In 2015, when I spoke at the Australian Private Hospitals Association conference, I spoke about TUG, an autonomous robot that moves around a hospital, carrying food and equipment to wards.
In March this year, when I spoke at the ITAC (Innovative Technology in Aged Care) conference, I shared some other robot innovations, including “Stevie”, the interactive robot that’s brightening up aged care homes:
Although robots have continued to find their way into healthcare settings, their takeup has been slow, and they are still the exception, not the norm. Even if they are ultimately more efficient and cost-effective, there’s still some effort in starting to use them. So they are generally seen as a “nice to have”.
Then, just last week, Boston Dynamics announced a new role for their robot dog “Spot”:
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Spot now has a new job: frontline healthcare worker. With an iPad and a two-way radio strapped to it, Spot can help a doctor remotely diagnose and treat coronavirus patients from a distance, keeping the humans safe from infection. This is vital in the USA, where a shortage of protective equipment is putting these frontline healthcare workers at risk.
Before the pandemic, Spot would still have been in the “nice to have” category: quirky and possibly useful, but not essential. But now that it’s serving a more immediate and urgent need, its role has been elevated to “need to have”.
The same applies to other products and services.
As we’re getting some control over the initial wave of the virus in Australia, and starting to see some easing of the restrictions, many people are looking ahead to returning to “normal”. That’s good, but don’t expect things to be exactly the way they always were.
When you stretch a rubber band and let it go, it doesn’t return to exactly the way it was before. In a similar way, in a post-pandemic world, you’ll find that customers have changed, and their preferences have changed.
In particular, some things that were “nice to have” might now be “need to have” – and vice versa.
- Online ordering: Because of the shutdown, many retail stores had to work frantically to add online ordering (what we used to call “e-commerce”) to their websites. Many customers will still choose that option, even when physical stores can open again.
- At-home services: Similarly, many restaurants and cafes have now started offering takeaway, home delivery, and even cooking classes. Of course, many customers will flock back to those premises when they can, but they might still want those at-home services as well.
- Flexible work: For the last few years, employees – especially younger employees – have been asking for more flexible working hours and the ability to work from home. Many employers have been dragging their feet on allowing this flexibility, but have now been forced to do it. The demand for flexible work won’t disappear when offices open again.
What will be a “need to have” for YOUR future customers?
As you start planning ahead, ask these three questions about how the post-pandemic customer might change your business:
- What “nice to have” products or services have become “need to have” (necessary)?
- What did customers “need to have” that turned out not to be necessary after all?
- How can we start planning now to get ready for this future?
If you don’t know the answers, ask your customers. Many organisations talk about being customer-centric, and the best way to do that is to involve your customers more in your business.