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From Where We Sit

‘Get to know your customer again’

Anton Ng

The global coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, which resulted to self-isolation and economic uncertainty, is possibly changing the way people avail of products and services. Businesses face the risk of becoming irrelevant to their customers if the former fails to understand changing consumer behavior and priorities brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is very critical to understand the customers’ side. Mid-market businesses need to assess whether they are still on the right track to understand and meet customers’ changing needs.

Agility is essential in a rapidly moving commercial landscape, and right data analytics can help you with a real-time overview of customer dynamics especially when consumer activities pick up. The question is, do you make use of tools to help you get a better handle on customer dynamics? Social media monitoring can help you measure customer sentiment. On the other hand, personal data analysis may help you identify key trends for your business and identify income drops or sudden increase in expenditures.

Even if there are tools to aid us in obtaining customer insights, customer interaction and communication remain more valuable than ever from both basic survival and future trends perspective.

Ian Pascoe, chief executive officer and managing partner at Grant Thornton Thailand, said: “Working much closer with your customers is critical. Engagement is vitally important. You’ve got to over-communicate and not hide things. Really engage with customers and if there is a problem come out and say, ‘There is a problem, but we are working on a plan’.”

All possible engagement channels must be used to measure the mood of customers and understand issues they face. They can provide opportunities to offer solutions and highlight the brand. Pascoe said: “It is about looking at new ways of doing things and making sure that your name is still out there, so it doesn’t disappear.”

The decline of physical meetings presents challenges to relationships. However, alternative interactions such as video calling, prove to have benefits of their own and with people spending less time travelling there is more time to make those calls. Pascoe said: “When you’re talking to clients in their homes, it’s almost a better personal relationship you’re building. And now that people are used to and increasingly expect to see people on video, you’re able to potentially offer a better service because you can bring relevant people in from anywhere in the world.”

It is also important to improve digital engagement with consumers as communications need to work particularly hard most especially in the retail sector. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, you can walk in any mall in Makati, Ortigas or Quezon City and have a strong sense of branding. There are times when you occasionally want to fit whatever is on display.

Digital engagement would include how you communicate to your customers online, the messaging you imply, and the total online shopping experience. All of these provide a huge difference.

People around the world are rapidly turning to technology, which is providing new opportunities for those that have a robust online presence. In the Philippines, a lot of people now rely on e-commerce or online shopping. During the pandemic, almost 30 percent of Filipinos bought items online several times a month most especially during the 11-11 or for the upcoming 12-12 sale events. Most of the buyers were within the age range of 35 to 44. These consumers bought food, groceries, basic toiletries and hygiene products for home necessities. For most of the Filipinos who have access to online shopping platforms, it is safer and more convenient to buy online.

It is also important to take digital channels to your advantage to have access to customers beyond your borders. The geographical constraints for professional services are no longer issues because digitalization enables more cross border advice and consultancy. Pallavi Bakhru, chartered accountant at Grant Thornton India in New Delhi, said: “That geographical line that we all had for services, where you felt that the person should sit across from you in person and talk, all that is changing. There is going to be a larger market for service providers. If you are an architect, for example, you could advise on design to anybody, in any part of the world, and for clients, there’ll be more competitive services available. Suddenly, talent will become a premium; as a customer, you’ll go to the best or the most affordable available.”

As of now, the future is still uncertain. Businesses need to retune their customer retention strategies and operations to meet the current landscape. It is important for businesses to adjust to their customers, and not the customers to the businesses. With an ever-changing economic and societal norm, it is also critical to understand what your customers are doing and feeling. The question as to why they are doing and feeling those things has never been more important. Businesses need to know where there are customer opportunities and be prepared to engage with clarity and purpose. They will need to receive as well as they broadcast; to listen as well as they speak.

Anton Ng is a partner of the Audit and Assurance Division of P&A Grant Thornton. P&A Grant Thornton is one of the leading audit, tax, advisory, and outsourcing firms in the Philippines with 24 partners and more than 900 staff members. We’d like to hear from you! Tweet us: @GrantThorntonPH, like us on Facebook: P&A Grant Thornton, and email your comments to or For more information, visit our website:


As published in The Manila Times, dated 18 November 2020