How can companies adapt to changing customer expectations during COVID-19?
First and foremost, it pays to understand how customer expectations have changed, what is driving those trends, and how they will continue to evolve in the future.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the biggest shifts that have occurred in customer behavior, then look at how companies can adapt to meet their customers’ evolving needs.
How Customer Expectations Have Changed During the Pandemic
According to McKinsey, there are a few major points to keep in mind about customers’ changing expectations during COVID-19:
- In terms of digital adoption, consumer behavior has leaped a “decade in days” thanks to three forces: the economic downturn, preference shifts, and digital acceleration
- The permanency of behavior shifts will depend on how satisfying new customer experiences are
- The future is now, so companies should prepare immediately
McKinsey also goes on to point out that behavior shifts have occurred in eight major areas:
- Communications and information
- Travel and mobility
- Shopping and consumption
- Life at home
- Play and entertainment
- Health and wellbeing
Each of these areas has seen a dramatic shift.
In general, the shift has been towards digitization, digitalization, and digital adoption.
- Remote working has driven the mass adoption of certain types of products, such as cloud computing and online collaboration tools
- Remote learning has skyrocketed during the pandemic
- Online communication and media consumption has boomed, while in-person consumption, such as theater visits, has declined
- International travel has dropped by around 80%
- Ecommerce has exploded, while retail shopping has dropped and most consumers prefer to shop close to home
In some cases, McKinsey suggests, these behaviors will remain permanent, while others will only be temporary. As we’ll see below, this will become an important point to keep in mind when planning for the COVID-19 disruption and the post-COVID “next normal.”
How to Adapt to Changing Customer Expectations During COVID-19
Here are a few ways that businesses can adapt to changing customer expectations during the pandemic:
Learn how customers’ values have shifted
Every industry has been affected differently by the pandemic, but in many cases, customers’ values have shifted significantly.
Since those shifts will often impact buying behavior and brand expectations, it is important to assess one’s audience and their needs.
For instance, income levels have fallen for many consumers around the world. As a result, many consumers are focusing their spending on essentials, while eliminating discretionary spending.
Bolster digital channels
People are spending much more time at home, which has resulted in a mass adoption of digital technology.
As we saw above, for instance, ecommerce, online learning, and remote working have all seen dramatic increases.
Those organizations that have “future-proofed” their business by adopting digital technology have been more resilient and profitable.
Here are a few examples of how companies should bolster their digital channels:
- Invest in digital sales and marketing
- Ensure that customers can shop online
- Provide omnichannel experiences that are seamless and consistent
- Add customer care solutions that are automated and digitized
Though the post-COVID world may not be fully virtual, it will certainly be more digital – the most successful brands will be those that can cater to customers both online and offline.
Maintain trust and loyalty
The upheaval caused by COVID-19 has resulted in major disruptions to supply chains.
Factors such as availability and affordability, in turn, have driven many customers to change brands.
At the same time, trust in brands has been shaken.
Customers, for instance, are often concerned about:
- Whether brands exploit crises to maximize profits
- How well a brand takes care of its employees
- How well customers are taken care of
- Health and safety
During the pandemic, it is more important than ever to track customer sentiment, trust, and brand loyalty.
That information will help businesses better address customer concerns and maintain trust.
Understand customers’ health and safety concerns
Health and safety have become primary considerations during the pandemic.
Customers now expect brands to maintain much higher levels of hygiene and safety than they did before 2020.
These expectations can include areas such as:
- Products and packaging
- Physical shopping
- Interactions with customer service personnel
- How companies treat their employees
Given the sensitivity and difficulty of the crisis, it is important to remember that brands’ actions during this time will have a lasting impact on customer loyalty and behavior.
Cater to the “nesting” customer
Most customers have been spending far more time at home during the pandemic, which has resulted in a number of behavior shifts.
- A greater demand for home-related products and services
- A decrease in certain types of activity, such as long-distance travel and retail shopping
- Avoiding places that attract crowds, such as malls or large events
As with the other points mentioned above, it is important to remember that every industry is different. Each business should assess its own audience and determine how their customers’ expectations have changed.
Finally, and most importantly, it should be remembered that many of these changes will become permanent.
We are not, as McKinsey and many others have pointed out, returning to normal after the pandemic ends.
Instead, the economy will return to a post-pandemic “new normal” that will fundamentally change the way customers behave, interact, and shop – and the best way to adapt to that new normal is by preparing now.