Despite the introduction of a new Tier 4 category in the UK and Christmas being effectively cancelled for many, the positive news about vaccine trials and rollout has given some hope to the public and buoyed stock markets, as an end to the COVID-19 crisis looks increasingly within sight. While the beginning of the vaccine rollout is good news, of course, it may not be the silver bullet that organisations and society are expecting. So what challenges might exist?
Here, we explore the obstacles the vaccine rollout faces of achieving the target goal of mass immunisation and a return to normality1. We then look at the factors that will need to be considered when designing customer and employee experiences – and, if the rollout takes longer than planned, how organisations can balance the short and long-term challenges this will create.
Challenges for a vaccine rollout
Spring 2021 has often been quoted by the media as a target for when we might start to see some steady return to normality following a vaccine rollout. However, two broad challenges exist.
First, there are already well-documented logistical complexities2 around the production, distribution and rollout of a vaccine, which could extend these timeframes.
Second, public attitudes will also play a critical role. Encouraging uptake among the UK population will be vital if the rollout is to be achieved within an optimal timeframe. Breaking down public attitudes, there are four main personas that exist, with three segments in particular likely to be slower to commit to a vaccine.
The four major attitudes towards a COVID vaccine
If logistical difficulties and public attitude have an adverse impact on rollout timeframes, then the challenge for organisations is simple: anyone vaccinated earlier in the process is likely to expect a return to freedom, but social restrictions would need to remain for those lower down on the priority list. It is this potential imbalance in vaccination status within the population that could cause significant challenges for customer and employee experiences, particularly if timeframes extend beyond next spring.
Challenges for the customer experience
The potential imbalance of vaccinated and unvaccinated customers will cause challenges for organisations around refining their customer strategy, designing day-to-day customer experiences and establishing brand messaging.
Diverging experiences are likely to emerge in 2021, with both the UK and Irish governments considering relaxing restriction for individuals who are vaccinated. The UK has already launched vaccinated cards for those who have received the jab, something that organisations could integrate into their own customer journeys to design bespoke offers and experiences for vaccinated customers.
How could customer experiences look different for people who are vaccinated?
Organisations will need to be wary of the brand impact this could create. These diverging experiences creates inequality for the rest of the population awaiting a jab, and there has been backlash to news stories such as Ticketmaster is exploring a vaccine verification policy for festival attendance3 and Qantas considering only flying vaccinated passengers.
Another factor for organisations to consider in designing their journeys is the growth of rapid testing, with Birmingham trialling same-day tests4 to help reopen the hospitality industry. While this can overcome segregating consumers, it still creates additional friction in the experience for people who have yet to receive a vaccine, and organisations will need to consider what pain points this may create.
Not all situations will allow for diverging experiences to be introduced, meaning increased complexity in some sectors. In retail, vaccinated and unvaccinated customers will inevitably mix in-store. Retailers will need to continue to enforce safety measures, but vaccinated customers may naturally expect more freedoms, such as using changing rooms or not wearing face masks. This could prove challenging, particularly if these customers are difficult to easily identify as they shop.
Establishing brand positioning on vaccines
Beyond designing experiences, organisations will need to decide whether they will publicly support vaccinations, largely based on the attitudes of their consumers.
Throughout the pandemic, we have seen brands support coronavirus restrictions with campaigns such as Thai Airlines’ launch of ‘Stay Home Miles’ to encourage its members not to fly during the outbreak. Most travel companies will take this approach because their target consumers are likely to be vaccine advocates who will be keen to see international borders open up once again.
Other organisations may prefer to use lighter touch messaging, such as ‘behave responsibly’ or ‘follow the guidelines’, to avoid ostracising consumers who may skew towards the vaccine worriers or vaccine sceptics segment. Careful consideration will need to be given to brand messaging and how to design experiences based on each unique set of consumers.
Investing for the future
While we may talk about returning to normal, we also know that the pandemic has created a significant shift in consumer behaviour trends. With such uncertainty over the mid-term future, organisations will need to consider the balance between short-term investments and encouraging consumers back with longer-term strategic decisions.
Challenges for the employee experience
As well as considering the customer experience, organisations will also need to manage the experiences and opportunities available to their workforce during the vaccination rollout.
Encouraging employee vaccination
One major challenge will be the extent to which an organisation can reasonably encourage its employees to be vaccinated through the use of internal campaigns. In some instances, this will be necessary in order to reduce the risk to staff, for example, in the case of key workers, for those in the hospitality, leisure or travel sectors, or any workplace with a high-volume of face-to-face interactions. Some companies may even introduce on-site vaccination programmes, similar to the flu jab, although they will need to consider how to manage an individual’s right to refuse a vaccine. On the subject of personal freedom, another very real consideration for organisations encouraging uptake is how they react to vaccine sceptics who are vocal in their opposition in the workplace, and who could potentially influence other employees not to be vaccinated.
Diverging employee experiences
Employees will also have differing experiences depending on when they receive a vaccination.
How could the vaccine create inequality in the employee experience?
The potential for differing experiences creates a particularly perilous challenge for employers in ensuring that employees who haven’t been vaccinated have the same opportunities to progress as those who have.
Those who are vaccinated first are likely to become more visible in the physical workplace and could end up being the ones to shape the new normal working culture. But organisations should ensure all voices are heard when it comes to creating the workplace of the future. Companies are also at risk of subconsciously excluding those who aren’t vaccinated in the recruitment process or providing more shifts to those who are vaccinated, particularly in jobs that rely on face-to-face interactions. People teams across the UK will need to carefully plan how they intend to handle these highly sensitive experiences.
Covering the cost of vaccination
People may refuse or delay taking a vaccine for reasons other than scepticism, for example, social, economic and professional situations may also play a role. While the vaccine will be freely available, it is still possible that the ‘cost of time’ could be a factor in whether people choose to get vaccinated (given that two doses are needed three weeks apart), leading to potential issues.
- How will taking the vaccine impact zero-hour contracts and the self-employed in the UK, who risk losing income by missing shifts or not getting paid for a day?
- Will employees be given leave to complete the two doses?
- How will companies ensure that colleagues with tight project deadlines don’t miss their appointment because of work commitments?
While the NHS and the Government will want to expedite vaccination timelines, there will be significant demand for vaccines to be administered outside of the standard 9-5 working day. Employers will need to consider how they support staff in receiving a vaccine as soon as they are offered one.
Establishing the new normal
Organisations will need to rethink their long-term employee experience strategies while responding to short-term challenges. The rise of remote working has in many ways been a success, but there is some evidence to suggest that the majority of the UK office-based population would prefer a hybrid approach5, with only some industries and roles being better suited6 to predominantly working from home in the longer term.
It’s not just the rise of remote working however that will drive significant change. Companies will also have to decide how far they go in embracing the touchless economy where their customer and employee experiences intersect, identifying the key moments in the customer journey for front-of-house staff.
How your organisation can begin planning for 2021
As several scenarios emerge, it is prudent for organisations to review their customer and employee experiences, targeting both the mid-term challenge a rollout may pose while addressing the longer-term change in a post-COVID world. There are multiple ways that organisations can do this.
Choose your brand position on vaccine messaging
Will your brand take an active voice in promoting vaccine uptake or opt for a more neutral ‘follow-the-guidelines’ approach? How will you adapt your messaging and experiences to the four different segments of vaccine attitudes? Defining a brand position will ensure it is easier to drive consistency in your experiences for customers and employees.
Refine your customer and employee strategy
The pandemic has acted as an accelerator for many emerging trends that existed before 2020, while also creating new ones. Changes to habits and attitudes mean now is the time to redefine your strategy and market positioning to ensure investments in the employee and customer experience pay dividends in 2021 and beyond.
Design interim customer and employee experiences
On a more tactical level, curating the experiences for customers and employees during the vaccine rollout will be critical to transitioning to a new normal, keeping those who are not vaccinated engaged both as customers and employees while delivering beneficial experiences to those who are vaccinated. Organisations will have to decide whether they wish to segment experiences in the first instance based on vaccination status and, if so, which experiences to differentiate.
It takes 66 days to embed habits. With restrictions having lasted twice as long as this in the UK in the first lockdown alone, and tiered restrictions likely to persist until early next year, the customers and employees you greet in person next year will not necessarily be the same ones you left in March 2020. Trialling new concepts, experiences and products using design-thinking techniques will be critical to learning more about these changes in attitudes to give you an edge over the competition.
Integrate cutting-edge insight
As we return to a world with no restrictions, data will provide early insight into long-term behavioural shifts for customers and colleagues – from digital adoption for customers who previously used more traditional channels, to understanding the retention and performance impact on those colleagues working from home more often. Having the right data strategy and set-up will be a key enabler for staying ahead of the competition.
Organisations that strike the right balance between a pragmatic response to the challenges a vaccine poses for their customers and employees, while aligning this to longer-term strategic change for a post-COVID world, are likely to emerge from 2021 in the best shape. Now is the time to begin planning the route to recovery.
1 How long will it take for life to return to normal after the Covid vaccine rollout? | The Telegraph
2 COVID-19: Boris Johnson warns of ‘immense logistical challenges’ in distributing vaccine | Sky News
3 No, Ticketmaster won’t force you to have a Covid vaccine | BBC News
4 COVID-19: Birmingham ‘test and dine’ scheme offers hope for closed Tier 3 restaurants | Sky News
5 What’s next for how we work in the UK? | BCG
6 What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries | McKinsey & Company