Now is the Time to Act: COVID-19 Impact on Consumer Behavior and Expectations
COVID-19 has put consumer expectations temporarily on hold meaning there is a huge opportunity for businesses to take action and improve their customer experience, but be warned, this state of grace will not last indefinitely.
A new Sitel Group white paper – COVID-19: the CX Impact – shows that although consumers across the U.S. and U.K. still place a premium on best-in-class customer experience (CX), but for the moment at least, they’re less willing to take their business somewhere else if the CX they receive comes up short.
This is one of the most surprising findings of our white paper, which is based on the results of two studies of U.S. and U.K. consumers conducted in March and May of this year, before and during the pandemic respectively.
A surge in contact volumes
When COVID-19 first hit, there were surges in contact volumes across all verticals, from banking and financial services to telecommunications and travel. However, because businesses were being forced to partially close contact centers, transition on-site staff to remote working and of course, in some industry sectors suspend operations altogether, many of these customers were left on hold or found themselves unable to resolve their issue.
Pre-COVID-19, our data from March shows that while one-in-three consumers had submitted some form of complaint to a brand’s customer service department, 54% of issues had been resolved within three days of the initial contact. Just 13% of consumers had been forced to wait more than a week for a resolution while 16% claimed their issue is yet to be resolved.
However, in May once the pandemic truly made its presence felt, 22% of respondents who had complained to customer service said their issue had never been resolved – a 37.5% increase compared with pre-pandemic levels.
A surge in consumer goodwill
Considering the circumstances, this shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, what was a huge surprise when we began mining the data to uncover insights, was that despite this spike in unresolved issues during the pandemic, instances of customers leaving negative reviews, or of severing ties with companies due to a poor CX, actually fell.
Just 10% of consumers said they’d publicly shared a negative experience with a brand (down from 40% in March), while fewer than half (43%) of respondents would consider taking their business elsewhere due to a sub-standard customer experience (down from 73% of respondents surveyed in March).
It’s clear that customers understand the unique set of circumstances brands have been facing, meaning organizations are experiencing a state of grace. Just 6.6% of U.S and 10.6% of U.K. respondents said their opinion of brands had changed for the worse as a result of their actions in relation to coronavirus, compared with 35% that say they now have a more positive opinion about organizations.
A state of grace
However, as time progresses, expect patience to begin wearing thin. For this reason, now is the time to act. Traditionally, consumer behaviors and expectations change faster than an organization’s ability to deliver. As our report shows, COVID-19 is accelerating some of those changes in behavior.
For instance, consumers that have been forced to move online for purchases intend to stay online once the COVID-19 has passed. Email and chat have overtaken voice as customers’ preferred channel of communication, and over one third of consumers now expect companies to provide self-service options for resolving issues.
The time to act is now
However, because consumers understand how the situation is impacting on brands’ ability to deliver on CX, this situation also provides an opportunity for companies to start making changes to close the gap between their current ability to serve and these emerging expectations.
And as well as examining the current CX and identifying what needs to change and where improvements can be made, this is a moment for companies to reexamine their business resiliency and understand how to maintain. Just as important, this is a moment for companies to examine their business resiliency CX levels as part of a business continuity plan.
There is every possibility the coronavirus could cause further disruption in the months to come. This in turn could mean the reintroduction of movement and even business restrictions.
To take a deep dive into the findings of our COVID-19: the CX Impact study, learn more about the COVID-19 impact on consumer behaviors and the steps your brand can take to align with this new normal, watch the latest EmpowerCX NOW on-demand webinar.