Keeping things ‘low-touch’

  • Economy
  • Saturday, 23 May 2020

Tan Boon Yow (pic) of Ernst & Young Advisory Services says a “low touch” economy may likely be the new norm in the near future, at least until a cure or vaccine is found.

AS consumers become more cautious about their safety in public and work spaces, there will be a need for companies to rethink and re-evaluate their practices and processes to accommodate new concerns.

Businesses will need to consider how they can minimise human-to-human interactions to prevent exposure to the virus.

Tan Boon Yow of Ernst & Young Advisory Services says a “low touch” economy may likely be the new norm in the near future, at least until a cure or vaccine is found.

This will certainly pave the way for the adoption of emerging technology as companies look for new ways to deploy their products and services.

“New technologies and innovations often find their footing during times of crisis. The current crop of emerging technologies is no different. So Covid-19 will spur rapid technology innovation and adoption, rise in demand of contactless technology and potentially change the working world, ” says Tan.

Already, there is greater demand for contactless payments, delivery services and video-conferencing.

Going ‘low touch’ doesn’t necessarily mean that you lose having a personal connection with your customers, adds PwC South-East Asia Consulting partner Michael Graham.

“Many digital businesses are already operating in a ‘low touch’ way and invest a lot of time in getting that experience working for the consumer, the subscriber, the viewer, or the reader.

“If these alternative or low touch interactions matter to the customer experience, then companies need to be very mindful to design these experiences in such a way that does not detract or even possibly enhances it, ” he says.

However, the ‘low touch’ economy will impact different industries and businesses differently.

For example, online travel agencies, although digital by nature, were the first to be impacted as people cancelled bookings, reservations and other travel arrangements.

Similarly, orders of car-hailing services fell sharply because people were required to stay at home during the movement control order (MCO).

On the other hand, e-commerce platforms for fresh food have become popular as people rush to buy all kinds of necessities. But Tan points out that this also faces considerable risk as they involve people-to-people contact in the last-mile delivery.

Rather, Tan notes that there are many other factors that will shape or influence the new normal as businesses emerge from the lockdown.

“In the midst of a major crisis, the natural instinct is to double down on the now.

“When your enterprise’s survival is at stake, responding to immediate threats takes on outsize importance.

“While that’s understandable, it is also critical to keep one eye on the beyond, for the simple reason that large crises reshape the long-term competitive landscape.

The world on the other side of the crisis may look very different, with different norms, rules, competitors and value propositions, ” says Tan.

He advises companies to consider their strategy across the “now, next and beyond” horizons.

Businesses ought to take steps now to stabilise their business, maintain continuity and manage the crisis.

This includes customer and brand protection, short-term finance management, supply chain management, workforce management and employee health, and legal and contract dispute resolution.

Next, they will need to focus on building enterprise resilience to ensure they will be prepared across all functions if the crisis continues.

“Companies will also need to imagine the beyond by understanding the ‘new normal’ that will emerge beyond the crisis and reframing their future to align with it, ” he says.

And with the possibility of work-from-home continuing post-Covid-19, companies will need to start planning their workforce operating model, technology enablement and information security to accommodate this new working norm.

Companies could also gain competitive advantage by adopting emerging automation technologies, such as robotics and artificial intelligence.

“However, technologies that enable remote work and teaming also raise the risk of isolation and loneliness, which may negatively impact individual well-being and productivity.

“So, organisations will need to balance technology adoption with creative approaches to maintain a sense of community and meaning, ” adds Tan.

As new technology enables new as well as reshapes existing business models, companies should also keep track of how customers behave in the new normal.

“The discontinuities of crises like the Covid-19 pandemic create urgent new needs and new, large customer problems to solve which is a huge innovation opportunity.

“As some big players retrench and focus on their most valuable customers, nimble innovators will find space to offer cheaper, ‘good enough’ solutions that gain market traction. Entrepreneurs are already beginning to innovate for the new normal.

“The pandemic appears poised to unleash sweeping changes – reshaping the global economy, unleashing technological innovation, redefining society and companies’ role in it, and altering consumers’ needs and behaviors.

“Leaders should ensure they have dedicated teams responsible for tracking its long-term effects and thinking about the new normal, ” says Tan.

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