Customers Will Remember Who Was There for Them, Long After COVID-19

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Overnight, we lost our regular routines – our daily coffees, date night out, weekly shops, Fridays at the pub with friends and our Sunday at the gym. Lockdown has forced us to change our habits, but is the change temporary or will it be longer lasting?

At this moment in time, how brands interact with their consumers is more critical than ever, but few are investing in doing so.

According to a Marketing Week survey of 477 UK brand marketers, 29% say their approach is to ‘stay the course’ by maintaining budgets and 50% say they are making cuts so they can ‘live to fight another day’ during the coronavirus pandemic.

Only 7% of UK marketers say that they are taking a strategic and ‘seize the opportunity’ approaches and investing more in marketing. 

‘Gestures of Consideration’ can be effective

In the UK, Admiral Insurance has proposed giving £110 million back to their car and van customers as part of a ‘Stay at Home Refund’. This £25 refund is Admiral’s best estimate of the savings that they have made during the period and will be automatically given to all 4.4 million current customers at the end of May.

Although £25 will be a low percentage of most people’s car insurance payments, the YouGov BrandIndex data shows that this ‘gesture of consideration’ during the coronavirus crisis has gone a long way with customers. Admiral’s satisfaction scores in this YouGov study went up by 13.9 points in just four days for its existing customers. It remains to be seen whether this is going to have a long-term impact (and is money well spent) but it is likely to be something that its existing customers remember when it comes to policy renewal.

Again, in the UK, EE, the BT-owned network has announced that it will be offering unlimited mobile data for all NHS workers who use their network. Unlike Vodafone who had already rolled out unlimited data to its NHS customers, EE’s offer will be for the next 6 months, and not just for the next 30 days.

Brands going above and beyond show they care about the individual

Decooda, a technology company who can extract the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and emotion out of any data using their proprietary machine learning, AI and cognitive analytics approach, recently conducted a survey across the US, based on just three insightful ‘imaginative questions’ each posed to 500 respondents. It explored people’s daily life experiences during the pandemic, what some brands did to go above and beyond for their customers and conversely what other brands didn’t do.

The Decooda Imaginative Questions are specifically designed to promote engagement, verbosity, and emotional responsiveness. While the typical survey open ends yield 12 to 15 words, their Imaginative questions average about 50 words. For this survey the average across the three imaginative questions was 100 words. Respondents were clearly very engaged with this topic!

They looked specifically at the retail sector as this is the area with greatest human engagement at the moment and it’s been front and centre for most customers. Retail brands who knocked it out of the park have connected to the individual and assuaged their many fears. They have gone above and beyond and evoked gratitude from their customers. In normal times it is very difficult for brands to evoke gratitude from their customers. It just doesn’t happen that often. Rarely across the work we have done for many years, have we seen gratitude percentages cross into double digits. So, 94% that was seen in this Decooda survey is an astounding number.

The themes that came out positively all had one thing in common, these brands showed that they cared for the individual and, by extension their family. For example, ‘the service was personalised’, ‘they offered special hours for the elderly’, ‘they placed limits on product purchase to ensure that everyone could obtain necessities’. 

Costco knocked it out of the park when they quickly put in place policies to prevent hoarding. Walmart missed the mark by taking too long. The best experiences looked out for the individual’s safety by making sure shopping carts were sanitised. Brands that demonstrate they care for the individual are most successful in forging deeper connections.

Another thing to notice here is that while promoting safety is important, it is not sufficient for an above and beyond experience. Encouraging social distancing, taping floors, limiting people in-store, caring for employees, yes, all important. But they do not provide people with an adequate level of control to be considered an above and beyond experience.

A dramatic difference between Good and Poor Covid-19 experiences

Decooda asked respondents to name a brand or company that went above and beyond to improve their shopping experience and then to describe their experience. On the opposite end of the spectrum, they also asked them to name a brand that let them down and then to describe the experience. This was then followed up by asking NPS for both brands.

What you see here are the collective NPS scores for all of the brands that went above and beyond and all of the brands that let people down. From these two data points alone, it is evident that those brands that went above and beyond deepened the connection with their customers. While those that let people down have some making up to do.

Some brands are deepening their relationships with their customers – others are not

Brands that knocked it out of the park quickly demonstrated loyalty to their customers. They quickly invested in the health and safety of each individual consumer. As a result, they touched people’s hearts and the survey has shown that this evoked a sense of gratitude. Gratitude is an elusive emotion for brands and when they achieve it is a key driver of deepening the relationship with customers

Brands that missed the mark, were not quick and agile enough to adapt their shopping experience, leaving people feeling unsafe and evoking extremely high levels of anger & frustration. We need to bear in mind the level of fear people have for themselves and their families. When a shopping experience turns into chaos or feels unsafe, it leaves an indelible mark on people.

It’s perhaps surprising to see Amazon with such a low NPS at the time of the survey. Amazon’s has built its brand promise around its customers’ being able to find whatever they need and get it quickly — usually overnight, but sometimes even the same day.

Along comes COVID-19. Those bricks and mortar retailers which are still able to be open are struggling to adapt, trying to keep customers and workers safe, and trying to keep the shelves stocked. The obvious alternative for many is Amazon. However, Amazon wasn’t able to deliver on its brand promise – you couldn’t get anything you wanted, and you certainly couldn’t get it as quickly as you’d grown used to. Things that came out of the survey were:

  • Stock outages. But to make it worse, some people had the product in their carts and paid before they were told the product wasn’t available. 
  • Severely delayed delivery times – both for Amazon and its subsidiaries (Instacart and Whole Foods)
  • What stock was/is available is often at significantly higher prices
  • Finally, there were questions raised over treatment of its employees for example not having adequate PPE

A call out for HEB – a grocery chain in Texas. While this is from a low base of mentions in the survey, those that were seen were amazing. This appears to be a brand that puts its customers and the community at the center of everything they do.

NPS Winners and Losers

Shoppers will likely not forget anytime soon the brands that let them down as these experiences were wrought with intense anger and frustration as illustrated by Decooda’s emotion analysis. Brands quick to react with policies and procedures to prevent the chaos evoked gratitude and a feeling of being cared for as an individual. These brands deepened their relationship with their customers.

The intensity of emotions suggests that the people’s memories during this period could leave a scar on consumers for some time and after COVID.

Don’t expect everything to go straight back to ‘normal’

A prolonged break from the norm, and a period with this new ‘normal, may mean that we never go back how things were before Covid-19.

People have noticed positive changes during the lockdown — cleaner air, stronger communities, a quieter pace and pleasure in the simple/small things. In a YouGov UK survey, 54% of British consumers have said that they hope they will make some changes in their own lives.

Even more staggering, is that only 9% of Britons want life to return to ‘normal’ once lockdown is over according to the same poll.

What can you be doing, now?

There are 5 things that companies can be doing right now, in anticipation of the end to current troubles:

  1. Create community – we’ve seen over the last few weeks that people are looking for, and are placing a value on, a connection. Customers will value a simple, safe, comfortable environment where they can share experiences, learn, communicate directly and have their say
  2. Share your wisdom and expertise – share what you’ve learned during Covid-19. Customer don’t want to be sold to right now, but they are all eager to learn and develop and have more time to focus on this than ever
  3. Listen to your customers, openly – we can learn a whole lot about people when we listen to what they say. For decades we’ve explored the power of people’s words through qualitative research. Qualitative or unstructured data has often been used to add texture or anecdotes to traditional quantitative research. Now the technology exists so that, we can bring structure to unstructured data and fully understand why people do what they do, what they want, how they are feeling and what it means for future brand engagement
  4. Anticipate the impact on customer experiences – get under the skin of your customers and understand that customers’ needs are likely to have changed, how and why. Get to the bottom of what their priorities are, how they have changed and how they might change in the coming months
  5. Keep talking – use social to communicate (two-way) in real time. Provide updates to customers immediately. Ensure that they know what is happening. Talk to them even when there is no news as long as it’s relevant and interesting for them. This will help assuage some of the negative emotions that we have seen and help provide reassurance. Even for businesses that aren’t currently continuing at the same pace, marketing and communication efforts should continue

These gestures and actions will be remembered long after eventually come out the other side of Covid-19 and the new normal is finally revealed to us all. Use these Covid-19 times to strengthen your relationships with your existing customers and you will see the benefits for a long time to come.

Smiling companies, Happy Customers.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Amanda: thank you for posting this article. To your list of five things companies should be doing now, I recommend adding a sixth: Thank your customers for buying. Since customers began quarantining and making limited forays into public spaces for essentials, I’ve noticed business owners and personnel becoming more visible and overt in thanking their customers. At my last takeout pickup, the restaurant owner personally handed my order to me, and thanked me profusely for my order. Not only that, he reminded me how important my purchase was for him and his employees. Although we had frequented the restaurant in the past, I had never met him in person until then.

    You mentioned that customers don’t want to be sold to right now. I believe fervently that they do. The confusion is that many customers likely don’t want to be sold to the same way as in the past. But that is not the same as not wanting to be sold to. When a business puts its best foot forward, when it deliberately deploys resources for the purpose of making a positive impression to communities and prospects, is that not selling? I believe it is. A core mission of selling is persuasion, and I put any persuasion-motivated outreach into that category. Many people equate selling with an ‘aggressive’ or ‘strong-arm’ tactic, but that is not the case.

    During and after the pandemic, it’s incumbent on every sales organization to evaluate their sales strategies and tactics, and when necessary, to realign them for new buyer expectations. But no enterprise should ever ‘stop selling.’ An article I wrote on this topic is Stop Selling: A Trendy Idea, But Bad Strategy (Please see https://customerthink.com/stop_selling_a_trendy_idea_but_bad_strategy/)

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