COVID-19: New Impacts on Customer Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how we do business in ways that were unimaginable one year ago. In this piece, we will discuss three major dynamics that have impacted the economy as a result of the pandemic and explore how these dynamics have great potential to negatively impact customer experience. Next, we factor in how consumers assign blame for a less than perfect customer experience. We conclude with a call for research necessary for brands and products whose customers have experienced challenges occasioned by the pandemic.

Economic Changes to the Economy During COVID-19 That Impact Customer Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a variety of changes in how business is conducted (or not) and these changes make the customer experience even more difficult to evaluate.  Take for instance some of the following major changes that COVID-19 has wrought on the world of commerce:

  • Businesses must follow regulations that impact the degree to which customers may enter a retail location, such as a store, restaurant, or even healthcare facilities.
  • Different rules around what constitutes an “essential worker” means that businesses will vary in terms of how they are staffed and how they are stocked.
  • The ability to keep supply chains moving can also cut back on what’s available in stores and the timing of deliveries.

Even in normal times, we know that customer experience is not often perfectly executed.  However, the dynamics just discussed often have a profound experience on the customer experience. Consider the following brief examples of their impact on the customer experience.

  • You cannot just walk into a store or other retail or service location and behave as you used to. A customer may be annoyed by this, but they might also be afraid if they feel too many people are being let in at once.
  • You really love a certain kind of candy bar, and now you cannot get it because the factory that makes it cannot open. Further, the time for delivery is increased because of a shortage of workers who ship and deliver the candy bars to the store where you buy them. You really need that candy bar!
  • Your mail service has slowed down because not enough “essential postal workers” are available to deliver mail at its regular cadence. You worry about whether that check and your medications will arrive in time.
  • You had a non-emergency surgery to alleviate back pain scheduled, but all non-emergency medical care is being postponed. You take your pain meds and try to get through it as best you can.
  • The gourmet market that always has the latest and greatest offerings that enables you to impress friends, has not been able to get many special products because delivery people aren’t available to keep the store filled. The number of compliments you get slows way down.

While most Americans have learned to cope with the situation to some degree, time has taken its toll. The examples presented, and many more, underscore new dents that can be made in the armor of the customer experience. Being able to get products and services you want, when you want, and the way you want makes life more bearable, especially in stressful times. Suffice it to say, many consumers’ level of anxiety and frustration are at an all-time high.

Though Not Always Fair, Brands Get at Least Some of the Blame

Whether or not it is fair, consumers will assign at least some of the blame for what’s going on to the brands, retailers, and service providers they use. Why does this happen? When something goes wrong or is unexpected, consumers consider how much control a brand, retailer or service provider have over the situation. In their more rational moments, consumers are judicious and realize that much may be out of a seller’s control. However, these times are not the best fodder for balanced, calm assessment. In either case, brands and products will inevitably take some of the blame for the situation.

 

Knowledge is Power: Research Yields Knowledge

Though they cannot control everything, companies do have the power to make a difference even during the pandemic. The key is finding out what is most upsetting to customers using market research, social media, and call center information to understand customers’ current experience and challenges they may be facing. Though such information does not solve all the problems caused by the pandemic, some of the challenges uncovered can be managed.

At ENGINE we work with clients who are now tracking how their customers feel about the pandemic generally and how it impacts their brands specifically. One of the key findings from such studies is that customers would like to receive clearer communications from these brands. If a product is not available this is frustrating, but it is better to know this and make alternative plans early in the shopping process. In addition, study findings suggest customers’ vulnerabilities and this information can be factored into how to treat customers.

In short, what you don’t know can hurt you and by using customer experience intelligence, you can stay at least somewhat ahead of the game.

Written by Scott Pimley, Ph.D., Senior Director at ENGINE Insights.