COVID-19 Has Drastically Changed Your Customers: It’s Time to Re-Get to Know Them
According to Bloomberg, Americans have saved a whopping $1.7 trillion since the onset of the pandemic. Economists expect a good portion of this will be spent during the so-called “revenge economy” this summer. Industries in travel, retail, and entertainment will surely have the most to gain as they were hit the hardest, but one question lingers: Do brands truly know their customers anymore?
Understanding customers is crucial for any business, but especially now as the economy rebounds with increased openings nationwide. According to a study by PwC, one-third of customers who have a bad experience will break up with a brand — which ultimately means they’re going to your competitors. In going back to “normal,” businesses need to scrap what they think they know about their target customers and start out with a clean slate. COVID-19 created a whole new wave of innovation and changed so much about us — e.g., the things that are important to us and how we choose to spend our time and money — so brands need to take the time to re-get to know their customers as if they’re meeting for the first time.
So How Do You Re-Get to Know Your Customers?
The first and most crucial step is understanding what has meaning to them. What was meaningful pre-COVID-19 may not matter as much anymore.
Recent data from Optimizely revealed that younger generations (Gen Z and millennials) are looking beyond just the product when shopping. These demographics are heavily influenced by a brand’s social presence and values. Millennials aged 25-34 revealed that when deciding where to make a purchase, 78 percent will always or sometimes factor in whether the brand’s values and missions align with their own. This emphasis on a brand’s meaning and mission will linger beyond the pandemic as consumers increasingly feel connected to companies that represent a higher purpose.
Understanding Consumer Behaviors
Another step in re-understanding your customers is to understand exactly how their behaviors have changed. One industry that has seen a huge shift in its target persona is the travel and airline industries. Pre-pandemic, business travelers were a huge market for most U.S.-based airlines — executives that would fly several times a week for business-related ventures. This priority market would often travel in first class and expect an elevated level of service since they were traveling frequently — food and beverage service, high-speed Wi-Fi, and comfortable seating options. With the mass shift to a distributed, remote workforce, business travel quickly ceased and this customer persona shrank significantly.
Now, with much of the world still working remotely and events still being virtually held for the near future, airlines have an entirely new target market — families and individuals traveling for pleasure. They require completely different criteria for servicing, such as cheaper, inexpensive flights and seating options, and flexibility with travel dates and times.
Where Consumers Are Shopping
Determining how your customers are shopping post-COVID-19 is another crucial determinant of your target customer base’s behaviors. Before the pandemic, brick-and-mortar retailers were still receiving a lot of foot traffic and direct-to-consumer (D-to-C) brands were also gaining traction as an increasingly popular way to shop. With mass closings of stores and a shift to an entirely digital world, the way in which consumers shopped changed drastically overnight.
Consumer shopping journeys are now very nuanced and primarily digital. Data from the same consumer survey revealed that younger generations’ (categorized as ages 18-34) shopping habits started on social media but ultimately ended on both retailers’ and third-party sites like Amazon.com to make a purchase (59 percent). The survey, which polled 1,000 U.S. consumers aged 18-64, showed that more than half of Gen Z finds inspiration on TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook (in that order) when shopping, but ultimately end up leaving the platforms for either a brand’s site or third-party sites to move forward with the actual purchase. The same couldn't be said for older generations such as Gen X or baby boomers, who begin their shopping journey on a retailer’s website or third-party sites. All in all, knowing where your target consumers like to shop is knowing them, and no one generation should be (or wants to be) treated the same.
Go Back to the Drawing Board
Re-getting to know your customers will certainly take some additional time and effort, but it will lay the foundation for ongoing loyalty. In creating exceptional customer experiences in our new digital era, brands need to really listen to their consumers. Hear them, emphasize with them, maximize time spent with them and ensure every single touchpoint, however big or small, is meaningful.
Kirsten Allegri Williams is chief marketing officer of Optimizely, a digital experiences platform.
Related story: Why Customer Experience Matters