Consumers are becoming more receptive to digital-first brand engagement, while also looking for compassion from brands during the pandemic, according to new research.
The study, from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), Collinson, and dotdigital, 1 in 10 (12%) consumers have video called a brand and nearly a quarter of consumers (23%) are interested in brands using video calls to engage with them in the future.
The ‘Customer Engagement: How to Win Trust and Loyalty’ report highlights a number of changes to consumer behaviour and brand engagement since the survey was last fielded in 2018.
As periods of lockdown and social distancing have become part of daily life during the pandemic, consumers have had to turn to digital channels to maintain daily essential communications. Almost half of consumers (47%) are making video calls weekly.
Consumers are also open to and taking advantage of presence-free communications when engaging with brands. In addition to video calls, half of consumers (52%) have used chat customer service and would do again, or they are interested in doing so in the future.
“Clearly, our lives are all different today than they were a year ago. Coronavirus has accelerated many key trends we’ve been tracking in recent years, such as digital-first routes to brand engagement. While digital engagement with brands is a more viable and needed option for consumers during the coronavirus period, we expect the experiences of living through the pandemic will increase willingness to engage with brands remotely in future,” said Tim Bond, Head of Insight, DMA.
Despite the pandemic disrupting habits, half of consumers (51%) remain ‘Active Loyals,’ compared to 49% in 2018, according to the DMA’s long-running customer loyalty segmentation. Meanwhile, ‘Habitual Loyals’ – those who are loyal to brands the engage with more regularly – have increased to 17% from 13% previously.
“Brexit, Coronavirus, and all the other challenges 2020 has thrown at people has not changed the core principles of trust and loyalty as much as some may have thought. In fact, despite the pandemic disrupting so much of our lives, half of consumers remain actively loyal to brands,” added Bond.
Brands must show compassion during the pandemic
Most consumers (77%) agree that brands should show compassion during the pandemic – 66% want brands to communicate how they are helping customers and 58% want to know how they are supporting staff.
The majority of consumers (76%) expect brands to be flexible about cancellations during this time – a form of practical compassion that could also hold some long-term benefits for brands, as 56% of customers agree they are more likely to stay loyal to brands that are able to offer flexibility in the current climate.
“Compassion is something we have heard about a lot in recent times, but this in connection to a brand is still relatively new. Over time, we have seen that the ethics and credentials of brands are becoming an important part of the consideration phase for many consumers, and this is a natural extension of that during these difficult times. This is definitely something for brands to consider,” said Scott Logie, Chair, DMA Customer Engagement Committee & Customer Engagement Director, REaD Group.
Zoë Senior, General Manager, Agency, Europe, Collinson, said: “During the coronavirus period, the retail industry has been under huge pressure. The high street has seen a significant drop in footfall and according to the ONS, clothing and footwear retailers are suffering even more than most. Unsurprisingly, we have also seen a huge jump in online shopping as consumers have moved online to buy everything from weekly essentials to luxury goods. Encouragingly, despite all this change we see some of the fundamentals of loyalty have remained solid. The basic loyalty segmentation has remained relatively consistent with levels of those who are actively loyal and those actively disloyal broadly unchanged since 2017.”
Gavin Laugenie, Head of Strategy & Insight dotdigital, said: “Trust plays a significant role in the relationship we have with our customers. However, consumers’ trust is not quickly earned. It has to be developed over time, and with each interaction we make, carefully choosing the right channels to direct and manage that interaction. When we earn that trust from a consumer our jobs become more straightforward, so we need to nurture that trust by rewarding existing customers regularly. If not, we’ll find ourselves in a constant battle to win them back as they will put their loyalty aside to try something new and different.”
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