In 2021, Loyalty Shouldn’t Be Assumed

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Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers were patient with businesses, particularly ones with which they had established relationships, but that might not be the case for much longer, according to a recent Experian Global Insights report.

David Britton, Experian’s vice president of industry services, says that while consumers were tolerant of disjointed customer service at the start of the pandemic, they now have “pandemic fatigue” and will no longer accept the pandemic as an excuse for poor service.

According to the Experian report, 60 percent of people have higher expectations of their digital experience now than they did before COVID-19. For example, one in three consumers are willing to wait no more than 30 seconds before abandoning their online transactions.

Most consumers in the United States (81 percent), India (79 percent), and the United Kingdom (75 percent) believe their higher expectations are being met, but those figures are likely to drop as the pandemic drags on, Britton fears.

Consumers also have higher expectations for security and convenience, and rising demand for online payments, banking, and shopping is pushing businesses to re-imagine the customer journey and the investments needed to drive future growth.

The trend has prompted Forbes to create a new class of consumers, “now customers,” who expect the goods and services they want to be instantly available and quickly delivered.

“To win, business must invest now in their digital experience. The cost of doing nothing is greater than investing in the customer journey,” Steve Wagner, global managing director of decision analytics at Experian, wrote in the report.

While half of the businesses surveyed have either mostly or completely resumed operations since COVID-19 began, only 24 percent are deliberately making changes to their digital customer journeys.

Many companies went to great lengths to shift to new or enhanced digital services at the start of the pandemic, Britton adds. “Companies need to double down. All of the energy companies put in at the start of the pandemic can’t go away. The job isn’t done. There’s much more work to be done.”

The Experian report identified the following initiatives that retail banks, payment providers, and retailers should take to help with digital transformation accelerated by COVID-19:

  • use of artificial intelligence to improve customer decisions;
  • strengthening security of mobile and digital channels;
  • increasing digital acquisition and improving engagement; and
  • understanding customer profiles.

Customer loyalty is at stake, the research suggests. Two-thirds of consumers globally have remained loyal to their favorite brands during the pandemic, but that is also something that could wane, according to Britton, who points out that the move to digital makes it much easier for consumers to switch from one brand to another.

Proactive communication is the most important thing companies can do to ensure that customers stay loyal, according to Britton. “You need to show that you care and are willing to communicate with them.”

Doing so provides busines benefits beyond customer loyalty, Britton adds. By proactively reaching out to customers, it helps the contact center avoid being overwhelmed with reactive calls/emails/text messages.

The report also found that three of the top five solutions businesses are using to help improve customer journeys are designed to drive quicker insights into customer decisions, and four in 10 businesses are doing a better job communicating how customer data is used to enhance the customer experience, protecting consumer information, and personalizing products and services.

The report also found that the consumer trust issue is becoming increasingly important as a loyalty differentiator, with Britton adding that trust goes two ways: Consumers want to trust companies, but companies also need to protect themselves and their customers against fraud.

When customers first work with companies, they are willing to provide some basic information, but they will not be comfortable providing additional personal details until some initial trust is established. The longer customers are with a company, the more information they will be willing to divulge. The more information customers provide, the better, more personalized service the company will be able to give in return, Britton says. 

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