What trends have marked 2020 and how will they evolve next year? How can companies respond to these new trends to emerge a winner from the crisis? We discussed this with Steven Van Belleghem, author, professor, entrepreneur, speaker and expert in digital customer relations.
What do you think were the main trends in 2020?
Steven Van Belleghem: “In 2020, companies had an initial phase of panic and went quickly into survival mode to deal with the corona crisis. Then came a phase when everyone understood that the situation would not end immediately and that the pandemic would bring lasting changes. So the trend of the year was the enormous digital leap that we took as a result of the corona crisis. It’s as if we stepped into a time machine which led to breakthroughs in e-commerce, working from home and digital entertainment, among other things. This far-reaching digitalisation is having an impact on every organisation and every sector. A second trend is the greater focus on the mental health and well-being of employees. This year, more than ever, everyone was under pressure and more attention is being paid to this now.”
Can you give some examples of companies that have responded well to this?
“Many organisations have realised how important it is for employees to feel good about their job. This will continue to be important even after Covid. Just think of the balance between work and private life. Companies can certainly no longer expect everyone to be in the office at 9 o’clock, especially if they want to attract top talent. For example, people want to have breakfast with the children first and they prefer to avoid traffic jams by having the flexibility to choose their working hours and location. Nevertheless, you should always think in a nuanced way. For example, for many people the car journey between work and home is a break in the day. Microsoft, which is putting a lot of internal effort into the well-being of its employees, therefore wants to add a ‘virtual commute’ function – so virtual commuting – to Teams.”
“Other companies have succeeded in adapting their business model to the new digital reality. The biggest challenge was to ensure that your offering reaches the consumer when the traditional, physical paths are blocked. For example, there is Peleton, an app for home cycling including coaching, which has suddenly become very popular. At B2B companies, the opportunities for informal contact at trade fairs and events have disappeared. Some companies have started organising online events with a lot of interaction as an alternative, and this has even led to them reaching many more people than with a physical event.”
What do you see emerging as the main trends in 2021?
“We will certainly still have to live with restrictions in the first half of 2021. Many companies will be able to reap the benefits of the preparations and modifications they made in 2020. The pandemic is expected to come to an end in the autumn. At that point, we will be able to find a balance between the old strengths and what we learned in 2020.”
What can companies do to ensure they will be ahead of the curve when the corona crisis is over?
“The trick will be to react quickly and be able to adapt fast as an organisation to new developments. Companies that can do this will be the winners in the story. Flexibility and adaptability are now essential in the search for alternative ways of approaching customers, communicating and doing business.”
Steven Van Belleghem is an expert in customer centricity in a digital world. He is internationally known as a speaker and author of marketing bestsellers. He also works as a part-time professor at Vlerick Business School and he is a partner at the consultancy firm nexxworks. During the lockdown he wrote his latest book, 'The offer you can't refuse'. In it, Steven Van Belleghem argues that the combination of automation, being a partner in the life of the customer and solving current social problems are the guiding principles for successful companies in the coming decade. All these elements combine to form an offering that customers cannot refuse.