A delivery manwearing a mask and blue shirt reaches into his car hatch where multiple boxes stacked for delivery

The pandemic has affected so much that the ramifications for customer experience will be felt for years. Consumers’ behaviors have changed, and their expectations for the interactions they have with brands have risen. Let’s take a look at the ways pandemic thinking has affected the voice of the customer (VoC) and the impact it has had on the ways that brands are approaching it. 

Pandemic Thinking Is Still Influencing Consumers

The pandemic changed both consumer and business behaviors. An Insider Intelligence eMarketer report from 2021 indicated that as shoppers transitioned to online shopping, retail ecommerce sales grew by 27.6% in 2020, while overall worldwide retail sales declined by 3.0%. 

Convenience, speed and safety became the overwhelming factors that drove consumers to change their shopping habits. At the same time, for all of those reasons, hybrid shopping became the new norm, a trend that continued even as the pandemic waned. A recent report from Bazaarvoice revealed 64% of shoppers said a hybrid method of shopping has been their primary way of shopping for the past six months, and 30% of global respondents indicated they shop online once or more a week. 

Hybrid shopping is a retail concept in which traditional brick-and-mortar shopping is combined with online shopping. The move to hybrid shopping has also been largely embraced by retailers. A 2021 report from Deloitte that surveyed 1,000 global executives indicated 75% stated they plan to increase investments in hybrid experiences over the next 12 months.

Examples of hybrid shopping include online grocery ordering with home delivery, curbside pickup or in-store pickup, which some refer to as buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS). In fact, Andrew Duffy, CEO and co-founder of SparkPlug, an employee incentive management platform provider, told CMSWire that the biggest tangible holdover from pandemic-era shopping innovation is the ubiquity of BOPIS. “Curbside pickup was a necessity in the prevaccine days, but retailers and shoppers have held onto it as an easy and efficient way to combine the best of in-store and online shopping experiences.” Duffy said that brands are much more consistently obtaining customer feedback via digital methods that are integrated into the shopping experience. “For example, a post-pickup text to the same phone number you used to call and alert them of your arrival for a BOPIS trip. These can be both feedback oriented (‘rate your experience’) or more embedded info to drive them back into the store (‘did you know you can return or exchange your purchase at any of our physical locations?’).”

Hybrid shopping also includes “try-before-you-buy” applications that allow customers to “try out” makeup, clothes and even furniture before making purchases either online or in-store. Other examples are more simple, such as checking online for a product’s in-store availability before going to a physical store or ordering online from a retail store, such as Target, for same-day home delivery. Even restaurants have moved to a hybrid model through the use of QR codes for menus instead of paper menus for pre-ordering and digital kiosk ordering at fast food establishments. “Hybrid shopping has polarized consumer feedback — brands and retailers that are integrating technology well are getting rave reviews, while those who are lagging or implementing it poorly are getting lambasted,” said Duffy.

Another aspect of pandemic thinking that has gradually become more important to consumers is cost value. With the rate of inflation continuing to hit highs that haven’t been seen in decades while shortages of goods continue to be an issue that drives prices even higher, consumers are increasingly focused on getting the best value for their money. This is a trend that began with shortages caused by the pandemic and has evolved into a global shortage of products. Brands must offer value to customers, while still providing convenience and speed, and an exceptional omnichannel experience.

The restaurant industry was deeply affected by the pandemic and continues to feel the changes in consumer behavior that occurred as a result of COVID-19. Izzy Kharasch, president at Hospitality Works, a Chicago-based restaurant consultancy, told CMSWire that many customers today are expressing their voice through their actions, rather than words. “Many customers are expressing their voices by not entering restaurants but rather ordering online, picking up orders or having products delivered. Prior to the pandemic, many of my restaurant clients' pickup/delivery was about 5% of their business, during COVID it was about 30%, and today, it has stabilized at around 20%,” said Kharasch.

Sourabh Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Skit.ai, an augmented voice intelligence platform provider, told CMSWire that pandemic thinking has led to more customer frustration than anything else, and customers are not shy to voice their discontent. “Especially in customer service roles such as restaurants and stores — employees have reported that customers are more demanding than ever before. With many employees in this industry switching to better-paying industries, this only increases customer frustration as these establishments try to find help.”

While customers may have changed the ways they express their voice, brands are now using VoC to better understand what customers want and expect today. Joseph Piette, executive vice president of customer experience at Andrew Reise, a customer experience consultancy, told CMSWire that brands today are leveraging digital VoC to track and understand consumer behaviors as they have shifted to a digital landscape. “Companies want to know what's changed with consumers before and after the pandemic. So, a lot of VoC work is being done to understand the difference in behaviors and metrics.”

Related Article: Align Your Voice of the Customer Initiative With your Customers 

Social Feedback Importance Has Grown Exponentially

The report from Bazaarvoice mentioned above also revealed that 53% of those polled said that they rely upon voice of the customer themselves, that is, images posted on social media by other customers which makes them more comfortable with their purchasing decisions — and 69% have been inspired by social media to make a purchase. The importance of feedback and reviews that have been posted by other customers has never been more important to consumers. Whether they are interested in purchasing a product on Amazon or Facebook marketplace, consumers are placing a lot of emphasis on the opinions of those who have purchased products or services before them. 

As such, social feedback has gained a higher level of importance for brands’ VoC strategies. Kharasch said that even restaurant customers have become more vocal on social media. “More and more of the guest feedback continues to be on social media. It is hard to tell if this is due to COVID or the natural progression based on the direction it was moving prior,” he said.

Many brands today are using social listening platforms to stay on top of customers’ social feedback. According to a 2022 report from SocialMediaToday, almost 61% of brands now have a social listening program in place and are monitoring for keyword mentions. The majority of brands using social listening are doing so to gain a greater understanding of brand sentiment and reputation management, with a secondary focus on brand awareness. 

In spite of the change in consumer dynamics, organic feedback can still be gathered via traditional VoC methodology, as well as word of mouth. “Organic customer feedback can come from providing excellent customer service which can lead to customers thanking workers on the spot,” said Gupta. “It can also come in the form of surveys, reviews and customer retention. After all, returning customers are the best feedback,” he said, adding that brands should continue to ask for feedback from their customers, as they especially value having their voices heard in a post-pandemic world.

Related Article: Continuous Monitoring Strategy Makes VoC Returns Richer

Voice of Customer Metrics Haven’t Changed, but Goals Have

VoC metrics haven’t changed much over the past decade. Without going into detail, because we have already covered them many times, the typical VoC metrics include the following:

  • Customer Effort Score (CES) – The CES metric is used to describe the effort that a customer has to make in the process of doing business with a brand, with the idea that the less effort that a customer has to make, the better their experience.

  • Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) – The CSAT metric is a way of determining whether a customer is satisfied with the overall experience they have when interacting with a brand.

  • Customer Loyalty Index (CLI) – The CLI informs a brand about a customer’s loyalty to the brand and provides a good understanding of whether they will be a repeat customer. 

  • Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) – The CLV is a valuable measure of how much potential revenue is attributed to a customer, and it is determined from the past, current and future spending trends of a customer.

  • Repurchase Ratio – This metric lets a brand know if a customer is likely to do business with them again in the future. Will the customer purchase a product or service from the brand again during their customer life span?

  • Would You Miss Us? (WYMU) – The WYMU metric is connected with both the Customer Satisfaction Score and the Customer Loyalty Index. This metric asks a customer if they would miss the brand if it no longer existed (i.e. would they just move to another brand).

Another metric that can be useful is the survey response rate, which is a good indication of brand reception — customers who like a brand are more likely to respond to the brand’s survey. For brands that are interested in customer service metrics, the call handle time (average minutes per call) and first contact resolution (the percentage of customer service calls that are resolved on the first interaction) metrics may be of interest, along with the average abandonment rate (percentage of calls that are abandoned). 

Brands tend to focus on specific metrics based on the goals of their VoC campaign, and that is what has changed over the past two years. Because consumers are increasingly using customer feedback and reviews on social media to gauge whether or not to do business with a brand, the net promoter score (NPS) has taken on additional importance. The NPS informs a brand if a customer would recommend their product, service or business to others. Because it’s the difference between someone who interacted with a business and called it a day and someone who would actively promote a brand to their friends, family or colleagues, it’s particularly appropriate for this goal.

Because today’s consumers tend to focus on convenience and speed, the customer effort score (CES), which defines the effort that a customer has to exert in order to do business with a brand, has taken on greater importance. The easier it is for a customer to do business with a brand, the more convenient and quick the transaction is. Conversely, when customers have to make more of an effort, whether it’s due to having to repeat information, shopping cart issues or credit card verification problems, they are more likely to just give up and go somewhere else.

Final Thoughts on Pandemic Inspired Changes on VoC

The pandemic affected consumer shopping behaviors, and brands have had to adjust their VoC goals and strategies, and as such, the metrics they place importance on have changed as well. By using VoC to better understand customer priorities and tendencies, brands are able to focus on the most appropriate goals and metrics for their VoC initiatives and better serve their customers.