The dictionary defines “reactive” as “reacting to events and situations rather than acting first to change or prevent something.” When you look at it that way, 2020 was the very essence of reactive. Of course, no one could have predicted a global pandemic that put virtually the entire world on lockdown.

But now that we’re halfway through 2021, brands should be shifting from reactive to proactive. From here on out, the key to success is using 2020’s lessons to create a proactive customer experience — and a holistic offer management strategy is a great way to do it.

When COVID first struck, businesses had to find ways to keep people employed while changing their operational models to align with a drastically different new normal. For restaurants, it meant creating or expanding to-go and curbside options, hiring more delivery drivers, creating or upleveling a mobile ordering process, and keeping in touch with loyal customers. Restaurants that already had some of these features in place were naturally ahead of the curve, but every single business had to make some kind of adjustment.

One of the biggest things that brands tried to do was create unique promotions to stand out. For example, Chipotle created the award-winning campaign Chipotle Together, which brought celebrities and foodies together for a “group lunch” on Zoom and Instagram Live. In addition to giving people a way to feel connected, Chipotle gave away nearly 50,000 burritos — and the campaign is credited for helping to drive Chipotle’s 216% increase in year-over-year digital sales in Q2 2020.

But no matter how creative your campaign is, it can only work if you have a reliable way to communicate it to your customers. Unfortunately, many brands learned the hard way that they had no way to reach out to their most loyal customers or share any personalized offers. Having a CRM and an offer management platform before the pandemic would have prevented them from lagging so far behind when disaster struck.

So how do you turn the tide and act proactively?

The biggest thing brands can do right now is recognize the full impact of the accelerated digital transformation that COVID created. We’re now at a point where digital channels, data analysis, and customer engagement have all come together. Cutting-edge technology is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-have.

Customers now expect seamless, fast, and personalized digital service, and the right integrated platform can provide both. Brands also need real-time data that can help them make faster, smarter decisions. Part of that means having visibility into all locations and being able to create location-specific promotional campaigns if needed. It also means being able to calculate campaign ROI in real-time and having protections in place to combat coupon fraud. Brands also need to be able to communicate with customers on the channel they prefer and can create instant win-back offers if needed.

Loyalty programs and offer campaigns that are based on a carefully crafted strategy are particularly proactive because they actively encourage customers to engage on a regular basis. Additionally, the right offer management strategy will collect data about customer preferences, which gives brands a simple way to create more personalized experiences. The right offer management strategy will also include single-use codes that eliminate fraud and protect bottom lines.

The key here is strategy. After all, being proactive means “creating or controlling a situation by causing something to happen, rather than responding to it after it happens” — including having solutions to challenges that haven’t happened yet. Building a loyalty program on the fly, mass distributing coupons without any regard to specific audience segments, and mailing out coupons as a mea culpa when customers are dissatisfied are all reactive. They’re symptomatic of a brand that isn’t on a digital transformation journey and, instead, is simply trying to tread water.

Brands that have already undergone a digital transformation can see quantifiable impacts. For example, &pizza was leveraging offer management and marketing automation solutions long before COVID. They never lost communication with their customers, which meant that they weren’t scrambling during the lockdown. With a communication solution already in place, they were able to create other solutions, like increasing hourly wages $1, expanding sick leave, giving free pizza to employees and their families, and waiving the health insurance waiting period for new employees.

In today’s world, leveraging the right technology helps you proactively meet customer expectations, improve efficiency, gather vital information about your customers, and learn about issues before they have a chance to snowball into giant problems. If you’re not scrambling to react, your customers will be happier and you’ll be more confident. It’s a win-win.

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