think about food, people want to have food delivered. In retail, many retailers are closing their high street stores and saying, ‘We want do more ecommerce’.” She also foresees an increase in businesses, particularly start-ups, that will cater to this new area of demand.

In Premier League football, Evi-Parker talked about the importance of social media for gauging fan sentiment and (by extension) changing demand for different types of products. “Football is starting to think more about capturing what customers want, and thinking about future products,” she said.

“While being at the match was foremost for most fans, and the biggest driver in what they purchase, clubs are starting to think about what other value they can offer customers to encourage them to part with their money and to feel like they’re getting value from a membership or season ticket, or whatever else it may be. … Clubs are starting to think about where else in the value chain they can offer more to customers, whether that’s through interactivity, whether that’s through digital products, personalised services outside of matches … The ceiling is limitless.”

Evi-Parker also spoke to the importance of prioritising the customer over the channel when building an omnichannel strategy and meeting customers where they are. “For me, what’s important is understanding that customer journey as a whole, and then building experiences that serve the needs of that customer.”

She cautioned against treating digital as a “tick-box”, saying: “I said before that football clubs need to start thinking about digital product, but actually, what they need to start thinking about is product. Because we’re in 2020, digital is of course going to be part of that, but the danger is when you start trying to tick boxes by saying, ‘We need a digital product because this is the digital era’ – you potentially lose the focus, which should be: What does the customer actually want? How is your product delivering to that?

“I think it’s less around focusing on the channel, and more around looking at how the customer is today, and delivering to how the customer behaves today.”

Browse the Festival of Marketing tag for more of our coverage from five jam-packed days of marketing learning and insight.