Throughout human history, pandemics have undoubtedly left a deep mark on peoples’ lives and the world around them. Fortunately, this crisis, like any other crisis, will end. As the status quo changes, it represents a huge opportunity. Take, for example, Airbnb, Uber, Slack, Groupon and Whatsapp. What do they have in common? These incredibly successful companies started during some of the toughest economic periods in recent history.
The same goes for Covid-19. Businesses that plan and prepare during the Covid-19 lockdown will be in a stronger position than their competition when the economy picks up. Although no-one is quite sure when the recovery will begin or how long it will take, one thing is certain. Customers’ needs and expectations will change as things improve. The key for any organisation will be to have their finger on the pulse of what customers think and feel, and the changes in what they value. To illustrate this, let’s take a look at some examples of the changing trends we’ve seen so far.
1. Changes in customers’ perceptions
There has been a drastic shift in how people perceive organisations concerning how they treat their staff. As the chart below shows, 12 months ago, people didn’t evaluate most companies based on their staff treatment, but during the lockdown, this has become exceptionally important. As the recovery happens, this will change again; it’s uncertain how quickly or whether it will return to pre-COVID levels, but it will evolve. Hence, in the immediate term, it will be necessary for organisations to recognise this as they plan their return to work protocols. In the medium to long term, this could be an example of a trend that might tail off as people return to their normal lives and risks to the well being of others become less of a concern.
Chart 1: Number of mentions regarding the treatment of staff, 2019 vs.2020
2. Shift in what customers value
There has been a distinct change in what people care about in relation to products and services. Let’s take food delivery time slots as an example. Pre-COVID, people cared about very specific things, such as the price of delivery slots or cut off times for placing an order. In contrast, now people are grateful to be able to get a slot at all, and so other concerns are of much lesser importance (Chart 2). Once things begin to recover these attitudes will shift again. As supply and demand start to rebalance and scarcity ceases to be a concern, this is likely one where people will return to pre-COVID levels pretty quickly.
Chart 2: Examples of customer feedback with regards to the time slots.
On the contrary, a trend that is likely to continue is customer’s attitudes towards sustainable packaging. As people are spending so much time at home and relying on goods to be delivered, they are noticing how much packaging is used daily and realising how unsustainable non recyclable/single use packaging is for the environment. We’ve seen signals in the data relating to sustainable packaging ever since the most recent David Attenborough documentaries were broadcast, and this change in customer sentiment is probably here to stay.
3. Decrease in disposable income
We’ve observed a macro trend across our clients relating to the number of customers that are reporting trouble affording a product or service (chart below). In fact, this has increased by around 25% in the last two weeks alone. Whether this trend will continue or reverse will likely depend on how severe the economic implications of the Covid-19 period prove to be. Likewise, the extent to which this trend represents a challenge or an opportunity for an organisation will be strongly related to the type of offering they are providing.
Chart 3: Affordability Issues. Source: Aggregated NPS and Cancellation survey responses mentioning “Budget Constraints” Theme for March and April 2020 (n = 732,000)
Some customer trends will reverse and others will continue or evolve. Whatever the specific details, the key to success in this changing customer landscape for any organisation will be to ensure that they:
- Are able to rapidly identify emerging trends from customer feedback to understand what to prioritise at present
- Are set up to adapt to the changing expectations of customers during the recovery
- Are aligned with what their customers value in relation to their business as it changes over time
We have been helping a lot of Chattermill clients and advising on the tangible measures that businesses can put in place right now to seize the opportunities as customer confidence returns.
The most important elements are:
- Establish a baseline customer understanding. In other words, this is what is ‘normal’ for your company. For example, if you don’t compete on price, there will always be a normal level of dissatisfaction amongst your customers with your pricing. Establishing a pre-COVID baseline across all of the different elements of your product and service will allow you to see to what extent things are returning to normal. Or if there has been a more fundamental shift in customer expectations concerning some aspects of your business.
- Ensure that you have a feedback architecture in place. Your feedback architecture acts as a sensory system to make sure you can track customer sentiment, providing insight into how customers think and feel. There are several things to consider here. For some touchpoints, feedback may organically recommence as people start using your service. However in other instances, if people have paused or stopped during this time, there may not be an organic event that will trigger feedback.
- Make sure you have a feedback action loop established. Customer sentiment is going to be changing almost as rapidly as the current situation. To keep your organisation aligned, you need a plan across the relevant teams for how to identify, prioritise and communicate to implement changes.
- Start planning now. Although no-one quite knows how things will unfold, there will still be likely scenarios for every business. Based on changing customer needs and values, it is possible to identify the most likely implications for your business ahead of time and to agree internally on the course of action you would take in response to each. Ensuring that you are set up for the rapid testing/validation of these hypotheses is the final piece of the jigsaw. Once you see how customer sentiment is evolving in relation to the hypotheses you created, you can then rapidly implement the plans you have made (or amend them as required).
Let's take travel, for example. As it is not possible to travel at present, many people will be saving up their annual leave until Q3 & Q4. So one scenario could be that people will be looking to go on holiday for more extended periods to use up their annual leave for the year. They may therefore really value discounts on longer trips. Another scenario could be that people have a real fear that the virus may come back and so rock-solid refund options could be much more attractive to customers. The organisations within the sector that most quickly / effectively identify which scenario is correct will come out ahead of their competitors.
Even though the specifics of the recovery remain uncertain, it is clear that what customers value and expect is going to be evolving as circumstances change. Organisations that can effectively adapt and react to the changing customers' needs will succeed during the recovery and beyond; the first step for any company is to make sure that they understand them.
To find out more, book a demo or take advantage of our complimentary consultation on Covid-19 recovery strategy for your business. Places are limited, on a first come, first serve basis - sign up here.