New Report: How Brands Have Delivered on COVID-19 Customer Experience

Over this past pandemic-ridden year, companies have been in a state of constant uncertainty as they’ve tried to deliver positive COVID-19 customer experiences. Businesses were forced to rework themselves into the digital landscape and prioritize customer safety. 

According to CX Standards, our ongoing customer experience study, businesses somehow defied the odds and succeeded in providing a satisfactory customer experience despite the barriers of the pandemic. Looking for proof? It’s in the numbers!

What CX Standards Had to Say About COVID-19 Experiences

COVID-19 Customer Experience

CX Standards tracks thousands of customer interactions with over 300 companies across 17 industries in the United States and found that, in 2020, most industries’ Net Promoter Score (NPS) increased in comparison to 2019, when more experiences were still in person.

The chart above summarizes our findings on how consumers ranked each industry in 2019 and 2020 according to their overall customer experience, which in turn gave us a big-picture look at how satisfied the general public is. For example, if you compare the spring and fall seasons for the technology, utilities, and professional services industries to non-pandemic periods, you can see how median customer satisfaction scores have improved. 

In the spring of 2020, median satisfaction scores were 9% higher than the months leading up to the pandemic. Similarly, the scores for the fall of 2020 increased 4% from the same time in 2019.  

You would think that overall customer satisfaction would have decreased drastically in 2020 because of all the obstacles that come with a virtual world, but instead, customers were generally more satisfied than when the world was “normal.” The question to ask, then, is what can we learn from how the customer experience has evolved during the pandemic?

Three Insights from COVID-19’s Impact on Customer Experience

  1. CX programs are essential to keeping your business afloat
  2. Online experiences make or break a consumer’s opinion of your brand
  3. CX will still hold weight in a post-pandemic world

Insight #1: CX Programs Keep Your Business Afloat

Businesses have had to respond quickly to the changes COVID-19 created: shifting from in-store to digital-only interactions, going to extreme lengths to make sure customers know that their products are sanitary and safe, and taking care of all their employees so they can do their work at home when possible. In order to survive, many brands employed new digital frameworks to continue to sell their products and services. For instance, the restaurant industry experienced one of the highest NPS increases in 2020 by integrating features like QR code menus to enhance outdoor dining experiences or partnering with third-party services for a smoother pick up/delivery.

The idea of so many businesses operating solely online seemed unimaginable just a year ago, but the pandemic forced that to become reality, teaching us that a solid CX program is the first step in successfully adapting to the digital consumer environment. People’s attention spans are shorter online, websites are just not the same as talking to a human being in a store, and customers’ problems can be hard to fix when they’re displayed on a computer screen.

The world will only transform more into a digitalized landscape, which has many advantages but also a fair share of challenges. The challenge for customer experience lies in still supplying the attentive customer service someone should receive in a store when that customer is interacting online.

Insight #2: Online experiences Make or Break a Consumer’s Opinion of Your Brand

It’s no secret that people barely take time to sift through a website—you probably don’t either. The consensus from several studies is that viewers spend less than a minute scrolling before they leave a website, which means that it takes just a few seconds for them to form an opinion. Even if a customer has never spoken to anyone in your company, your website speaks for you and it can easily communicate the wrong ideas.

One of InMoment’s customers had to face this issue when the pandemic hit. This major home goods retailer depended on in-person interactions to make sales, but with customers only being able to browse products online due to restrictions, it needed to circle back. 

With consultation from InMoment customer experience experts, the retailer transformed its website to include new digital listening posts like live chat, which allowed online salespeople to inform customers which products were more suited to their needs, just as they would in store! With these adaptations, the retailer was able to guide the online experience rather than risk customers leaving after having to scroll through endless pages of products.

Another factor to take into account is how brand reputation relies heavily on your online presence, which is not solely made up of your company website. It also consists of your social media posts and advertisements. A customer’s entire opinion of your business can be swayed with just a few clicks, so it’s imperative that your online customer experience be viewed as crucially as the in-person experience.

Insight #3: In a Post-Pandemic World, Customer Expectations Will Not Go Back to Normal

Now that customers are used to the benefits of digital, they might not want to go back to the same customer experiences they had before the pandemic. It’s not so crazy to think that customers will still want kiosk ordering at a restaurant instead of having to talk to the cashier, or to order a pair of shoes online and pick them up in store. After restrictions are lifted, customers will likely prefer a more hybrid approach and expect businesses to continue a strong online presence. 

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that it’s nearly impossible to predict the future. We may not be able to guarantee the status of customer satisfaction after businesses adapt, but what’s certain is that CX programs need to refine their digital and in-person strategies so companies can thrive moving forward. 

To read more about what we found out in our CX Standards study and how COVID-19 continues to impact the customer experience, check out this report!  

Fight Change with Change: How Brands Can Overcome COVID

We’ve explored how COVID-19 has changed customer experience (CX) and behaviour in prior conversations, and how those changes are likely to leave the CX landscape altered for the foreseeable future. While the announcement and gradual deployment of a COVID vaccine is certainly cause for hope, it’s important to remember that the pandemic will be with the majority of us a while longer.

This is not the most welcome of news, especially for brands in hard-hit verticals like non-grocery retail and food service, but those organisations still have recourse for keeping their heads above water and thriving in the post-COVID world. Here’s how brands can stay ahead—how they can fight change with change.

Choose Your Transaction

Customers have enjoyed being able to choose how to transact with brands, but the rise of COVID-19 has put most of them on high alert in this regard. Customers are now especially wary of any threats to their health or personal safety, and take these factors into account when considering everything from in-person interactions with employees to touching a self-service kiosk.

As I mentioned in a previous discussion, contactless payments have skyrocketed during COVID-19 and will certainly remain the norm even after this pandemic concludes. There’s a more abstract shift underlying this trend, though, and it’s that customers are expecting brands to deliver greater transaction choice whatever its form. Foot Locker, for example, has continued to offer contactless payments, but has also begun offering Klarna as an online option. Customers have also come to expect these changes at a quicker pace thanks to COVID, and will continue to do so.

Tech’s Time to Shine

As difficult as this pandemic has been for many organisations, it also presents an opportunity to create new, oftentimes unorthodox solutions to the virus and other business challenges. Innovation has gotten many a brand through adverse times before, which is why companies must think outside the technological box as much as their resources will allow.

My favorite example of COVID-era innovation right now is Tesco, which has sought to address the rise in contactless payments by piloting its own drone programme. With this initiative, the grocer is using a fleet of drones to deliver groceries to customers in Ireland, satisfying those individuals’ desire for contactless payments and personal safety all at once. Tesco may very well continue the programme even after the pandemic subsides—after all, the innovations minted during crises rarely just go away after the fact.

A New World

That last idea is something that brands should bear in mind going forward. Not to sound indelicate, but crises come and go. Innovation, however, is forever. Organisations should remember that the tools they’re developing to combat COVID-19 now will likely serve as the foundation of a post-pandemic world. Fighting change with change is not just a stopgap measure; it provides a map for what brands can expect from their customers (and what customers will expect of them) going forward.

Click here to learn more about my take on this subject, the obstacles brands face in the age of COVID, and how they might find success for themselves and their customers as we transition to 2021.

Top 5 Game-Changing Experience Improvement Blogs from 2020

2020 asked us to step up our game—a lot. In fact, it seems as if the last year actually consisted of multiple years, with January and February feeling like they were light-years ago. Organizations have had to pivot multiple times since March in order to navigate the Coronavirus, but savvy brands have found a secret weapon: Experience Improvement (XI) initiatives.

XI initiatives provide a pathway for brands to not only listen to how customers are feeling about specific experiences (like COVID-19 specific policies, curbside pickup, etc.), but also to understand what actions they need to take to improve those experiences in a timely manner. In a way, a well-designed program serves as a roadmap in uncharted territory.

But how do you successfully set up such a program? Well, you’ve come to the right place for the answer. The InMoment XI Blog is your go-to place for everything Experience Improvement, from how-to’s, to what’s next, and even stories of rockstar brands.

Here are a few of our favorite blogs from 2020 at a glance:

Top Five 2020 Blogs for Experience Improvement

  1. What Does Customer Experience Look Like in the World of Coronavirus
  2. How to Ensure Successful Survey Design during a Pandemic
  3. 3 Powerful Ways to Create Engaging Transactional Customer Surveys
  4. How to Truly Understand Customer Needs, Wants, and Expectations
  5. Why Market Research is Vital to Your CX Program in Times of Crisis (and Beyond!)

What Does Customer Experience Look Like in the World of Coronavirus

This was our flagship piece of thought leadership on Coronavirus best practices. Though our experts Jim Katzman and Eric Smuda authored this piece in March, these best practices are still incredibly vital for brands going into 2021. After all, we still have a few more months until the vaccine can be distributed widely enough!

Click here to get the low-down on the top five ways brands can leverage their experience programs in their COVI-19 strategy.

How to Ensure Successful Survey Design during a Pandemic

One of the most common questions clients asked our expert practitioners in 2020 was, “should we alter our survey because of Coronavirus precautions?”

Their answer: it depends. More specifically, there are three factors brands should consider before making changes to their survey. You can read about them here.

3 Powerful Ways to Create Engaging Transactional Customer Surveys

A successful listening approach has multiple surveys with specific purposes. One of the most necessary for understanding the experience at different touchpoints is the transactional survey.

But as it goes with everything, there are best practices, and there are practices that can stop productivity in its tracks. In this blog, we have three specific strategies you can employ for engaging, intelligence-gathering, action-inspiring transactional surveys. Check it out here!

How to Truly Understand Customer Needs, Wants, and Expectations

How do you deliver incredible experiences that make customers eager to come back for more? You first need to understand what customers expect from your brand. This is one of the fundamental functions of an Experience Improvement initiative; it is also one of the most powerful ways your program can positively impact your bottom line.

In this article on the XI InMoment Blog, strategist Eric Smuda walks you through the process he employs to help our clients understand their customers. Read more here.

Why Market Research is Vital to Your CX Program in Times of Crisis (and Beyond!)

The thing about unprecedented situations is that the information you need to guide your efforts will not be in your existing data. That means that times of crisis are the best time to turn to a market research solution.

In this article, Strategic Insights Team expert Radi Hindawi discusses the power of market research and three rules for brands looking to weave it into their strategy. You can find it here.

We hope you have enjoyed the content on the XI InMoment Blog this year, and our team is looking forward to bringing you even more thought leadership, best practices, and customer stories in 2021!

How COVID-19 Changed Customer Experience Forever

Many of us may try to forget 2020 altogether, but the changes that COVID-19 brought to the world won’t disappear anytime soon. Customer experience (CX) practitioners the world over are reckoning with this challenge as they make sense of a new experience landscape. In order to fully understand the path forward, however, it’s important to take a look at what exactly happened in 2020 and how COVID changed customer experiences forever.

The Early Trends

As I discussed in my recent article on this subject, I saw a number of trends in the CX world really take off at the beginning of the pandemic. Some of these trends were already on the rise before the Coronavirus arrived, but this crisis has expedited their trajectory. This is most true of contactless payments. Digitisation had already made these the norm for many businesses and industries, but as I’m sure you can imagine, customers on high alert for virus-contaminated surfaces have propelled it to new heights.

Relatedly, many major brands introduced initiatives that further reduce physical contact between customers and frontline employees. These initiatives were already linked to increased digitisation in many respects, but social distancing and other health guidelines have really thrust them into focus. As a result, this trend of brands keeping customers and employees separate wherever possible has been humming along these last 9-10 months—and isn’t ending anytime soon.

The Homebody Economy

Quarantine and social distancing have changed customer life in ways beyond shopping. Though it probably comes as no surprise, the amount of people who commute via train here in the United Kingdom has dwindled to a tiny fraction of pre-2020 numbers. A COVID-19 vaccine is gradually being made available in this country, yes, but commuter trends aren’t likely to return to any sort of “normal” in the near future.

Closer to home, we’re seeing what I call “the homebody economy” maintain its grip on quarantined customers all over the globe. It used to be that work, personal activities, and other endeavors were clearly distinct from one another, but as the months at home have dragged on, all of these pursuits have mixed together. Additionally, we’ve seen the development of a “time soup” made of shifting shopping habits—customers are now much more likely to make purchases during the week than risk crowds on the weekend.

The Next Step

All of these strengthening and emerging trends—from increasing contactless payments to the homebody economy—have already had a profound effect on the customer experience paradigm. They present new, unanticipated challenges for CX teams and practitioners, especially as demand for some products and services across industries has fallen due to economic hardship.

The question, then, is how exactly can brands respond to these challenges, especially since they’re not going away anytime soon?

Click here to learn more about my take on this subject, the obstacles brands face in the age of COVID, and how they might find success for themselves and their customers as we transition to 2021.

What Customers Say the 2020 Holiday Retail Season Will Look Like with COVID-19

Summer has passed, school is back in session, and Halloween is just around the corner. You know what typically comes up next: the holiday shopping season.

The only thing is that 2020 is anything but typical. There were very few summer road trips, kids are wearing masks or taking classes from home, and trick-or-treating might be off the menu to limit COVID-19 spread. So what can retailers expect—if anything—from the holiday shopping season?

Well, at InMoment, we believe that asking customers is the best way to understand their expectations and perceptions, so our Strategic Insights Team is here with the answers! Enter our brand new report, “What Retailers Can Expect from Customers in the 2020 Holiday Season.”

In this study, we asked over 5,000 North American customers all about the 2020 holiday shopping season, including:

  • When they will shop
  • What they will be shopping for
  • Whether they will be shopping in store or online
  • If they expect to attend Black Friday doorbusters
  • And more!

Typically, you’d need to download the full report to access the findings, but we’ve decided to give you a sneak peek into our findings! Keep reading for insights that will get you prepared for the upcoming season.

How Will the State of the Pandemic Affect Shoppers Feelings and Habits?

If it’s one lesson we’ve learned so far this year, it’s that we need to expect the unexpected. When many of us started working from home at InMoment in March, we never imagined that we wouldn’t be able to work in the office for months. Customers know this, but they are still feeling optimistic that circumstances with the pandemic will improve in the next few months according to our research.

In the unstructured data accompanying these questions, customers went into their feelings in more detail:

  • “I don’t think it will get better until 2021…but that will not stop my [upcoming holiday shopping].”
  • “I think things will remain the same for a while…we just have to get used to this [new normal].”

Though we all hope that we will see improvement in the next few months, we have to face the reality that there is a possibility COVID-19 will be with us through the new year. With that in mind, we asked how this possibility would affect likelihood to switch from in-store shopping to online.

In this case, customers were especially wary of their personal safety and health if the pandemic is still among us in the holidays, with the majority (65%) stating they are more likely to shop online. Still, 35% said they would still shop in stores; these customers described:

  • “I think [brands] are doing enough right now to make sure I’m safe when in their stores.”
  • “As long as the [COVID measures] are still in place, I will be going to the stores.”

It should definitely give retail brands a boost to know that they are making their customers feel safe, and that the in-store experience is so important in the eyes of their customers. 

Looking Forward

Preparation is key, especially in such a busy season. But add in a global pandemic and being prepared seems to be almost impossible. 

However, if retailers are armed with information directly about their customers about what they will do in the event that the pandemic worsens, whether they’ll be shopping in store or online, and more, they will know where they need to dedicate their time and resources to succeed. 

Looking for even more detailers on what your customers are expecting this holiday shopping season? You can download the full report for free here!

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