Insights|How Coronavirus Is Shaping Consumer Trends

How Coronavirus Is Shaping Consumer Trends

A new Sitel Group proprietary study - COVID-19: the CX Impact study – outlines how the global pandemic has changed consumer behavior and the steps businesses need to take to align themselves with these new coronavirus-driven consumer trends

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coronavirus consumer trends
by Martin Wilkinson-Brown July 7, 2020 - 4 MIN READ

No matter how comprehensive or how well thought out, it’s highly unlikely that at the beginning of 2020, any company’s business continuity plan (BCP) had a section dedicated to and fully prepared for maintaining operations during a global pandemic, or to reprogramming customer relationships in line with coronavirus consumer trends.

Yet over the past several months that’s exactly the challenge businesses across the globe have been faced with. Keeping things going and keeping a connection with customers in an environment where everything keeps changing.

Lockdowns, quarantines, the shuttering of entire industry sectors and state-led intervention in financial markets have all had a direct impact on both organizations and their customers.

But now, as restrictions are lifting, businesses should be thinking about how they need to adjust their CX strategy to accommodate for – and retain – their customers in the post-COVID-19 era. They will need to know which route to take, as what is defined as a positive CX has evolved in the past few months, if they want to keep their customer base intact. As we look forward, it still isn’t clear if North American and European economies will experience a ‘V-shaped,’ ‘U-shaped’ or ‘L-shaped’ recovery and how consumers will respond in terms of discretionary spending.

Providing actionable insights into consumer behaviors to enable development of a new CX roadmap is the goal of our Sitel Group study – COVID-19: the CX Impact. Combining consumer data stretching back to 2018 with new insights gained from consumer surveys conducted in the U.S. and the U.K. in March and again in May of 2020 it provides businesses with the clearest picture yet of which consumer trends driven by the impact of coronavirus are set to continue even as the virus begins to subside.

The key coronavirus consumer trend is that increasingly a brand is judged by the strength of its digital channels when it comes to customer experience (CX). Across all age groups and across both the U.S. and the U.K., the majority of consumers (54%) were already enjoying better experiences shopping online than in-store before the pandemic hit.

As COVID-19 forced many physical stores to temporarily close and for the population to practice social distancing, consumers looked to digital channels to serve their needs – 76% of respondents said they’d been driven online for purchases that they would have usually made in-person. But crucially, thanks to this initial exposure to digital CX, 57% say that they will continue with this behavior once the pandemic ends.

All demographics are delighted by digital CX

Digital’s convenience, speed and ease are proving to be a big draw for consumers who are actively looking for a customer experience that is as efficient as it is enjoyable. At the start of 2020, 38% of respondents were willing to pay more in return for a better CX while 73% of consumers said they were prepared to walk away from a brand after a single sub-par experience. This figure has temporarily dropped to 43% as consumers recognize the unique strain companies are currently under. However, this state of grace will not last forever.

Save your customers time to improve CX

The impact of COVID-19 has underlined how valuable time is as a commodity in an always-on, always-connected world. The idea of saving or winning back time is now a central tenet of CX. While 87% of consumers agree connecting with a live customer representative (whether by phone, email or chat) is their preferred way of resolving a critical issue, our data also found that 35% of all consumers and 43% of Gen Z consumers will select self-service for resolving issues rather than directly contacting a brand. They see this method as being faster and always being available, not just during traditional office hours.

Consumers are moving towards digital contact channels

Time is also the motivator in driving consumers away from the phone as their channel of choice when engaging with companies or brands. In 2018 and cited by 28% of all consumers surveyed, the telephone was the most popular channel for brand engagement. However, now it’s third behind email and  online chat. At the same time the popularity of social media is growing – 16% of millennials and Gen Z would prefer using social channels for general communications with companies.

What are the differences between U.S. and U.K. consumers?

Examining our findings in terms of nationality, over one third (38%) of U.K. consumers now prioritize email when connecting with companies or brands, compared with 31% of American consumers. However, more British consumers (41%) chose self-service as their preferred method for solving a problem or resolving an issue, and a higher percentage are prepared to cut ties with a company over poor CX (48% versus 39% of U.S. consumers).

A larger percentage of U.S. consumers have migrated to online commerce due to the coronavirus (79% versus 73%) and a larger number – 59% – plan to continue using the web for products and services post-COVID-19. However, both U.S. and U.K. consumers agree that the best aspect of digital CX is convenience – cited by 47% of U.S. and 43% of U.K. respondents who intend to keep shopping online.

What are the generational differences?

Across generations, millennials have undergone the biggest change in behavior due to COVID-19 with nearly nine-in-10 (87%) being driven online to make purchases usually made in-store. This compares with just 66% of baby boomers. However, Gen X (59%) is the demographic most likely to maintain this habit – slightly ahead of millennials (58%).

Gen Z claims to have the highest expectations when it comes to customer experience – even in a pandemic, 40% said they’d stop doing business with a brand due to CX, compared to 35% of millennials. However, millennials are the most likely to have complained about poor CX (18% versus 16% of Gen Z) and, at 21%, are also the most likely to have actually taken their business elsewhere during the early weeks of the pandemic, compared with 17% of Gen Z and just 11% of baby boomers.

Across all demographics, email is the preferred channel of communication for general brand enquiries but a higher percentage of millennials and Gen Z (43% versus 32% of Gen X and 27% of baby boomers) said they prefer to look to self-service options when attempting to answer a question or resolve an issue.

To learn more about Sitel Group’s COVID-19: the CX Impact study and find out more about how coronavirus is changing consumer trends, download the full white paper and supporting documents here.

written by Martin Wilkinson-Brown Chief Marketing Officer
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