What's next? Ask your customers

James Nofziger | June 3, 2020

A woman picking up take out from a restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.COVID-19 has disrupted everything, and the reaction of most businesses has been to focus inwardly. They've faced significant issues: how to operate with disruptions to supply chains, how to protect employees, how IT infrastructures will hold up with everyone working remotely, and how to adjust budgets to meet immediate needs. Planning for the future beyond the pandemic seems to be delayed until things return to normal.

Research today for a customer-centric future

One thing an inward focus misses is the customer experience during the pandemic. Just like businesses, consumers were forced to adjust their lives: struggling to locate toilet paper, seeing their favorite restaurants close, dealing with sudden unemployment or a new work-from-home environment, or relying on technology for communication more than ever before. Customers, like corporations, have made the necessary adjustments to find groceries and needed supplies, ensure their families' safety, and adjust their spending plans.

There is one big difference between companies and their customers — individuals feel isolation caused by social distancing. People need interaction; they need to feel like others are hearing them. And with more free time available, people are seeking out opportunities to interact and be heard.

One strong indicator of this is that we've seen a large increase in response rates to surveys. In some cases, we've received 25% more respondents than in January and February. Another impact of the pandemic is that more people are willing to participate in online qualitative research; online focus groups feel familiar in the age of Zoom meetings.

Customers will define the New Normal

An undefined future creates an incredible opportunity for businesses. Customers want to partner in planning for the future. They not only want to contribute to COVID-19 recovery plans, but they also want to share opinions on topics like product development and product/service satisfaction and help define things like key drivers of satisfaction. (Based on the number of UPS and Amazon trucks in my neighborhood, drivers of satisfaction like close physical proximity have probably declined in importance.) Awareness, consideration, and usage will also become more critical as products that meet new needs become increasingly available and competition develops.

Eventually, there will be a New Normal, but no one knows when it will happen or what it will look like. The pandemic has created new demand for home delivery of restaurant food, online shopping, and makers of personal protective equipment. Some of these may decline in the next several months, but others will stick with us. Who knows which changes will last after the pandemic? Customers know.

Are you listening to your customers?

Companies that will emerge as winners are those who partner with their customers right now. Any company that focuses solely on tactical issues will miss how customers are adapting. It's the customers, not the obstacles businesses have overcome, that will shape the New Normal. Reach out today to start a conversation about how your company can collect and use customer insights to adapt and thrive in a post-pandemic market.