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​Almost overnight, the storm of COVID-19 smashed the fundamentals of brands' engagement with customers. With physical stores shut and digital channels under pressure, many brands suddenly realised they needed to quickly reassess the needs of their customers and redesign their customer experiences if they hoped to remain relevant in the hearts of Dutch consumers.

Our 2020 survey of customer experience in The Netherlands suggests some have been highly successful. Indeed, those brands able to demonstrate their brand values, their integrity and their ability to stay connected with customers have been rewarded with strong and growing customer loyalty – and some of the highest Customer Experience (CX) scores ever recorded in our survey. What these brands illustrate is that – in times of crisis in particular – customers gravitate towards brands they trust; brands that demonstrate integrity; and brands that keep the needs of their customers at heart.

This article provides a 'sneak peak' at the results of our 2020 Customer Experience Excellence Survey for The Netherlands. Below, we provide some highlights of the survey, showcase many of the top findings, and offer some insights into the key trends and issues that will be driving Customer Experience in The Netherlands over the next year.

Infographic at a glance

State of the Nation

In every crisis, some brands rise while others fall. This crisis has been no different. As COVID-19 swept across The Netherlands, the true customer experience champions moved quickly to respond, reacting to their customers' needs and challenging themselves to lead by example. As a result, our survey suggests Dutch brands have improved the overall Customer Experience, enjoying higher average Customer Experience Excellence scores in comparison to last year (7.36 versus 7.23).

Some brands, however, were not as successful. Those that were unable to capture the minds and wallets of their customers during the initial phases of the COVID-19 virus[1] have slipped down our rankings. The question arises whether they will be able to return. Yet all is not lost; there is still time for brands to step up their game and take (back) the spotlight. Brands must remember that the way they act today and throughout the crisis will strongly influence how customers feel about them in the future.

Turbulent times demand strong foundations

With a significant rise in the importance of the Integrity Pillar in this year's survey, it seems clear that Dutch consumers are telling brands to go back to the basic foundation of a strong Customer Experience (see figure of the pyramid below). Simply put, customers value brands that send the right signals and follow them up with the right actions. Trust plays a critical role. Not only as the cornerstone of all positive human relationships. But also as the lens through which to view all interactions – between brands, employees, stakeholders and customers.

The challenge is that the COVID-19 experience has redefined the concept of trust between brands and consumers. Today's customers are continuously evaluating a range of aspects – from brand purpose and health protocols through to data protection capabilities and tax morality – when they choose which brands to trust. Brands will need to think broadly if they hope to retain trust.

In part, this will depend on brands' ability to demonstrate they are acting in the best interests of their customers. Those brands able to provide the type of individual attention that establishes emotional connections with their customers will find trust easier to build and protect. What is key here, is the attention for the individual; the Personalisation Pillar remains the most important to Dutch consumers.

Financial Services overtakes Retail

Last year, when consumer sentiment was riding high and few had ever heard of a coronavirus, it was retailers that were delivering the very best customer experiences. Then COVID-19 changed customer priorities. Now financial security and services are top of mind. Financial Services firms have risen to the occasion. In fact, the Financial Services industry was ranked first for Customer Experience Excellence by Dutch consumers this year, with payment services brands being crucial enablers of the 1.5 meter shopping society.

While the Financial Services industry may have usurped Retail for the top spot in the rankings this year, the big question is for how long. Grocery retailers retain high rankings in The Netherlands. And, while Non-Grocery Retail suffered an overall fall this year, they keep a strong presence in the Top 10 with brands that showed to be relevant in times of COVID-19. Hence, it remains to be seen how the Financial Services rankings will hold up under increased competition around customer experience in the new reality.

This change in customer priorities and brand availability due to COVID-19 is clearly reflected in this year's Top 10. Although we do see some familiar faces almost half of the top ranked brands are new to our winner's list this year, led by financial services brands and non-grocery retailers.

Integrity and The Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence

As brands enhance their focus on Integrity, it is worth considering how Integrity fits into the broader Customer Experience. At KPMG, we look at CX through 'The Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence'. Based on 11 years of global research and more than 4 million customer evaluations across 34 markets, 'The Six Pillars of Customer Experience Excellence' provides executives and employees with a powerful framework for driving CX.

Infographic the six pillars of excellence pyramid with covid-19 golden rules

Our view places Integrity at the foundation of the pyramid, where brands lay the groundwork for a personalised, empathetic relationship. But the Golden Rules of Integrity reflect across all of the Pillars in their own way. As this year's survey suggests, those brands that are able to demonstrate integrity are more likely to drive better results right across The Six Pillars.

Infographic pillar impact on customer experience excellence metric
CEE Pillar Importance

Moving forward into the new reality

While we all wish for a speedy recovery from this current crisis, recent signs suggest we are only at the forefront of a new reality. In this rapidly-changing environment, brands will need to continuously re-evaluate their customers' expectations, learning from the past while remaining focused on the future.

Our view of the data raises four key takeaways that brands should be considering as they shape and enhance their Customer Experience.

  1. Demonstrate integrity. Customers are looking for brands with clear moral standards and reputations built on trusted relationships. Particularly in uncertain times, brands must reflect on their purpose and values. But, just as importantly, they must communicate and act on their values, daring to take a stand on relevant, social matters that are important to their customers and then delivering on those promises.
  2. Connect the EX with the CX. Brands increasingly recognise that happy employees lead to happy customers which, in turn, leads to improved customer loyalty and value. The leading brands are rethinking their organisational structure and making new connections in order to create clear alignment between the Employee Experience (EX) and the Customer Experience (CX).
  3. Balance investments and channels. In today's environment, brands will need to figure out how to engage with customers in a '1.5-meter' society. Many will need to reassess their expected investments, and the impact on value and cost these customer-centric decisions will have, based on new customer preferences and safety measures. As we noted in last year's report[2], finding the balance between digital and physical channels will be more important than ever.
  4. Build sustainability. A sustainable, resilient organisation is one that is able to navigate through a crisis by finding new business opportunities and new ways to connect and delight customers. Brands will need to continue to develop their customer experience and build on their omni-channel strategy in order to ensure they remain connected to their customers no matter what the future brings.

While the future may remain uncertain, we suspect there is no 'going back' to the customer experiences of before. Those that hope to survive and thrive into the new reality will need to come to terms with this reality quickly if they hope to lay the foundations for future growth.

Only time will tell who the leaders will be in the new reality. What we know for sure though, is that they will embrace Integrity and win their customers' trust.

Footnotes

[1] Consumers were asked to provide evaluations on experiences in the period of February – April, 2020

[2] KPMG 2019 NL CEE, "A digital walk to remember"