Over lockdown, video chat became part of everyday life. Now it has the power to fundamentally change the way we work. If only we can capitalise on it.
Just a few weeks out of lockdown and it's amazing how quickly things have returned to "normal". I no longer hold my breath as I walk past people in the supermarket. And I've stopped giggling with joy every time I leave my driveway.
But there are two changes in behaviour that are here to stay - hand hygiene and video chat. From now on, I'll happily accept hand sanitiser whenever offered. And I'll also accept invitations to video meetings; maybe not happily, but certainly without the trepidation I used to feel.
The world has undergone a radical and sudden shift towards video chat. You've heard the stats - last year Zoom made $200,000, this year they could make US$2 billion ($3.05b). Webex has tripled its users. And even Microsoft is in on the action - this VP predicted that Teams will be bigger than Windows.
But it's not the technology that's changed, it's us. Video chat has been around for decades - it just took a pandemic to get over the awkwardness of seeing our faces beamed back at us. Yes, the lags suck and it's weird that my clients can see into my living room. But now everyone you know is on Zoom, as well as everyone you want to know. The shift has happened - the question is how are you going to take advantage of it?
Think about it. New Zealand has always suffered the tyranny of distance, and that's put a dampener on our global ambitions. We dream of how different things would be if we were in Silicon Valley or Shenzen. But distance is now irrelevant - after social distancing, the world is equally remote. You should back yourself to get anyone on a Zoom call, no matter where they are.
But the real benefit of this shift is the time we can save. How much time have we all wasted trying to get all the right people in a room, or on a ship, or in the wharenui? Since the dawn of civilisation, humans have been arranging big meetings. If we want to get agreement, we have to get everyone together. And so we accept the inevitable delays and stretch out our timelines. Take the Treaty of Waitangi for instance - you may think it was signed on February 6, but it actually took almost a year to collect all the signatures and moko – not to mention the 180 years we've spent trying to make sense of what was signed (but that's a different story).
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Prior to Covid, we were still operating under the belief that we cannot make progress without proximity. Yes, we can do a status meeting over Zoom but the big presentation? The conference? The global briefing? That has to be done in person. Buy the flights. Book the hotel. Block out a week in your calendar.
Now it seems there is no limit to what we can do with video calls. We've seen court trials over Zoom, parliamentary meetings over Zoom, as well as Zoom speed dating which naturally leads to Zoom weddings. Healthcare is next: the last industry to still use fax machines is getting a much-needed reboot with remote consultations and wearable diagnostic devices the new frontier.
But if there's one sector that could really benefit from video chat, it's online retail. We all know the power of human connection when it comes to making a sale. That's why salespeople race to welcome us as we enter the store. But at the moment, your online visitors are wandering around your online store without seeing a face, let alone making a connection.
Video chat could solve the biggest headache for online retailers: abandoned carts. We've all done it - you find something you love online, you add it to your cart, and then: You. Just. Can't. Bring. Yourself. To. Buy. Now. There's some unresolved question in your mind. And so you just leave. This doesn't happen in the real world where you can examine the product, and ask for help. Video chat will help to bridge the gap between your world and the world of your customer.
If I was a retailer today, I'd be asking "how can I get my salespeople to connect with my online customers, as engagingly as with customers in-store?" I'd want visitors to my site to see that there's a live person there - waiting to answer their question. This will require true integration of your online and offline operations, but I believe it could be the way to unlock the power of your team and increase conversions – it could even be a major driver of a new wave of retail employment.
Every company wants to eliminate inefficiency and reduce costs. It turns out the biggest inefficiency was staring us in the face all along – the need to close the deal in person. Now with the mass adoption of video chat, we can shorten our timelines and ramp up our ambition.
- Haydn Kerr is creative partner at Tribal Worldwide NZ, and digital creative director at DDB NZ.