Virtual Advisory Services May Outperform On-Site Sessions

August 14, 2020

SumTotal Regional Vice President Rhys Hughes talks about building a post-pandemic strategy and discusses the five emerging digital trends businesses need to have on their radar.

By Rhys Hughes

As restrictions on society are carefully lifted across APAC and businesses take stock of where they are, many are realising the changes they have made have gone far beyond mitigating economic losses and adapting to an unprecedented lockdown. For many industries, the measures have created a more sustainable, effective and collaborative working environment.

Without a doubt, COVID-19 put many businesses into survival mode. However, the associated response also caused a global digital acceleration – from both a consumer perspective, and even more so in business. Many of these developments are now here to stay, having already triggered long-term changes to workplace practices.

As businesses start considering their strategy post-COVID, employees returning to work, and how they will continue to operate while the world is in recovery mode, they will be engaging with customers, employees and other businesses in very different ways. Here, we look at five distinct digital trends, and how businesses can adapt to them with a permanent, digitally-enabled strategy:

Virtual sales platforms will go beyond ‘online shopping’

While online shopping has been in the ascendency for years, the temporary closure of the vast majority or retail outlets to curb the pandemic has accelerated the trend and spawned new business concepts.

Some local businesses, for example, have pooled resources to create online platforms so consumers can continue to support them and provide an alternative to the major online platforms.

Lockdown has also pushed industries that traditionally rely on the in-person, on-site sales experience to innovate more aggressively. In the automotive sector, dealers have increased their reliance on virtual tools to maintain engagement with their customers. While this won’t replace the option of a test drive for many people, a large part of the research for a car purchase could permanently shift online.

Brands who offer a virtual car buying experience, for example, where buyers get a good sense of vehicle features and driving experience see a clear sales advantage, with Tesla, Audi and Hyundai among those allowing customers to completely configure their purchase online. It’s a growing trend, with everything from kitchen and furniture design to sports and fashion brands reducing or removing the need for people to shop in person.

New customer engagement frameworks increase flexibility 

While many sales personnel have been unable to work anything like their normal hours recently, call and contact centres have seen a huge increase in activity. Many industries have responded to this shift in engagement by building video-based virtual advisory services to replace on-site consultations and phone advice.

The concept is likely to endure, not least because it can offer quicker and more flexible access to consultancy expertise and appointments and extend into areas such as healthcare. This shift to online consulting means companies not only need to rethink their online concepts and technologies but refocus where they allocate their experienced specialists. Enabling them to adapt and re-train so they can offer high quality virtual advice will allow business to add virtual consultancy more effectively.

Interaction with partners and suppliers shift online

The current social distancing rules also have an impact on partners and suppliers. Historically, many industries have been cautious about adopting virtual training and negotiation processes in these relationships, instead relying on being there in person.

But in many cases, people have found that virtual sales processes, meetings or training courses have worked better than expected. Entire sales cycles have been completed in a virtual-only manner over the last few months. And while personal contact will remain important in the future, the number of meetings and the many miles travelled by people working with partners and suppliers will likely be significantly reduced. From webinars with technical instructions for installers, to onboarding new suppliers via virtual platforms and with the help of collaboration tools and video conferencing, many technologies have been able to demonstrate their practical benefits in recent weeks.

Use of technology accelerates

Digital tools and platforms have become much more important for implementing work processes without personal contact. An important step in this is the integration of business systems across company boundaries to offer more fluid cooperation with key stakeholders.

Solutions such as webinars, online training courses, collaboration platforms and other digital offers can also be used for numerous business areas and processes. The use of video conferencing solutions has exploded because the ability to communicate face to face virtually makes it possible to establish a personal connection despite the physical distance.

This trend towards increased mobile and decentralised work was already building, but the current situation has forced many companies to accelerate the process. It’s safe to assume that remote jobs will be added more quickly than planned in some areas, even when workplaces can be fully opened again.

Building digital skills remotely

While digital technologies are an important part of this transformation, it is just as important to build the skills and qualifications required among employees. A study by Skillsoft, for example, showed that 80 percent of employees in APAC say their role is being changed due to digital transformation and nearly 70 percent are concerned about not receiving the learning, development and training they need from their organisation to remain employable and skilled in the future.

Linking all these requirements together are digital HR, HCM and learning platforms, which make employee training much more flexible and can be implemented ad-hoc and from any location as required. Such systems also help to identify which employees would offer further training or retraining if, due to changes in the company – for example, a transfer of advice to online channels – some tasks or roles are eliminated and new jobs are created elsewhere. In this way, qualified employees can be nurtured for future requirements.

Ed. Featured image by Photographer Karolina Grabowska.


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