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Don’t pump the brakes: why brands can’t stop their digital engagement progress

When the pandemic hit, many brands were forced to suddenly alter how, when and where they engaged with customers

The one drawback of impressing someone is the expectation you’ll continue to do so.

This is one core challenge facing brands today. When the pandemic hit, many were forced to suddenly alter how, when and where they engaged with customers. For most, this meant contactless and digital channels in lieu of physical locations.

It turns out that most brands made this transition pretty well. A recent survey my company conducted of thousands of customers across five countries found that, from their perspective, brands generally knocked it out of the park with their digital customer experiences (CX) during the pandemic. And according to these same customers, the majority expect brands to continue improving their digital CX when we’re finally through this mess.

In other words, brands can’t pump the brakes on their digital CX post pandemic. They’ve already elevated expectations among their customers; any let up now may risk losing them. This projects to be one of the key challenges facing brand marketers as we slowly move toward a post-pandemic world.

CX improvements amidst the pandemic

The digital shift brands embarked on (and are still pursuing) in 2020 was fast and furious, but well-executed and effective according to our survey, which examined how consumers in five countries at varying stages of vaccine rollout — Israel (ahead of the curve), the US and UK (moderately paced rollouts), and India and Brazil (currently lagging) — view the digital communications efforts from brands one year into the Covid-19 pandemic.

We found that the aspects of the customer experience that consumers felt were most improved during the pandemic varied by country:

  • Brazil: flexibility with customer requests

  • India: message delivery speed

  • US and Israel: providing the option to engage with brands using the consumers’ preferred channel (ie SMS, chat app)

  • UK: sending relevant content

Answers also varied by country when we asked people why they have enjoyed these digital interactions over in-person interactions during the past year. Consumers in Brazil, Israel and the US cited speed of delivery and engagement, meanwhile those in the UK and India called out convenience, both core benefits of digital CX.

Sustaining Elevated Digital ‘CXpectations’

It’s clear from the data that consumers responded well to the digital CX initiatives brands took on over the past year. In fact across all five countries, over three-quarters (78%) said their expectations for how companies interact and communicate with them rose during the pandemic. But what if a brand ditched physical communications entirely and only offered digital communications as a customer engagement tool moving forward? Would consumers still do business with them?

The answer for brand marketers is a resounding ‘yes.‘

Take a look at the table below. Across six industries, a majority of consumers in every country said they would still do business with a brand if it only offered digital interaction post pandemic. However, it also suggests countries that are closer to complete re-openings (ie Israel) are less inclined to prefer digital-only interactions, as physical interactions open up more quickly than less-vaccinated countries.

If your preferred companies in the following industries only offered digital interactions post-pandemic, would you still choose to do business with them?

For brands navigating the digital CX road ahead, the message is clear: consumers see the digital progress you made over the past year and expect you to continue delivering great digital CX.

They also articulated where exactly they’d like you to focus your efforts moving forward:

  1. Message delivery speed (cited by 92% globally)

  2. Response times (89%)

  3. Flexibility with customer requests (88%)

  4. Showing customers you care (85%)

The ingredients for brand marketers seeking to continue delivering strong digital CX post pandemic are one part seamless, omnichannel experience (think SMS, chat apps, social media) coupled with a heavy dose of empathy.

No doubt the pandemic accelerated the opportunity many brands were already considering deploying new channels and digital strategies. And if those changes felt rushed, fear not, you were successful. Any stumbles in your early digital CX engagement were quickly overshadowed by the improvements in speed, efficiency, response times and empathy digital engagement channels so effectively enable.

It’s important (consumers’ words, not mine!) that you don’t let up when the pandemic does. By continuously evolving and improving your digital CX, you’re showing customers you heard them, you’re committed to them and you value them. At the end of the day, that’s what matters the most.