What consumers expect of businesses in a post-pandemic world

WORK

In partnership with Freshworks
September 24, 2021

If you needed customer support and the only option was to call them, would you be annoyed? What if you lost your ticket to a game, and they didn’t have a backup anywhere? Your answers now might be different than they would have been 10 years ago, because when consumer expectations evolve, they don’t usually go back.

When businesses change the customer experience (for example, by offering customer service messaging or digital tickets), consumers tend to adjust accordingly and hold other companies to a higher standard. But what if the reason that customer experience changes is a global pandemic? Will people still expect the changes to last?

During the pandemic, many companies changed their policies to accommodate special concerns. Businesses are offering elongated return windows, suspended fees, virtual visit options, and more.

We partnered with Freshworks to dig deeper into the habits and expectations consumers have formed over the past year and a half and find out whether they’re likely to last after the pandemic is contained. Our research included feedback from 1,150 consumers (including 662 working professionals) on SurveyMonkey Audience. 

The changes in customer experience that consumers plan to hold onto


First, we established a baseline by asking which types of accommodations our audience had already personally experienced. Eighty percent of the consumers we surveyed said they have personally benefited from one of these types of special accommodations. Virtual visits, flexible delivery options, and flexible payment options were most common.

According to our research, consumers expect that many shifts are here to stay. More than half of respondents anticipated virtual visits and new delivery options would stick around, and nearly half expected virtual events, increased customer service, and flexible billing options (including delayed billing or “skipping a month” for subscription services) to continue.

Most people seem to understand that financial changes, like discounts and waived fees, are  luxuries that businesses are extending to stay afloat through tough times—but accommodations that are more focused on flexibility, like virtual visits, are largely expected to stick around. The customer experience of the future could be far more focused on fluidity. 

How customer service changed during the pandemic

It might not only be policies that are expected to be more generous; we also found that consumers’ expectations about customer service have increased. 

When we asked whether people expected customer service teams to be more responsive in the midst of a pandemic, the majority either agreed (45%) or expected customer service to stay the same (30%). Only 25% said “less responsive,” in spite of the challenges that businesses are facing. In the eyes of consumers, companies need to adapt to customer needs—which might mean putting more emphasis on service.

In fact, customer service might be more important than companies realize in general: 55% of our respondents have made a decision to stay with or leave a company because of it.

Customer service is one of the most direct touchpoints that companies have with their customers, and therefore presents some of the best opportunities to leave an impression, good or bad. And there’s another factor that Forrester says is complicating customer service experience: the shift to virtual.

How the coronavirus pushed people to be more digital

The new habits that people have built over the course of the pandemic will influence the way businesses interact with them, especially if there are new forms of communication involved. 

Many people shifted from working in an office to working from home, becoming familiar with new video conferencing and collaboration tools. Even people who don’t have an office job or don’t work at all found themselves looking for ways to connect to their loved ones without being together in person. Over 70% of people signed up for digital services (like Zoom or Slack) over the past year or so, and most use digital services more now than they did before. 

We were also curious whether this flood of interest in digital services might recede a little when the world reintegrated, and so we asked about how people expected their use of these technologies to change in the future. An astonishing 80% said that they plan to increase their use in the future. Clearly, companies that want to meet their customers in the virtual world will have ample opportunity to do so.

80% of consumers anticipate increasing their use of digital services after the pandemic is contained.

So if companies do choose to invest in ways to engage with customers digitally, what should they prioritize as they’re choosing their solutions? From “most important” to “least important”, consumers listed: security, price, ease of use, customer support, and then brand familiarity. While most of that list might seem intuitive, the importance of security might surprise some people. It’s an area that many businesses overlook, but one that they should give due attention to, especially since the average cost of a data breach in the U.S., is $8.64 million, according to IBM.

If organizations want to meet potential customers on their terms, they’ll need to learn how to adapt, especially when it comes to communication, service, and technology. Those that do will grow and thrive in the years to come.

Methodology:

This Momentive study was conducted in January 2021. We surveyed over 1,150 adults aged k 18 and older, who live in the U.S. The sample was balanced by age and race, among other demographic variables, according to the U.S. Census.

Freshworks is a Momentive ecosystem partner. We collaborated with them on designing and fielding the survey research and co-published the findings.

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