Scanning Linkedin posts early on in the lockdown, I noticed one about a forecaster, Li Edelkoort, speaking at the Design Indaba in South Africa earlier this year. What struck me were her comments amidst the raising global fear, about the pandemic actually being a “good thing” for the world. She said for instance, “The virus is forcing us to do things which we already wanted to do: travelling less, buying less, wasting less, working less. But nobody knew exactly how to jump off the bandwagon. So we kept on going because that is how you do things.” https://www.dezeen.com/2020/03/09/li-edelkoort-coronavirus-reset/
“The coronavirus epidemic will lead to ‘a global recession of a magnitude that has not been experienced before’ but will eventually allow humanity to reset its values”.
At the time it really stood out because we (and the world) were consumed with fear, frustration and trying coming to terms with being locked down. I remember images of Italians standing on their balconies, singing in unity. I read about doctors having to choose who to admit and treat, or being the last person to see patients dying, alone without their families allowed in hospital. Scenes that will be remembered for many years to come.
Reflecting on the past few months, it’s almost inconceivable to think how rapidly and significantly the world has changed… the pandemic did not leave anyone untouched! The impact of the pandemic in business has been devastating for many, yet presented new opportunities for others. As in the past, supply and demand will still play a significant part in the sustainability of any business, but more than ever, the changing consumer context, and their response (behaviour), will drive economic activity.
This brings me back to the introductory comments about the predicted changes and the current reality of consumers. We have indeed changed! Most of us have reprioritised our needs. The lockdown forced us reconsider what is really important to live (or sustain ourselves). We saw this in the “essential goods” we could buy and what was classified as essential services. Much of this “quarantine of consumption”, as Edelkoort referred to it, had a residual and significant effect on consumer behaviour.
Changing emotional states during the pandemic
How has consumer behaviour changed, and is that change now the new normal? Is that sustainable? To answer the first question, it is important to understand the changing mind states of consumers during the pandemic. Using local primary data, changing emotional states were tracked over the past 5 months.
Case study Our work managing the Voice of the Customer Programme for a client provided much insight into this changing context. Through our qualitative, unstructured conversational interviewing approach, we adjusted our customer experience conversations during the lockdown, closely monitoring the customers’ changing mind states and customers’ experience of the pandemic, not the brand engagement, as usual. We focused on getting to know the customers better, using empathy to unpack their emotional states, concerns, perceptions and behaviours, in an effort to understand their changing context. The intention was to use the insights to support our client in the recovery process by understanding and responding to their customers’ changing needs. The approach was entirely customer-focused and the only aspect of the product or brand content centred around providing support and resources!
Mind states during the various lockdown levels implemented in South Africa. The table reflects the results of over 750 customer interviews over 5 months.
*The lockdown in South Africa was managed by introducing different levels of restrictions and the easing of the levels significantly impacted the emotional states of customers in this study. 26 March Level 5 (hard lockdown) was announced. 1 May moved to Level 4, 1 June to Level 3 and 17 Aug, Level 2 was announced.
What transpired: the initial significant optimism reflected in the decisive action taken in South Africa soon changed into panic and anger when consumers realised the true implication for business and personal freedom. Through the changing easing of the lockdown levels, the emotional states changed. In June we noted increased levels of frustration (reintroduction of the ban on alcohol and curfews) and currently an upwards trend to optimism and happy states as most restrictions have been lifted.
In our research, we found three mindsets emerging in response to the pandemic. These “personas” include: adapters, avoiders and resisters.
- Adapters: Grin and bear it
The first and largest cluster (58%) of customers mostly adapt to the changes, albeit challenging for them. Adapters can be identified by their generally more optimistic and accepting mindsets. They appreciate the gravity of the pandemic and the need for the lockdown and generally they just “get on with it”.
This is seen in their compliance with the required regulations – they stay at home, wear their masks, wait patiently in queues to be screened or due to limited numbers permitted in a store at any one time, they don’t complain, and they are grateful. Adapters share their compassion and concern for those less fortunate. Adapters emerged with resilience and, despite their discomfort or disagreement, remain compliant for the “greater good of all”. They try to create some “normalcy” in their current circumstances and they remain relatively optimistic about the future. But, they DO NOT complain as they mostly consider complaining as ungrateful and selfish in these times. They generally display high levels of forgiveness and accept or overlook poor service experience, rationalising it within the current context.
The challenge around this cluster of customers is not to assume that their experience is acceptable to them. Their behaviour of compliance and silence should NOT be confused with satisfaction. Their higher tolerance and acceptance stems from their mindset and ability to balance their current experience within a broader context. This is especially evident in their stories around companies and their staff. In customer experience, we term this behaviour as EMPATHY.
As stated above, care should be taken not to confuse the behaviour of adapters with satisfaction. Because they are NOT complaining and they forgive graciously, their “silence” can easily be misinterpreted as satisfactory or positive experiences. Some resentment may be building towards the brand as these customers may say “fine, fine”, but deep down they feel that the brand is not honouring their promise to them.
How to serve Adapters best: Surprise them with the unexpected
Deeper levels of empathy are required from brands. The opportunity is now to surprise customers with the same service delivery and experience as before (despite challenges), and even fine-tuning and elevating the experience beyond that. Customers will remember how they are treated during challenging times so it’s the most opportune time to reveal the true character of the brand and deliver authentic experiences aligned to the brand’s Experience Essence.
In some cases, these surprising touches in a new normal may include additional costs, yet many of these touches require merely more personalised connections and responses – through empathy. In line with the global shift in human values throughout the pandemic, demonstrating the value of each customer’s patronage as individuals, is what these adapters are seeking.
Download Adapter empathy map here
Avoiders: Don’t touch, in-and-out, remote
This cluster of customers (24%) is generally anxious not to have any form of contact or exposure to people. Some could be identified as high risk due to their health (co-morbidities such an age or health conditions) and others could be described as “germaphobic” and “doom profits”. These customers avoid contact with people, don’t trust anyone and are super-vigilant with their personal hygiene.
Examples of their behaviour include leaving shoes outside on return from shops, sanitising all purchased goods or washing clothing immediately on return from any outside exposure. They live in fear of people and prefer to stay at home. Much of their behaviour centres around trying to avoid leaving their homes. They quickly adapted to online shopping and are very comfortable working from, and being at, home.
How to serve Avoiders best: Give them an easy online and delivery- or quick in-and-out service experience
From a transactional perspective, they have been the cluster with the highest adoption of technology, including e-commerce. They prefer online shopping, home delivery, contactless payments and no personal engagement. When they are forced to go out, they prefer high levels of functional efficiency – speed, ease and most important, no contact or small talk. The “in-and-out” type of customer.
Download Avoider empathy map here
Resisters: Needy, when-we complainers
This cluster of customers (18%) resist the “forced” changes. They reminisce about how things used to be and their expectation of normal is to have everything the way it was again. They understand the pandemic but they follow media reports religiously to validate their views that all the precautions are excessive and not truly necessary. They complain, they are angry and frustrated with the world, government … and yearn for how life was before the pandemic. They felt lonely and isolated during the lockdown. Some shop to get a social “fix” and the impact of social distancing has been most profound for them. They typically do not opt for online shopping as they are hungry for the contact with the brand. Their behaviour now includes sometimes breaking the “rules” by not wearing masks and demanding more personal contact and engagement with brands or complaining. They feel abandoned and some voice potential retaliation for the absence of connection by exiting current brand relationship.
How to serve Resisters best: Give them your time and compensate for distance
The resisters need your time. They want to be reminded of their value to your brand and be acknowledged for their loyalty during these challenging times. The safety precautions present the biggest challenge to the resisters, and some effort should be made to turn these barriers into unique touch points – using humour and fun, or interesting approaches to alleviate the frustration and turn it into opportunities to engage. Their journey should include a compensatory fragrance interlaced with more one-on-one time for engagement.
Download Resister empathy map here
Use these three personas as a framework to review and redesign customer journeys and to realign the desired customer experience with the changing needs of customers. Enrich you brand’s experience essence by creating relevant enhancements that resonate with the deeper needs of the respective personas. Finally, support employees to quickly identify the persona and adapt their approach to different functional and emotional needs of customers.
Partner with us at The Consumer Psychology Lab to get a closer look at your customers’ changing needs to adapt your customers’ journey. We are a boutique customer experience consultancy with the dream of creating magical experiences for consumers by truly understanding what customers need. To achieve that, we support our clients to adopt a more outside-in approach to their customer interaction. Equally important, we support our clients to empower their employees with skills that enable them to deliver their desired experiences. www.consumerlab.co.za