COVID-19 has changed the way Belgians shop. People having spent months confined to their homes have increasingly looked to digital channels to fulfil their needs — a change that could well be permanent. With this comes an ever-greater expectation that value for money will be delivered in each market, with customers being more selective as to which brands they'll do business with.
This has certainly been the case for grocery retail, one of the most competitive — and one of the most successful — sectors in the Belgian research. Indeed, four of its seven grocery retail brands have achieved a top 10 place in 2020. And because of the tight profit margins, it has become increasingly difficult for them to compete on price alone, nudging The Six Pillars into the spotlight as the means to gaining a competitive advantage.
For many, the pillar of Time and Effort is one of the most important. With the arrival of COVID-19, brands worldwide scrambled to fine-tune their online and app-based services for speed and efficiency, and this is certainly true for organizations in the grocery retail sector. The highestscoring of these — Colruyt — took the lead in the Time and Effort pillar and ranked second overall. This result was achieved through a number of initiatives, such as its Collect & Go service which enabled shoppers to buy their orders online and collect them from the supermarket, minimising the amount of 'contact time' in the shops themselves. Colruyt also put plans in place for those customers who preferred to shop in person. With the MyColruyt app, consumers were able to organize their shopping lists based on store layouts, helping them to maintain social distancing and keep 'COVID-19-safe.' And while this aided the brand's score in the pillar of Time and Effort, it also boosted its performance in the pillars of Personalization, Integrity and Empathy, highlighting Colruyt as a grocery retailer that understood its shoppers' needs.
The online retailer Zalando — although not a grocery retailer — was similarly strong for Integrity, and landed at number three in Belgium's CX rankings. Zalando ensured that a good level of communication was maintained with shoppers throughout COVID-19, alerting them to potential delivery delays and issues on a regular basis — something that bolstered its score in the pillar of Expectations.
This approach filtered down to the individual customer, too.
Many respondents reported that Zalando was quick to act when issues arose during the order process, or even after a delivery, with the brand frequently offering discounts to make up for problems or mistakes. One consumer noted: "The products that I ordered were always delivered quickly and correctly. [There is a] fast and correct return policy which is free of charge."
Because of this, it's clear why Zalando also achieved a high score for Resolution — a pillar which is the most important for customer service, according to 90 percent of global respondents.
These qualities — displayed by both Zalando and Colruyt — also help to humanize the customer experience, and in a way this sentiment is summed-up by Belgium's customer experience leader: the financial services organization Argenta. Founded in 1956, the bank remains family-owned to this day, and this person-centered approach is prevalent throughout Argenta's customer experience strategy.1
For this particular brand, the pillar of Personalization is one of the most important, and indeed Argenta achieved the highest Personalization score in the Belgian study. Personal contact and real-life interactions are key to its operations, and the restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have forced Argenta to focus on other channels in order to maintain this ethos. Its 'human-powered conversational banking,' for example, allows customers to interact with Argenta in a single conversation thread — not unlike a WhatsApp message — helping the brand to feel more like a family member or close friend.
In addition, respondents said that they truly felt as if Argenta had their best interests at heart. One customer noted: "When I have an appointment at Argenta, I immediately feel at home, which makes me feel more at ease and allows me to ask more questions." It's worth noting, as well, that the bank achieved one of the highest Loyalty scores in Belgium.
And with organizations such as Argenta raising the bar so high for customer experience — particularly during COVID-19 — the biggest challenge for Belgium as a whole is to find a way to match its proficiency. But it's not just Argenta that poses a threat; e-commerce has grown in importance in recent months, and a number of international brands are beginning to cause disruption. If Belgian organizations are to compete effectively, they will need to pay close attention to their digital offerings, focusing particularly on Time and Effort and Personalization to create human-feeling interactions that are fast and stress-free. Indeed, a growing number of customers are coming to expect such finely-tuned services as 'the standard' in Belgium, and — as time goes on — they are showing a greater willingness to complain, or even take their business elsewhere.
“In the Belgian market, COVID-19 has driven customers to an increasing and lasting use of digital interaction channels. We're also seeing additional focus on delivering value for money through both assertive pricing and delivering unique customer experiences. Using data and predictive modelling to improve customer service is becoming a standard practice." ”
Head of Customer, Sales and Marketing Advisory
KPMG in Belgium