As the Vaccine Economy takes shape, it’s becoming clearer that customer experience expectations have been impacted by the COVID crisis.
It’s already been noted by various parties that what might be termed ‘pandemic goodwill’ - when consumers were ready to excuse poorer customer service due to the nature of the macro-emergency - is now wearing thin and ‘because COVID...’ is no longer an excuse many people are ready to accept.
But there have been other shifts in the customer experience landscape as Salesforce’s latest Connected Customer report - registration needed - makes clear today. The report is based on polling 13,020 consumers and 3,916 business buyers from 29 countries around the globe.
Among the top line findings that jump out are the facts that 68% of customers have purchased products in new ways over the past two years, which can certainly be read as a positive.
The flip side of that positivity for providers is that customers have become less inherently loyal, with 71% of respondents to the Salesforce study stating they have changed brands at least once over the past 12 months alone. Pursuit of better deals and better product quality are the top reasons for this - cited by 66% and 58% of respondents respectively - followed by better customer service (48%). The study notes:
Brand relationships are not immune from outside influences. As consumers spend more time online, a world of choice opens up, freed from restrictions of past habit. Some of these options may look appealing — particularly for consumers with changed priorities, lifestyles, or financial situations.
As for new ways of purchasing, it’s significant that there’s a growing trend towards Direct-to-Consumer (DTC). Some 64% of respondents said they now buy directly from a brand, up 15% on a pre-pandemic figure of 49% in 2019. The Connected Customer report observes:
DTC isn’t new. In the 2010s, a surge of such companies popped up, such as Casper, Glossier, and Dollar Shave Club. What is new is the big increase in consumers who buy this way…While consumers make it clear that buying from retailers has its own benefits, they turn to direct brand purchases to ensure products are authentic, unique, and sustainable. No doubt influenced at least in part by the pandemic, how and whether DTC models grow remains to be seen.
But perhaps the biggest impact of COVID has been the increased use of the likes of Click & Collect, contactless payments and curbside pick-ups. Take up of the last of those, for example, has nearly doubled between the start of the pandemic through to today (from 31% to 60%).
What’s emerging now is how ‘sticky’ those changes are in the Vaccine Economy. Are they crisis-dependent or are they here to stay? By and large, it looks to be the latter. Staying with curbside pick-up, over half (51%) of respondents think they’re likely to use this form of engagement more over the next three years, while 63% believe they’ll see more contactless delivery take-up. That indicates that customers have learned to appreciate the convenience of such methods that may have been introduced for social distancing purposes but which have demonstrated their longer term appeal.
And new tech platforms are also set for a boom. Some 57% of respondents say they’ve already shopped via social media, with 61% of them expecting to do more over the next three years. Virtual and augmented reality tech could be a big winner, up from 30% usage today to potentially 58% in three years time.
How do brands hold on to customers in the current climate? It boils down to two main factors - trust and personalization. Some 88% of respondents cited the importance of trust when engaging with brands, while 73% expect companies they are dealing with to be ready to understand and meet their unique needs.
What drives trust? That’s an interesting post-pandemic question. As Salesforce’s Rob Garf noted last week on diginomica, loyalty in retail over the past two years has been driven by issues of health and safety. Swap out loyalty for trust and there’s a clear overlap. A common denominator between the two is good customer service.
Some 94% of respondents said a positive customer experience makes them more inclined to purchase from the same source again, while 78% say they’ve made purchase decisions based on the quality of customer service. As for that ‘because COVID...’ excuse for poor service, the good news for brands is that there is still a chance to turn around negative reactions as 80% of respondents claim they’re ready to forgive mistakes if they get excellent service.
But they also want to feel special. Nearly two-thirds of consumer respondents (64%) and three-quarters of business buyers (74%) say they trust most companies to meet their needs and expectations and a majority of respondents (62% and 77% respectively) believe that most companies intend to do so.
What is interesting - and presumably reflective of a longer term societal impact of the COVID crisis - is the increased emphasis on truth and honesty. Today 77% of respondents say they trust companies who make honest claims about products, compared to a pre-pandemic 68%. Three-quarters want to deal with companies which act with their customers best interests in mind, up from 65%, while 68% now look for companies who act with society’s best interest in mind, up from 59% pre-COVID.
As the report notes:
Responsible conduct stands out in tough times. Over the past two years, customers have watched how organizations respond to a supply-chain crisis, shifting regulations, systemic inequality, and environmental degradation, among other challenges. As they’re stretched and tested, organizations are also presented an opportunity to prove themselves.
Some useful insights into attitudes and expectations around customer experience in what I refuse to call a post-COVID world, but rather the emerging Vaccine Economy.