Our lives have changed dramatically since the coronavirus outbreak. Aside from the threat to our health and wellbeing, unemployment, financial insecurity, and social isolation are just some of the burdens humans around the world are carrying. And on an economic level, the International Monetary Fund has predicted the worst economic crisis since the 1930’s depression.1
In the UK, social distancing restrictions have weighed down business revenues, job opportunities and salaries. A recent YouGov survey found that 44% of Britons feel less financially secure – with over a third saying their savings have taken a knock (36%), 35% saying they are earning less and 16% saying their debts have increased.2
Beyond these financial stresses – a fear of the unknown, and feelings of isolation and loneliness are affecting the holistic physical and mental wellbeing of many individuals. Even though the lockdown rules have been relaxed and some are returning to work, humans are unable to connect or socialise in ways we are used to.
The depth of the impact is such that these factors may even change our behaviours, attitudes and needs forever.
Adapting to a contactless world
Many businesses are adjusting by moving towards more ‘touchless’ operations, products and services. This extends from introducing contactless retail and banking offerings, to accelerating digital transformation initiatives, with the goal of making both customer-facing and internal processes as digital as possible.
In most organisations, there has been a massive upswing in virtual meetings and events. The videoconferencing platform Zoom, for example, now has more than 300 million daily meeting participants;3 and the group reported revenue growth of 169% during the first quarter of 2020.4
This major shift towards digital interaction brings with it the risk that our communications become too impersonal and we lose sight of the importance of human contact for our overall wellbeing.
Why does human contact matter?
Human beings are social beings. Over the ages, we have depended upon and collaborated with each other in order to survive challenging environmental conditions. According to Agustín Fuentes, a University of Notre Dame anthropologist, social connections have not only kept humans safe over time, but also enabled us to overcome challenges and solve problems by putting our heads together. Our ancestors developed stone tools through collaboration and created materials that allowed us to communicate and share insights through art. Connecting is critical. “It helps keep us alive,” Fuentes explains.5
The need to build connections with each other is deep-seated; and a lack of social interaction can lead to many problems, including loneliness. Today, loneliness is a risk factor for developing health problems, with studies revealing that isolation and poor social connections are “as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”6 It’s therefore concerning that close to a quarter of adults felt lonely during lockdown in the UK.7
Despite the recent easing of lockdown restrictions, social distancing rules could impact the quality of human interactions for some time to come. According to a group of Harvard scientists, we may be dealing with social distancing in some form until 2022. This is due to the fact that further waves of COVID-19 infections could occur down the line.8
Additionally, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions will be stuck at home – often in isolation – until a vaccine or treatment becomes available. This has a particular impact on older people who are often less confident using technology.
How can brands engage in a touchless environment?
All these issues considered, a fully contactless business may not be an ideal approach in the coming months and years. Customers, even in the B2B space, are human beings – and thus appreciate opportunities to connect and have real conversations. Just as human survival over the centuries has relied on trusting and supportive relationships, we need to continue collaborating and connecting to help each other as we navigate the new normal.
Of course, this is going to be challenging when many marketing functions are facing substantial budget constraints. In a March 2020 Gartner survey, more than 75% of marketing leaders said they expected to see a moderate or significant decrease in their 2020 marketing budgets as a result of the pandemic.
At the same time, many B2B marketing teams that have traditionally relied on in-person interactions like trade shows and events to generate new leads and increase brand awareness, must now re-imagine their approaches. These engagement channels are not currently available and may not be for some time to come.
As your business lays foundations for the months ahead, it is essential that your sales and marketing efforts take account of the need to maintain valuable human connections:
Create more listening opportunities
As our world has changed, so have customer needs. Now is a time to take a fresh approach and gain a thorough understanding of how the crisis has impacted your customers’ businesses – as well as the new risks and challenges they face going forward. While it’s not possible to meet face-to-face, you can add a really impactful, personal touch to your customer experience with a simple phone call.
Support each other:
You also need to find out how you can support your customers’ businesses going forward. Give your customers an opportunity to share their thoughts and feelings on how this could work and develop a shared strategy for the path ahead. Make sure that this is an ongoing process so that you stay in tune with your valued client base as their needs evolve.
Businesses big and small have been dealt a blow during the health crisis. During this sensitive time, you need to communicate with care. When speaking to business owners or key decision-makers over the phone or via video call, remember that these individuals are likely shouldering a great amount of stress and responsibility. Make sure the people who hold these conversations have the skills and experience to do so with compassion.
Right now, there’s an opportunity to build stronger, more genuine connections with customers as we all pull together to get through this rebuilding phase. Hopefully, the crisis will give way to kinder and more supportive ways of conducting business.
Can we help?
If you would like your customers to have a human voice to guide and reassure them at a time of great uncertainty, we can help. From providing caring, responsive customer support, high-performance lead generation and virtual sales to kick start your recovery, or expert account management of your key clients’ needs, we offer a wide range of flexible phone-based services.
If you would like to discuss how to integrate human interaction within your sales and marketing approach, get in touch today.