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How has the pandemic affected customer experiences?

How has the pandemic affected customer experiences

Customer experience analysts state that companies face huge challenges as brand loyalty drops, but reassure that good customer service will continue to reap rewards.

Brand loyalty has declined significantly over the last two years, but Feefo analysts studying consumer patterns from 2021 into 2022 are making it clear that all is not lost in their end of year report into emerging CX trends. Customer retention strategies may have been tested to their limits, but several recent reports break down how exactly businesses can respond to adverse conditions and retain customers despite the impact of the pandemic.

Their findings suggest that, while brand loyalty is harder than ever to earn due to changing customer behaviour following Covid-19, good customer experience can “lead to a 300% increase in annually recurring revenue (ARR)”.

According to their data, online shopping is one huge factor in wavering brand loyalty. At the start of the pandemic, many countries implemented lockdowns and restrictions that closed bricks-and-mortar shopping sites. The only way for consumers to purchase products became online via the internet. In the early lockdowns, many businesses found themselves with service and customer experience software that wasn’t designed for the brave new world we had found ourselves in.

One study claims that during the weeks and months following the initial lockdowns of 2020, businesses across industries made a 10-year leap forward in their customer experience technology. The huge surge in online shopping, which was an already growing mode of consumer behaviour, didn’t change customer experiences and expectations but it definitely refined them.

Brand fatigue has increased in line with people’s ability to quickly assess where they will get the best value for money, as they shop online and are just one click away from brand reviews. Cost is no longer a pripirty, with 86% of online shoppers willing to pay more if they enjoy their customer experience. For this 86% of customers, cheap pricing simply means that you get what you pay for in terms of experience. For many people, particularly younger consumers, this means being able to engage with a company via their preferred channel – be that Whatsapp, social media, text or a website’s chat app. But it doesn’t stop there. Expectations are that it should be possible to engage via any preferred platform in that moment – with the understanding that this might change as a consumer goes about their day.

The pandemic has changed what a typical “day” now looks like for many reasons. For the millions who changed their jobs due to the pandemic, this might mean they can or can’t access the same channels as they would have before during their working day. Remote working, home working, and working while schooling have all also had an impact on how consumers spend their time and therefore which channels they do or do not have access to. It’s clear from the numbers that customer expectations tally with this, as McKinsey states that 80% of customers expect “frictionless” and “seamless” experiences across channels as they shop.

Feefo’s report on business success in 2021 and new trends for 2022 makes it clear that throughout the pandemic, companies that worked hard to adapt their technology and customer experience best practice did well, whereas companies that were more static in their approach struggled to retain their share of the market.

“CX” is a term that many professionals have heard of, even outside the customer service world, but “DX” – or the ‘Digital Experience’ is the emerging term that perhaps captures the zeitgeist better. As the continuing impact of the pandemic leads to increasing numbers of digital interactions, the 86% figure seems to suggest that the quality of those interactions is becoming more important to people. Industry thought leaders cited in Feefo’s report emphasise that DX cannot be a de-humanising journey for customers.

Looking forward into 2022, analysis suggests the growing importance of a business’s values, their level of sustainability, and the authenticity of any “brand activism”. Millenial and Gen-Z consumers consistently report that they will pay more if this means less environmental impact, social impact and a smaller carbon footprint. This indicates that there is an emotional level of investment that Millenial and Gen-Z consumers are increasingly willing to have in the brands they choose – if these brands conduct themselves appropriately. But the report claims that it’s not just these top-line communication that will influence a new, more accountable era of brand over the next few years. While data privacy has created its own headlines due to leaks and cautionary tales of mis-use, once a company has data, they will increasingly be expected to use it to create highly-personalised customer experiences – primarily digital. High levels of personalisation have never been so possible, and they are already creeping into our daily lives.

Who doesn’t now expect Netflix to keep and bookmark shows across channels? Who doesn’t look at the recommendations to find something new to watch with the expectation that you will see shows that are similar to others you love? This is a key example of a business already using personalisation in a way that feels essential to the product. The pandemic has thrown everything up into the air, but businesses that keep meeting the expectations and needs of their customers will continue to do well – just as they always have.

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