The coronavirus lockdown is likely to change consumers’ relationships with brands in all kinds of ways.
With a third of the world’s population under some form of restriction because of the pandemic, millions of consumers have hours to spend online, reassessing the familiar and exploring the new.
At a time of such uncertainty, many will be searching for trust. They want a brand with the quality and commitment to service that guarantees delivery and fulfilment. Others, worried about the future and under financial stress, are likely to look for value. They may begin to purchase from unfamiliar brands.
In other words, it is a time of flux when it has never been more important for retailers to listen to what customers are saying, and to react quickly. Retailers must also make sure they are using their greatest assets – their brand advocates – in the best way possible to give consumers confidence in these troubled times.
Using feedback to learn what consumers want in their own words is essential
To listen intelligently, businesses must be ready to ask the right questions of customers when old assumptions may no longer hold. It’s vital to know which attributes of products or services consumers most value when they may be unable to leave their homes. Is it the ability to achieve quick turnaround and get accurate delivery slots? Or do consumers seek greater product durability during a period of hardship?
This is where customer insight platforms play a pivotal role. Without the ability to conduct surveys and request feedback from real customers, an organisation will be blind to the precise changes in customer opinion or demands that may develop overnight. It is important to understand where the crunch-points are for consumers in the customer journey; what makes them drop off and abandon a basket, for example.
Just assuming the old rules still apply is dangerous when there is such turmoil. The coronavirus lockdown is a once-in-a-generation experience that will make some consumers change their habits significantly and for a long time.
Don’t be left fumbling for the right response amid significant change
A brand without insights into these changes will be incapable of adapting. This is crucial not just for the duration of the current crisis, but for audience-building in preparation for its end. Already there are signs of increased spending in China, as the country tentatively emerges from its quarantine. While certain groups of consumers suffer permanent reduction in their spending power, others will engage in so-called “revenge spending”, making up for lost time. Whenever the recovery comes, retail businesses must be totally prepared to meet every expectation.
Think now about the post-Covid-19 market
Brands must actively ensure customers who have dropped off or gone elsewhere come back to them. But they must also start building a new audience and keep some of those new customers who, once the crisis is over, could revert to their former shopping habits. Consumers are individuals and will react differently. A retailer needs to know, even before activity picks up, the products and services that consumers will be looking for and what kind of customer experience they want.
A brand must know what to promote, where to iron out the inevitable glitches in the customer journey. Many retailers using review-based insights, for example, find that abandoned baskets can be reduced substantially through the insertion of customer feedback content at key points in that journey, including next to the buy button. But you need to know what is effective – and analysis of review content will tell you what works for your specific organisation.
Using surveys and customer feedback harvested by an automated insights platform, a brand obtains critical understanding of segmented groups of consumers. It can see what attracted new customers during the coronavirus crisis and decide whether the same factors will work once the crisis is over. Brands need to know what customers have been doing over time and whether and why they have continued purchasing or have become dissatisfied. While it’s tempting to concentrate on the customers who remained loyal, brands need to be prepared to chase those who drifted elsewhere.
Ensure you benefit from praise and positivity
Yet they must go one step farther and convert loyal customers into brand advocates. The only effective method is through a customer feedback and insights platform that automates review requests and analyses the responses. Artificial intelligence built into these platforms gives brands the capacity to extract what matters from thousands of pieces of review content, picking up key words and subtle shifts in sentiment. This delivers constantly refreshed insights into shifting customer opinion and enables a brand to extract the most telling review snippets it can broadcast across its channels. And of course, gaining rapid access to the topics that most interest them in review content, is a huge benefit for consumers.
A brand then promotes the best review content on its website and in marketing campaigns across every channel. Nothing is so persuasive as a positive review from a real fellow customer facing similar challenges or seeking the same qualities or services as the prospective purchaser. Research conducted by Feefo, for example, found 80 per cent of 2,000 UK consumers find reviews helpful.
A revised strategy based on feedback evidence
In these difficult times, brands need to make sure they maximise use of review content across all the channels. This should be part of a more strategic re-examination of what a brand promises and the messages it wants to get across to consumers. Whatever the outcome of this necessary re-examination, a brand must ensure it achieves consistency in messaging and use of review content or snippets across all channels.
Retailers must reassess how they cultivate that emotional bond with customers, so that the mere mention of the name triggers positive feelings. Authenticity and transparency will continue to be highly prized, so the goal for brands is to become part of the fabric of consumers’ lives. With millions of people currently forced to shop online, retailers need to build a rapport with each consumer’s mouse.
Do not underestimate too, the adrenaline boost that positive reviews generate among staff at time of turmoil and anxiety. The arrival of genuine praise from customers who may themselves be worried about who they can rely on, provides real emotional uplift within an organisation.
Use advanced technology to exploit the riches of review content
Feedback content and analysis must be the fuel for brands driving more effective engagement and transformed customer experience in the current difficult circumstances and beyond.
The rules of retail customer experience may well have changed during the coronavirus lockdown and those shifts in consumers’ habits will carry on afterwards. The consequences are difficult to predict, but brands certainly need to undertake a thorough re-examination of how to address changed expectations. Authentic review content and advanced, AI-powered customer feedback and insight platforms will be utterly essential to this vital task.
Matt West, CEO, Feefo