Covid-19 and the changing psychology of the customer experience

With everything the past year or so has thrown at us, it is hard to overplay the impact it has had on the nation's psyche. Many of the changes caused by the pandemic were quick-fix, temporary measures which we will no doubt discard as we emerge into brighter times.

However, some of the new ways of working, shopping and banking that businesses and consumers may have been trialling through this period have worked well and proved popular, and if invested in further, will undoubtedly help us better meet the needs of customers in the new world.

So what should we expect of this next phase and beyond? Twice a year we publish the UK Customer Satisfaction Index (UKCSI), and our latest wave of research showed significant shifts in customer behaviour during the pandemic, many of which are likely to endure.

It also highlighted that Covid-19 has sharpened polarisation and inequality in society. Certain age groups and potentially those working in specific sectors with lower levels of household income have been particularly affected by changes in their financial, mental and physical wellbeing. The reverse is also true, where some consumers find themselves better off.

As the furlough scheme comes to an end, the financial strain on the least well-off will quickly grow and we are sadly likely to see an increase in vulnerable customers. We will help our members manage through this, ensuring they are equipped to deal with a broad range of issues that will come to the fore.

Our recent UKCSI research highlighted the key ways to serve those struggling most are to make it easier to contact the right person, improve website navigation, increase speed of response/resolution and develop more helpful, knowledgeable staff. Additionally, we identified nine recommendations and key actions for organisations to improve their customer service and respond to changing customer needs and behaviours:

At the other end of the spectrum, we are seeing customers with higher disposable income increasingly willing to pay more for better service as they gravitate towards the organisations they trust most. 

The challenge will be to meet the diverging needs of different demographics in a way that doesn't exacerbate the issue and risk creating a two-tier society. You can only do this by being fully attuned to the changing needs of your customers. What do they want to manage digitally? What requires the human touch? How do you best facilitate self-service without losing that all-important customer connection?

Our research shows that the organisations most aligned to the current needs of their customers are those who can consistently deliver against the key dimensions of customer satisfaction: experience, customer ethos, emotional connection and ethics.

For many organisations, these service dimensions have been tested as never before. Those that are listening to their customers, interpreting their data effectively and adapting quickly to implement necessary changes will be the ones who emerge the strongest. 

It is clearly a critical time for organisations to really consider as they build back how to ensure keep the customer and our employees at the centre of their businesses and how they continue to driver service as a key differentiator - those that do will be here in the longer term and will continue to add value to their customers, employees and shareholders.

The Institute of Customer Service is supporting next week's UK Finance Customer Experience Summit. Jo will be speaking in the keynote panel alongside David Duffy, CEO, Virgin Money, Jeni Mundy, Managing Director, UK & Ireland, Visa, Richard Fearon, CEO, Leeds Building Society, and Bob Wigley, Chair of UK Finance. They will be discussing what the pandemic has taught them about their customers and staff, and how they are planning to ensure their firms evolve in ways that benefit customers and continue to meet their changing needs.

Register for free for the event here.

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