The COVID-19 crisis, which shows no sign of stopping any time soon, has left no life untouched in terms of impact. It has upended peoples’ lives, society, companies and industries in a way never seen before. As the global calamity unfolds, brand owners are nervous on all fronts.
Although the biggest challenge may be to remain afloat in order to ensure a secured feature, and understandably so, what is (or should be) the brands’ stance on their relationship with its customers and employees?
In a research study conducted by Qualtrics, it is found that 69% of Indian respondents believe it’s important for brands to take care of their employees and customers, and to not take advantage of the crisis, likes of COVID-19, to maximize profits.
Qualtrics is a leader in customer experience and the creator of the experience management category which conducted the Brand Trust study.
It was also heartening to see that the study revealed important statistics about the perceived efforts and initiatives of the government and brands in general. To that end, the study found that peoples’ trust in the government increased by 72% but only 50% of the people claimed that their trust in brands with which they engaged regularly had increased.
All the data was collected during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has forced Indian businesses and people to work from home and adapt to the ominous new normal. The numbers are certainly encouraging in a time which has been engulfed by despondency.
Human behaviour is influenced by the environment, and with the population confined to their homes for the unforeseeable future, the consumer base is reliant on the products they use and the brands to understand their needs. The research also echoed the sentiment in this matter.
When asked what behaviours increase trust during the crisis, taking care of employees was the top-ranked attribute at 37%, closely followed by not taking advantage of maximizing profits during a crisis at 36%. Taking care of customers ranked third at 32%.
In the survey, interestingly, other traits such as providing new products (10%), having a solid record of responding well to the crisis (17%) were ranked very poorly. Statements about strong moral principles such as integrity (19%), also carried little impact, thereby providing a shrewdly informative picture that the consumers want brands to walk their talk and be a comforting hand around the shoulder instead of indulging solely in self-interest.
The study also gained valuable insight into how their behaviours inclined more towards a brand due to their ability to put the consumers first.
“Building loyalty in a time of crisis can make or break a brand. Our Qualtrics study in India reveals consumers trust brands more, when brands focused on the well-being of customers, the well-being of employees, and not taking advantage of the crisis to maximize profits,” said Lisa Khatri, Brand Experience and Research Lead for Qualtrics in APJ.
Other key elements of the research focused on the role of communication, relevant information and the medium most would like to see them communicate with. Indians are more interested in the operational impact during the crisis, with – how the business is responding to crisis voted by 75% of the respondents, its impact on distribution coming in at 48% and product-related information standing at 48%.
Findings in the Qualtrics study also gave a strong indication of how Indians want brands to communicate with them, highlighting a strong preference for tried and tested channels. WhatsApp came out on top as the most preferred communication channel at 63%, followed by Facebook at 58%, and online media at 55%. Bottom of the list comprised of the popular entertainment app TikTok (18%), Print media (23%), and Radio (24%).
Brand and consumers need to converse all the time, especially when there is a difficult situation as one which the pandemic has brought us. It is a responsibility of creative partners to assist their respective brands in formulating pathways based on experience and joint wisdom and not go in for the hard sell. It is no secret that hard times affect all, some worse than others. With the current predicament, it paves ways for brands to rethink and reimagine their consumer policies. After all, it is the people that make a brand. What worked as a model of efficiency previously is looking stark in comparison today. The human element, while impossible to replicate under the present circumstances, could perhaps be ingrained other practices, digital or virtual.
In a population which has been forced to work from home, businesses of all kinds need to form a connect in ways previously unexplored through digital media and e-commerce. Be it pharmacies and medical representatives, restaurants etc., every sector need to find a way to tailor their identity to provide an optimum representation and extension of their services. An online grocery store could prioritize delivery to longtime loyalists, a call centre could add a video calling feature to reassure its customers, point is, regardless of scale, brands should try and reassure the anxious customers. Customers are definitely more forgiving of technical glitches, operational mistakes when they see their brand of choice going that extra mile. In the bargain, it also gives them an incentive to try out new innovative methods in a period of such stalemate.
In times like this, humane consideration will not only add masses to its consumer base but will also provide the correct example for other brands and companies to follow in. With a penny of compassion, the brands stand to gain a pound of thrust. When business resumes, it could not only provide to serve with a new and improved foundation consumer practice model for the future, it will also create an even healthy co-dependent relationship between the brands and its customers.
The impact of the actions made today will probably outlast the pandemic and define the loyalty people have on their brands and products of choice. The messages you put out in the marketplace must be grounded in the actual experience and needs of the customers. More importantly, messages must be matched by their credible ability to deliver on them. If brands can earn customers’ trust in this way, they’ll build a connection today and in the future.