Although the COVID crisis was a catastrophic and even fatal event for many small business owners, others were able to take advantage of these trying times by drawing consumers to their shops with the magic wand of 2020—excellent customer service. New research from customer and employee experience firm Freshworks explores the new shape of the global consumer after an unprecedented pandemic that spotlights a revival of Main Street businesses amid rapid adoption of digital tools.
The study, conducted in partnership with Dynata, found that 41 percent of consumers were inspired to support local businesses during the pandemic and a whopping 94 percent plan to continue, revealing a major shift in the global economy.
Consumers participating in the study recognized the strides small and local businesses made in customer service—and said their improvements outpaced large companies by 50 percent—but patience and empathy for all companies appear to be running thin as the pandemic winds down. The research suggests that it will now be a business mandate for companies across all markets, sizes and industries to meet ever-rising customer expectations and deliver seamless delight through a range of in-person and digital channels.
“Main Street is poised for a breakout year as they lead the revitalized economy both in person and online,” said Girish Mathrubootham, chief executive officer and founder of Freshworks, in a news release. “We believe providing world-class digital engagement is no longer a nice-to-have but rather a business imperative to continue to delight customers no matter how they consume goods and services.”
The research explored evolving consumer habits and preferences over the course of the pandemic that will shape our new normal.
Key findings include:
Local businesses made major inroads during the pandemic–by raising the bar on the customer experience
- Nearly half (48 percent) of global consumers said small businesses got better at customer service during the pandemic, by starting to offer online ordering (53 percent), delivery service (52 percent), and providing a better level of personalization (47 percent).
- One in three survey respondents called out innovations like improved websites (34 percent) and better digital supports like chatbots (33 percent).
- During the same period, less than a third (29 percent) of global consumers thought large businesses got better at customer service while most (71 percent) said large businesses stayed the same or got worse during the pandemic.
- Consumers plan to extend the local boom and say that post-pandemic they will prioritize spending on domestic and international travel (41 percent), eating at restaurants and bars (31 percent), and shopping for clothes and accessories at malls (30 percent).
Consumers were empathetic to companies facing pandemic challenges–but the clock is running out
- One in four consumers (25 percent) said they were extra kind during customer service exchanges during the pandemic, with India (42 percent), Brazil (39 percent), Singapore (27 percent) and the U.S. (26 percent) the kindest.
- However, 27 percent of consumers said they’re sick of the COVID-19 excuse for bad customer service.
- More than half (54 percent) said they will feel this way once vaccinations are widespread and local lockdowns and regulations are lifted.
Post-pandemic customers are more demanding than ever
- Nearly two thirds of the respondents said when they feel like customer service is wasting their time, they are less likely to be understanding or empathetic.
- Over 70 percent of those surveyed say companies that grew during the pandemic should be giving back, with discounts and sales, lower prices or giving back to the community.
- Almost one quarter of consumers support “cancel culture,” meaning customers or fans will stop supporting a company or person if they do something perceived as inappropriate or rude.
“Customers have been accommodating as companies navigated the challenges of the pandemic, but they are running out of patience—and have higher expectations than ever,” said Stacey Epstein, chief marketing officer of Freshworks, in the release. “Our research reveals that customers seek superior experiences from companies regardless of size and that local companies are gaining an edge with quicker, more personal service that has been supported by digital technology. In the post-pandemic economic boom, we believe companies that delight their customers across in-person and digital channels will seize the lead.”
“The research aligns with what we are seeing in the market as consumer preferences have shifted from big box players to local businesses. Local companies using digital technologies out served their big box counterparts during the pandemic” said R “Ray” Wang, founder and principal analyst at Constellation Research, in the research. “The bar has been raised for companies of all sizes who are expected to retain and expand upon these digital services to better meet the demands of their customer base.”
Freshworks conducted this research using an online survey prepared by Method Research and distributed by Dynata among n=10,500 global adults ages 18-75, from Australia, Brazil, France, Germany, India, the Netherlands, Singapore, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The sample was balanced to match nationally representative age and gender groupings within each individual country. Data was collected from March 23 to April 7, 2021.