Consumer brand allegiance shifts as COVID-19 impacts CX expectations

Surprising trio of Aussie brands lead for customer service in new KPMG report, while a fresh look at consumer expectations shows growing support for brands with purpose

Safety, security, transparency and reliable delivery became the top customer experience attributes for Australian consumers as the COVID-19 crisis prompted a shift in the brands they value most, a new KPMG report claims.

The insights came as another consumer survey found more of us looking to the origin of products and buying from local stores in a rallying cry to support small business during the pandemic.

KPMG’s latest Customer Experience Excellence Report was based on surveys of more than 20,000 people between March and May and aimed to understand what has been driving consumer expectations of customer service during COVID-19.

It found the top three brands during the pandemic were First Choice Liquor, IKEA and Afterpay, a vastly different trio to the airlines and financial services brands previously dominating customer experience rankings. And the reason was because they got the CX basics right.

According to the KPMG report, First Choice Liquor topped the list because of its product range, availability, value for money and enjoyable purchase experience led by friendly, cheerful and helpful staff.

IKEA benefited from Australians setting up home offices, gyms or generally upgrading their immediate environment during lockdown, and customers reportedly found the transition to IKEA's website seamless and easy to navigate. And as digital shopping became the primary transactional channel for Australians, survey respondents noted Afterpay played an instrumental role in helping them transition to ecommerce.

Rounding out the top 10 CX brands during the height of the pandemic were Boost Juice, Rebel, PayPal, Red Energy, Dan Murphy’s, ING and Best&Less.

Among the improvers, Red Energy was recognised for proactively rewarding customers for their loyalty. Rebel was also highlighted for its excellent service, availability of products and seamless experiences, whether interacting online, in store or via phone.  

Another big improver was NSW Health. Consumers in the KPMG survey reflected positively on timely and transparent COVID-19 updates, which served to ease concerns and set expectations about what is to come. Many noted staff going above and beyond to support citizens and patients with information and resources to navigate this challenging time.   

KPMG said the results all point to consumers rewarding brands that are dependable, safe, transparent and secure.

“In times of upheaval, it’s probably not surprising consumer focus has moved back to basics. But what Australian consumers consider essential – compared to their counterparts across the globe – highlights unique immediate and horizon opportunities for local brands and businesses,” KPMG national managing partner for brand and marketing, Amanda Hicks, said.

“During the peak of national COVID restrictions, Australian consumers naturally interacted less with certain sectors, such as insurance companies or airlines, and instead shifted to the new COVID shutdown essentials such as home office and gym equipment suppliers. And we can see their expectations also changed in terms of defining excellent customer experiences, with a real focus on reliability, safety-first and value.

“Looking at our findings through a COVID-19 lens, companies which were able to maintain a level of commercial cadence, the rhythm associated with how customers and organisations transact and interact, ranked highest.”  

The ongoing COVID-19 impact

KPMG’s findings are a complement to the latest Kantar COVID-19 Barometer, also released this week.

Kantar’s survey found consumers are increasingly focused on cost and smart financial planning and spending, with a record seven in 10 bargain hunting and six in 10 looking for products on sale. Four in 10 are also delaying big purchases and holidays in favour of moderation.

The brand research group also reported expectations of brands leading by example and guiding change are on the rise, with a quarter of respondents agreeing they want brands ‘to be practical and realistic and help consumers in their daily lives’. Since June, the number of consumers wanting brands to ‘attack the crisis and demonstrate it can be fought’ has also doubled to 15 per cent.

Read more: Brands have an important role to play during the COVID-19 crisis - if they're useful

In addition, Kantar’s latest COVID-19 Barometer reported 45 per cent of Australians are paying much more attention to the origin of products, and seven in 10 are buying from local stores in a show of support for local small businesses.

There’s also heightened concerns around economic recovery.  The percentage of consumers worried about the speed of getting Australian businesses back up to speed, for example, has lifted more than 16 per cent to over 70 per cent since March.

Kantar Australia executive director of brand strategy, Ryan France, said the group’s BrandZ data makes it clear corporate social responsibility, both social and environmental, has become a genuine contributor to brand strength. He said it’s the brands with strong equity and that show strong leadership and innovate that will therefore better ride out the ongoing crisis.

“Brands that come out ahead in the COVID disruption era will not only reaffirm or reframe what makes them meaningfully different as product and service providers, but also what makes them meaningful or different as participants in broader Australian society,” he said.  

“We may not expect brands to save the world, but those that show how they play a responsible role in that world will find themselves standing on firmer foundations in the minds of their consumers.”

The barometer also took a look at ongoing digital take-up, finding media consumption, including social media, fell considerably since April (excepting Victoria), a result it attributed in part to sensory deprivations. However, TV and content streaming, online videos and Internet browsing are rising.

The latest Kantar COVID-19 Barometer is based on surveys of 500 Australians between 14-18 August 2020 with an emphasis on a mix of gender, age and region.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

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