It has been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic forced business leaders to upend customer experiences and deploy digital initiatives that in many cases were slotted for a distant future. In a new report, the 2021 US Customer Experience Index, Forrester Research set out to determine how brands did in making abrupt CX changes with very little preparation.
The report scored 219 brands across 13 industries in areas such as how effective was the brand at meeting customer needs, how easy was it to work with the brand, and how likely is the customer to stay with the brand. In analyzing more than 85,000 consumers’ perceptions of brands between February and April 2021, the report found that:
Industries challenged by the pandemic had a mixed performance
Practically overnight, brands responded to the crisis with new fulfillment options, more digital channels, and services that emphasized social distancing and cleanliness. The effectiveness at which brands met customer needs and expectations, however, varied across industries.
Compared to 2020, health insurers performed best, with most providers improving their scores. Airlines and retailers saw no significant change in their industry averages. Credit card issuers and hotels both saw significant decreases in their industry averages, with most hotels seeing their individual brands’ scores decline.
Brands that performed best focused on understanding and meeting customer needs
The highest-scoring brands such as Chewy.com, Navy Federal Credit Union, and Trader Joe’s understood that common tasks, like shopping in person, were now difficult. “The top-performing brands in the CX Index eased this [in-person shopping] pain, as they outperformed all other brands in effectiveness — with a cumulative score 11 percentage points higher than the rest of the Index — and ease, where the elite brands had a 12-point advantage,” wrote Principal Analyst TJ Keitt.
Emotionally pleasing experiences mattered more than ever
At a time fraught with uncertainty and stress, customers were drawn to brands that provided reassurance and made them feel valued. A key differentiator among the top performing brands was that customers associated them with emotionally pleasing experiences, as indicated by the brands having a cumulative score 12 percentage points higher than the rest of the field. Organizations typically spend an enormous amount of time and research on identifying the best way to implement structured ways of change, and the pandemic has made it apparent that the traditional ways of approaching change must shift.
One of the major outcomes of the pandemic is that even in the absence of time, companies can evolve, experiment, and build new practices. At the same time, certain rules still apply: the most successful companies understand their customers’ needs, make it easy to do business with them, and build emotional connections. It’s within this framework—a focus on the customer—that forward-looking companies are best positioned to thrive.