Customers want Australian businesses to get back to basics during COVID-19

Sudeep Gohil and Louise Pogmore think customers' expectations have lowered during COVID-19. They're wanting brands to go back to basics, according to the KPMG research the authors draw upon, while being responsive and there when they need them.

Customer expectations and behaviour have dramatically shifted during the COVID-19 crisis, with customers favouring a ‘back to basics’ approach by businesses.

To get a sense of how companies are faring in customer experience during the coronavirus COVID-19 immediate impacts, we selected Facebook as a core data set, and reviewed data pre-COVID-19 and during COVID-19. This involved looking at a business’ Facebook ‘wall’, a known customer care channel, for data relevant to customer experience.

We then analysed this data through KPMG’s customer experience excellence pillars: empathy, expectations, integrity, personalisation, resolution, and time and effort.

Graph above indicate shifts in pillars by industry from baseline to during COVID-19. Click to enlarge

According to our research, there is an increased focus on transparency, online channels and the reliability of delivery. At the same time, there’s a decreased focus on the quality of goods and services, personalised preferences in products, and lower expectations around corporate social responsibility.

We found that, across the board, customer engagement with businesses on social channels doubled during the peak of the coronavirus disruptions, with some sectors – such as grocery retail – seeing a tripling of activity.

There was also some significant changes to customer behaviour, with ‘expectations’ approximately halving during the period, and ‘time and effort’ doubling. For example, with the heavy strain placed on customer service delivery, people reached out for customer care at almost double the normal rate.

We saw a return to favouring the functionality of products over the personalisation of services. There was also a decrease in expectation, as the quality of the product became less important to people. Customers also encountered problems engaging with companies due to the high volume of enquiries coming through digital channels. Mentions mostly related to digital platforms and customer service channels failing to satisfy the demands of customers.

There was also a higher expectations from customers that grocery retail brands demonstrate integrity, and that these brands act in the best interest of customers, such as implementing health precautions including social distancing and hygiene in-store. This replaced a previous focus on corporate citizenship, particularly in relation to the environment, with less concern expressed about plastic bags and packaging. There was a decrease in expectations – customers had less of a focus on food quality.

KPMG analysed brands’ Facebook walls

As customers became more reliant on telecommunications services during COVID, customer issues were magnified by difficulty accessing customer support services, and increased stress across digital platforms. Telecommunications services quickly became an ‘essential service’ during peak disruptions, and customers had a greater need for a seamless experience and quick resolution of issues. Complaints tended to be focused more on digital platforms than on data and internet speeds.

Customers were requesting a more efficient experience and greater transparency in communications as the integrity of airlines became more important during the peak crisis. The ‘time and effort’ pillar continued to be the highest proportion of mentions both pre- and during COVID-19, however during COVID-19 there was a greater need for digital efficiency in resolving issues, such as refunds for cancelled flights. There were increased concerns about flight costs, but a lower focus on in-flight service.

Restaurant and food outlet customers shifted from favouring a personalised experience to wanting a consistent and reliable experience centred on trust, with increased conversations regarding the health precautions of stores and general public safety. Consumer expectation decreased as the quality of food provided became less of a focus.

So what implications do these shifts bring with them? Overall, our research indicates that customers have in the past placed greater expectations on businesses to deliver a product in a way that goes ‘above and beyond’ satisfaction. The COVID-19 disruptions have moved customer concerns to a more basic plane.

Businesses should consider this as an indication of a ‘back to basics’ approach, with personalised and luxury products lower considerations in a period of economic uncertainty.

Sudeep Gohil is partner of customer, brand and marketing at KPMG. Louise Pogmore is director of customer, brand and marketing at KPMG.


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