No country in this year's Customer Experience Excellence research was unaffected by COVID-19, least of all Austria. Its organizations and customers were gripped by uncertainty — an uncertainty that is likely to linger for some time. People live under the constant threat of a another wave and remain cautious when it comes to their purchases. Brands, similarly, are trying to identify potential customer markets, asking which will recover the fastest and which investments will pay off.
At the same time, Austria has also seen a digital acceleration throughout 2020. Many consumers have been forced onto digital platforms to have their needs met. But it's uncertain how lasting this change will be. The Austrian customer may return to a more multi-faceted way of doing things in the post-COVID-19 world, or they may continue to rely more heavily on digital channels.
Despite this uncertainty, COVID-19 did prompt a high degree of innovation in many sectors, particularly in grocery retail, which currently leads for customer experience.
The sector was quick to introduce special shopping hours (everyday between 8am and 9am) for its more vulnerable shoppers, such as the elderly, and supermarkets such as Ströck even started selling frozen loaves of bread so that customers could bulk-buy and warm them up as needed.
These kinds of initiatives proved popular with customers, and it's unsurprising that the pillar of Integrity leads for advocacy, while the pillar of Personalization leads for Loyalty. This is symptomatic of a wider global trend amongst consumers — that of people 'buying into' organizations that stand for a greater purpose than simply making a profit.
Indeed, many brands in the grocery retail sector showed how committed they were to customers' safety by distributing free face masks and positioning hand sanitizing stations throughout its stores.
Non-grocery retailer Fressnapf — a brand that specializes in pet food, ranks at number two in 2020. Fressnapf says that it "does not see itself as a pure specialist retailer for pet supplies, but an ally between humans and animals." It says that it wants to "make the coexistence between humans and animals easier, better and happier." In addition, it explains that it "attaches great importance to providing advice that is as individual, competent and animalfriendly as possible."1
As one customer noted: "I was looking for a neck ruff for my sick dog and the saleswoman even went with me to the car, despite the rain, to try it on the dog."
DM, a pharmaceutical chain ranks third in this year's research. It was particularly customer-focused during COVID-19 and launched a special campaign 'We Look Out for Each Other.' This enabled DM to stress that it was taking care of visitors to its stores by implementing social distancing measures and regularly cleaning surfaces, but the campaign also made 'emphatic calls' to shoppers "to pay cashless if possible and to observe the general hygiene regulations."2
DM also saw a dramatic increase in its score in the Integrity pillar during this period, but its highest result is currently in Time and Effort. As one customer states:
"During my last purchase at DM, I quickly found everything I needed. Additionally, I discovered new, inspiring products in the food section."
The highest-ranking brand in Austria is the financial services organization ÖAMTC which, stands for the Austrian Car, Motorbike and Touring Club. It achieves the highest score in five out of The Six Pillars in Austria, and it proved itself to be particularly conscientious at the height of the COVID-19 crisis by providing regular updates about COVID-19 travel restrictions.
ÖAMTC has its finger on the pulse of its digital channels, and has designed a smartphone app which can be integrated into the user's vehicle. It collects operating data from the car itself and transmits it to the app, meaning that ÖAMTC can offer individualized advice for troubleshooting.
The app can also direct drivers towards the nearest — and cheapest — refilling stations, as well as charging points for electric cars. In addition, it streams live traffic updates which warn users about upcoming issues and possible delays.3
COVID-19 isn't necessarily responsible for these initiatives. Many brands such as ÖAMTC had already implemented digital innovations. But since COVID-19 many organizations in Austria have been forced to begin this process from scratch, as consumer needs and expectations have risen sharply. The question now on the lips of many Austrian brands is, "How can we stay in touch with the customer through all sales channels?" They are trying to discern which will be the most favored platforms in the future. At the moment it's digital, but will it remain so in the long term?
“As consumers weigh expensive purchases carefully, brands must stand out in the market by offering a reliable value proposition. The question is how to win the consumers' attention in the long run? Only those who are flexible enough to consider changed experiences as implication for adapting their own business (model), re-designing service and product offerings and re-imagining customer-centric organizations." ”
KPMG in Austria
Erste Bank und Sparkasse
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