Covid-19 and Qatar: a lasting shift to virtual customer engagement?


Economic News

17 Jun 2020
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From the health sector to finance, education and retail, Covid-19 has sparked widespread digital adoption in Qatar as the threat of infection combined with social distancing measures has transformed consumer demand and business-customer interactions in potentially permanent ways.

In the financial services sector, for example, Qatari banks have sought to improve digital banking platforms in order to cater to increased demand for online payments.

In late March the Qatar Central Bank launched its Qatar Mobile Payment System, which uses QR-code technology to allow consumers to make digital payments through their smartphones.

This builds on existing efforts to develop financial technology (fintech) through the Qatar Fintech Hub, which runs a series of accelerator and incubator programmes.

While these solutions relate mostly to online payments, the pandemic has also transformed business-to-customer and business-to-business relationships in the banking sector.

Rather than view the digital shift as a necessary inconvenience, Joseph Abraham, Group Chief Executive Officer of the Commercial Bank of Qatar, told OBG that the increased use of digital and video technology to connect with customers and partners was having a positive impact on business relationships.

“This situation has accelerated digital adoption. Once customers have tried using digital banking, they can see that it is easier and more convenient. Using digital services has now become habitual for some people who would have otherwise used branches for their everyday banking transactions. For banks, this leads to an opportunity for sustainable growth coupled with an increased need for digital innovation,” he said. 

One digital tool the bank has expanded during the pandemic is an online appointment system that allows customers to book an appointment at the bank, much as they would do with a doctor or hairdresser.

In addition, social distancing restrictions have meant that many meetings have shifted from in-person discussions to online video platforms.

Telemedicine revolutionises health

The health sector is another area where the business-customer relationship is benefitting from the increased use of digital technologies.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has in many cases led to improved e-health offerings from medical practitioners. This has not only helped to reduce the risk of contracting the virus, but has also allowed for more regular check-ups, given the ease and efficiency of video calls.

The Ministry of Public Health has assisted hospitals and medical institutions with various forms of video consultation, while privately owned KIMS Qatar Medical Centre launched its own telehealth services in April.

In addition, Meddy – a local doctor-booking platform – also introduced telemedicine services as part of its offering, allowing patients to carry out consultations through voice or video calls.

By mid-June Meddy had more than 60 doctors from 15 different areas of specialisation registered on its platform.

A loss of human contact?

While there have been some positive responses to this shift towards digital business-customer interactions, many remain sceptical about online customer service.

In fact, a survey released by PwC in 2018 found that 75% of respondents from 12 countries, including the US, the UK, Australia, China, Mexico, Singapore and Colombia, said that they wanted more human interaction when it comes to customer service, with 59% believing that companies had lost touch with the human element of the customer experience.

Although the increased use of digital technology for services such as medical consultations does shift customer service away from in-person contact, the efficiency of using such platforms could in fact lead to expanded – albeit virtual – communication.

"In my mind, video interactions will enhance client relationships, as physical interactions are an expensive way of doing business for some client segments," Abraham told OBG.

"Video calls increase the opportunity to meet a wider range of clients because they are so quick and easy to do. Physical interactions will continue to be important for the most valued clients and some specific business meetings, but video calls extend the face-to-face model and facilitate a significantly enhanced client experience."

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