As Covid inverts our behavior, design new experiences for the future

July 21, 2020

It is no secret that Covid inverts our behavior. If you cast your mind back to the world before the pandemic, we freely enjoyed the most everyday and even luxurious experiences without thoughts of space, logistics, and fear.
Whether it was a 5 star mini break, shopping in the high street, gathering with strangers at experiential events, or meeting friends over sharing plates at the latest pop-up restaurant, these were all characterised by varying levels of personal and attentive levels of human attention.
The more premium the experience, the more human connection or service you expected, and got. More attention from the airline steward in club class, an abundance of staff to assist your hotel stay from beginning to end, and more friends and strangers to sit and stand cheek by jowl with.
Most experiences involved digital at some point in the journey, but were also defined by the personal, real-world and even experiential interactions.
Fast forward to July 2020 and what now defines a desirable experience, is very different. Partly this has been caused by the background anxiety of economic uncertainty, but it also feels like our aspirations and priorities have, at least in the short to mid-term, shifted. As they change so does our mental model.
Take for instance grocery shopping. Pre Covid-19 the aspiration and ideal would be to lavish time and money on finding the perfect ingredients, from artisan shops. However, in April 2020, the ultimate, most coveted and most brag worthy possession, was securing a weekly delivery slot.
It seems that Covid inverted our behaviour and the rules that have for so long stood to represent the best of customer experience. In order for businesses to thrive and survive they need to rapidly adapt, embrace technology and become even more creative.
Here are four behaviours that have become inverted, and that you should consider when designing for customers.

Personal to human-less

The more premium pre-Covid experiences often came with a heavy amount of the personal touch. Conversely the less premium ones were much more, or even completely reliant, on digital channels and tools. Once, checking into a 5 Star Hotel would have meant interacting with a multitude of staff from being greeted at the door to having your bags placed into your room.
Now the human-free experience of the less premium end of the hotel sector, reliant on apps and kiosks feels ultimately more desirable. This new desire to remain distant or absent from human interaction means businesses in all sectors like travel, hospitality, entertainment and retail need to rethink how they can use digital-only experiences feel just as premium.
In the UK, Harrods have recently replicated their luxury experience of the personal shopper, by offering its most valued customers the ability to have the same experience via Zoom. This trend of “remote clienteling” is growing.

Experiencing with the masses, to safety in numbers

Tapping into our need to convene with others en masse, has long been the bedrock of memorable experiences. Many of us spent our time gathering to watch our favourite sports team, cramming into festivals, huddling into bars or participating in experiences around content.
It’s clear that it will be some time- if ever- before the majority of consumers feel comfortable to go back to this behaviour and brands in this space need to think about modifying their experiences to keep themselves relevant and safe.
Secret Cinema is a great example of a brand that has done just that. Their initial reaction to Covid was to use virtual zoom parties and community participation on Facebook to replicate their real-world experiences. In a second stage to their strategy, they have looked back to the 1950s and set-up a real-world, in person drive-in experience, that allows fans to feel part of a crowd but from the safety of their own cars.

As Covid inverts our behavior, design new experiences for the future 1

Spontaneity to calculated fun

Spontaneous consumer behaviour has long been a route of opportunity for many brands.
Pop-up restaurants and bars turned the fact that demand outstripped their ability to supply to their advantage, by making the act of queuing a sign of your commitment to hunt down and wait for the most unique of nights out.
Reduced venue capacities and safety fears mean that consumers are now less likely to act in the spur of the moment and brands need to design experiences accordingly.
The recent uplift in pre-ordering, pre-booking, contactless payment, and paying for fast track access, now provides more confidence rather than just convenience, meeting the needs of the more careful, forward planning consumer.
There are companies producing queuing management systems to place people in virtual queues, and notifying them of the best time to enter a store or train, minimising the risk of interacting with crowds and others.

City living to wide open spaces

Perhaps the most fundamental shift, has been realising that being near or in the cities that once offered us the opportunity to work and play, might not be as aspirational as it once was.
Pre Covid, a short commute, allowed going out, and not staying in our relatively small homes relatively easy. The decision to move out of cities to the suburbs, was a move often precipitated by a growing family unit and came with the trade-off of more space and less noise with a longer commute and less access to culture.
Months of enforced working from home has given us a much higher appreciation of the space inside and outside our homes and made the location we want to live in, less driven by the length of our commute.
All companies need to look at this trend, when designing future offices and recruitment strategies and those reliant on people travelling to access their cultural spaces, need to think about how remote and digital access can be just as rewarding for them and their customers.
The inverted behaviour of consumers during the period of Covid-19 has disrupted long held mental models and mean that we all need to look at redesigning some well-established and successful experiences.
However, simply putting a Covid aware sticker on your door or digital services is probably not enough to ensure long term success.
To do that we need to look at how technology and digital can augment, and in some customer journeys replace, the human to deliver experiences. We need to reevaluate the number of interactions from A-B and most importantly realize that what once was mass and low margin might in the near future, be our new premium.

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The Cultural Hacking Studio specializes in boosting organizational transformation by designing change strategies, transformation roadmaps, and cultural visions. It combines change management, organizational design, upskilling, organizational behavior, and talent engagement, focusing on crafting cultures of empowered people that help organizations reach their purpose and business goals.