While customers are re-evaluating what they really need and what they can do without, within the lockdown period, companies are hoping that post the lockdown things will get kick-started. But, it’s not exactly that simple!
In the beginning of March 2020, Pradeep Parmeswaran CEO of Uber was clear that the pandemic would transform business as usual. Uber, the company, touted as the most disruptive thing that had ever happened to transportation, was itself being disrupted. The fear of infection and lockdowns the world over had driven cars off the road. A month and a half later, the situation is even worse. All forms of transportation have been badly hit as planes, trains, ships and road transport that move things and people have come to a grinding halt.
But, interestingly, on 14 April, Uber announced that it has launched Uber Essentials to supply urgently needed products to customers, the drivers would be trained in health and hygiene practices so that customers continue to trust Uber. Further the company has also launched UberMedic making Uber’s wide network of drivers available to healthcare authorities so that they can arrange transportation for frontline healthcare providers to and from their homes as well to healthcare and medical facilities. UberMedic cars are fitted with a roof-to-floor plastic sheeting enclosing the driver, which acts as a protective barrier to limit contact between the driver and the rider. Drivers will be given Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), including hand sanitisers, gloves, face masks and disinfectant sprays. The drivers will be well-trained in COVID-19 related safety protocols, such as not allowing riders to sit in the front passenger seat. Getting customers back, is therefore about building new services that can adapt to customer needs.
The past few years have been a study in contrasts. As information proliferated across the world so did fake news, as global wealth increased so did inequality, as consumption increased so did pollution and a large reduction in biodiversity.
A lot of these have been quantifiable, for instance we can see the pollution, we can see the inequality and feel the stress of constantly staying connected. But, something else much bigger has happened. We don’t seem to trust anything anymore. When a company releases an ad or someone pitches a new product, we are cynical about what is on offer. A significant absence of trust in institutions, in large companies and almost everything else. The recent crisis has highlighted the gaps in various ways. The unfulfilled promise of grocery deliveries, the creaking healthcare systems, online learning that doesn’t work and more.
Once the lockdown opens, we will need not just active factories, offices and supply chains but a re-imagining of services. Trust and traceability are going to play an enormous role in the Post Covid world. For instance, customers driven by the need to stay well and healthy want to know where their food comes from, how was it grown, nutritional components and if it can be delivered in a safe and hygienic manner.
Nestle’s CEO Suresh Narayanan said at ET-GBS, ‘The food business is being disrupted, not just in terms of reach, delivery and access but disruptions in terms of the demand for more authenticity, more trustworthiness, greater safety. All of these are probably going to, change the way in which we have food.”
Yesterday Nestlé, announced that it will be expanding its use of blockchain technology, through its membership with the IBM Food Trust Blockchain Initiative, to the company’s luxury coffee brand Zoégas. Nestlé launched select editions of Zoégas whole beans and roast & ground coffee in Sweden with the ‘Summer 2020’ range being a 100% Rainforest Alliance certified blend of arabica coffee beans from three origins – Brazil, Rwanda and Colombia. Through blockchain-recorded data, buyers of the coffee will now be able to trace their coffee back to the different origins.
In addition to customer expectations around trust and traceability, there are new processes that need to be established keeping in mind social distancing, facial recognition and customer tracking. The big concerns stem from health and safety and the new protocols that needs to be Safety first, Contactless and thereby largely Digital. These will transform work, life and consumption in radically different ways. Suddenly, 3D printing does not seem like an exotic technology looking for problems, but a practical way to address short and medium-term challenges. There will be many more things that can be addressed by innovative thinking. Sector after sector is now exploring how their services need to be redefined, and new solutions are emerging.
So, while we await the opening up, we need to reconsider what the new retail, new food, new transport, new tech and new work will be like. Not back to what we did earlier, because there is no going back to the way we were, but an opportunity to redesign and recreate a responsive and better experience.