On Thursday, I participated on a Gartner for Marketers Research Connections webinar on the topic of “Marketing in Uncertainty.” We asked clients where they are turning for rapid information about consumers’ changing preferences, habits, and expectations during the COVID-19 crisis. The results show marketers are using many sources for vital consumer insight.
It’s not surprising that most rely on third-party information; research firms with existing consumer panels are equipped to quickly monitor how customer perception is evolving as restrictions and anxieties grow around the US and the world. For example, in a recent report (subscription required) we shared that, as of March 3 and 4, the most significant future concerns for members of the Gartner Consumer Community panel were the US and global economy and people acting against the interests of the community.
Other common sources of consumer insight during the pandemic were social listening platforms and employees such as customer service reps and sales. Both are valuable but potentially subject to biases to consider. Social media is a real-time firehose of customer sentiment, but be careful to consider how much the audience on Twitter, Facebook, or TikTok match your customer’s demographics and psychographics. And while many of your employees have their finger on the pulse of customers, anything they share can be influenced by their own needs, stresses, and perspective. Use these terrific sources with an awareness of their strengths and limitations.
Only a quarter of respondents indicated they use Voice of Customer or survey platforms. Many brands are pausing their regular relationship surveys, so as not to bother customers during this period of stress. (And, of course, longitudinal measures of satisfaction, customer effort, and NPS are likely useless in periods when consumer context and organizational operations are being so changed and challenged.) The desire to survey customers to learn of their needs may be natural. Still, if every brand races to survey customers in the same way they rushed to tell customers how much they care amid this crisis, customers will only get annoyed, opt-outs will rise, and response rates will plummet.
Nonetheless, voice of customer platforms offer rapid opportunities for marketers and customer insight leaders to probe customer’s needs. By using open-ended questions and text analytics rather than lengthy surveys filled with close-ended questions, marketers can be empathetic and customer-centric as they collect and understand emotions and needs. However, if you ask, be prepared to act–in periods of hardship, customer expectations will be greater that your brand won’t merely use the data for research but, if they share their specific needs, you’ll respond to assist. If you survey customers during the pandemic, be sure to limit sample sizes and align closed-loop workflows to meet those expectations.
Gartner is guiding customers to deploy all of their customer listening and testing capability to recognize how consumer context is changing from week to week. From monitoring digital analytics for changes in customer questions and content interests to leveraging consumer communities to test messaging and creative rapidly, this unsettling period demands marketers be even more customer-centric than ever. The brands that emerge from the period uncertainty won’t be the ones that offered the most effusive expressions of care but the ones that are nimble enough to listen and respond to the needs of their customers.