Like many countries that went into lockdown during COVID-19, Ireland has had to adapt quickly with many Irish businesses forced to alter how they operate almost overnight. Physical channels that remained open had to implement new social distancing and safety precautions; while digital channels were rapidly developed in order to deal with the growing number of consumers interacting online.
Many brands within the non-grocery retail sector, which was the strongest sector in this year's study, benefited from having already well-established digital engagement and distribution channels. This enabled customers to continue to do business with this sector with minimal disruption and may explain why the sector stood out for Time and Effort out of The Six Pillars. The sector was also ranked best for value, demonstrating how financial considerations are driving perceptions of customer experience in today's Irish market.
The pillar of Personalization proved to be the most important for driving customer loyalty and advocacy across all sectors.
The strongest organizations recognized the importance of the human connection which, on a basic level, meant being friendly and helpful. But another aspect of this was demonstrating an understanding of individual customer needs and providing solutions to these proactively (rather than reactively), like the hotel chain that gave their guests a complimentary takeaway breakfast because they knew they had an early morning flight.
The fashion retailer Penneys (known as Primark in other countries) remained communicative during the lockdown period and was one of the strongest performers in this year's research. Their rank is particularly impressive given that Penneys stores were closed during lockdown and does not operate an online store. So how did it stay connected with its customers?
Like many Irish business Penneys rose to the challenge with its employees packing over 6,000 care packages containing over 45,000 Penneys products, which were delivered to hospital patients and healthcare workers throughout the country. The brand also announced that it would be supporting global suppliers by purchasing L370m of additional products from them, despite not being open.1
This 'philanthropic' sentiment was echoed by another high scorer — the delivery brand An Post. Although its highest pillar score was in Personalization, An Post also scored highly for Integrity — a result that was aided by its strong community focus. For instance, the brand's postal workers checked-in on elderly and vulnerable customers as they made their deliveries — a service that customers could request for themselves, or somebody they knew. In addition, An Post delivered 5 million postcards (free of charge) to over 1.8 million households to help people stay in touch with family and friends during lockdown. There was also the #ImagineNation campaign, which saw the brand publish a free downloadable playbook for children, containing a host of fun activities.
These people-centered measures were also in evidence at An Post branches. As one respondent explained: "I can't praise An Post highly enough… These days, the post office mistress has everything laid out. X on the floor marks distance, and there's hand sanitizer as you enter and as you leave… Honest to God, they are wonderful."
The Irish League of Credit Unions, a member-owned affiliation of Credit Unions, also performed strongly and clearly demonstrated they share these values. Pre-COVID-19, Credit Unions were heavily focused on the experience of their members, putting a great emphasis on physical contact, empathy and accountability. They also invested heavily in youth initiatives, charities and cultural events, integrating themselves within their communities.
And while this ethos remained in place during lockdown, Credit Unions also developed new ways of serving their communities.Some branches transformed into drive-throughs to facilitate social distancing, and they provided food to the homeless, elderly and frontline healthcare workers. For Credit Unions, these weren't publicity stunts; the initiatives stemmed from a deep-rooted desire to enrich the lives of those around them, and customers appreciated the sincerity with which help was given. One respondent noted that, "You don't feel like you are in a bank when you go." Another said, "It really fosters a sense of wider community."
Maintaining this 'humanization' of the customer experience will be a key consideration for Ireland moving forward. But brands will still need to adapt. While the post-COVID-19 customer will continue to be multimodal, some will want to keep their digital interactions digital, and will be less comfortable moving out of those channels when they need to speak to a human. The challenge for organizations will be to harness Personalization more effectively across digital touchpoints, making good use of webchats, chatbots and social media platforms. And these touchpoints will need to be 'smart' — to remember people's queries and circumstances without the customer having to repeat themselves.
“It has been inspiring to see how so many organizations in Ireland have stepped up to support their customers and communities over the last few months. There is a heightened level of appreciation and respect for organizations who simply 'kept things going' during lockdown and it is no surprise to see our essential services sectors score so highly. Leading organizations have shown proactivity and innovation in how they have adapted their business models across their human and digital networks to continue to meet the needs of their customers, including the most vulnerable." ”
Lead Partner, Management Consulting
KPMG in Ireland
Dunnes Retail Stores
An Post Money