How COVID-19 redefined the customer experience


The pandemic has done more to drive consumer adoption of online channels than any digital transformation initiative – but companies should be careful what they wish for.

2020 has been a difficult year for everyone, and as the coronavirus continues to impact lives, health and the economy, it would be insensitive to talk about taking positives from the crisis. On the other hand, after spending many months immersed in a 24-hour news cycle of relentless gloom, people are eager for good news wherever they can find it.

It’s tempting, then, to point to the results of the recent SAS consumer research survey as a glimmer of light in a dark time. The idea of the research is to follow up on last year’s Experience 2030 study, which captured consumer attitudes about customer experience just before the pandemic hit. Since then, COVID-19 has impacted almost every aspect of the way we live, work, socialise and shop. So we decided to run a new survey with over 10,000 consumers from across Europe, the Middle East and Africa to assess how attitudes have changed.

Positive trends in digital adoption

Our new report reveals some heartening news for anyone who’s involved in digital adoption. Coronavirus has brought about what countless transformation projects have failed to achieve: It’s created a significant lift in the number of people using digital services. Since COVID-19 hit, 15% of customers started using a digital service or app for the first time, and 70% of those new adopters intend to continue using digital services in the future.

And while the news at the start of the crisis was full of stories of stock shortages, staffing issues and IT failures, many businesses have responded well after the initial shock. In fact, 30% of consumers noted that their customer experience actually improved during lockdown – perhaps because once they got used to interacting with brands online, they found it quicker, more convenient and less frustrating than visiting branches or phoning a call centre.

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash

Is it good news or bad news?

However, if we’ve finally reached the long-awaited tipping point where the majority of customers will adopt digital services as their primary channel for interacting with brands, we need to sound a note of caution. 

The rise in digital adoption during the COVID crisis correlates with an increasing demand for high-quality customer experiences. Nearly half (49%) of the customers we surveyed rated customer experience as more important than low prices and discounts, and 61% said that they would pay more for products and services from businesses that provided them with a good customer experience.

That all sounds positive, but there’s another side to the story. 34% of customers now say that they would ditch a supplier after just one poor experience. And as we all know, in the digital world, it’s much easier for consumers to switch not only where they buy their food and clothes, but also their bank, insurer, energy provider or phone company – businesses that rely on long-term customer relationships and can’t afford to lose subscribers. 

Getting your digital ducks in a row

As more of your customers start adopting your online services, you need to be really confident that the digital experience you’re providing will meet their expectations. If the customer journey on your website or mobile app isn’t as smooth, seamless and delightful as the one your competitor offers, you’re going to start losing customers. And because customer experience is becoming more important for many customers than price, even offering discounts and special offers may not be enough to win them back.

The key point is that while you may have seen an acceleration in your customers’ shift to digital channels, it’s vital not to become complacent. COVID-19 has pushed more consumers to go online, and many of them are finding that they enjoy it. But that initial buzz won’t last. If your digital experience is lacklustre, you’re likely to see a net loss in market share as soon as your customers realise that they can get a better level of service elsewhere.

Getting your ducks in a row should be a top priority if you want to weather the COVID storm and come out stronger on the other side.

How SAS can help

You may already have reached the same conclusions from anecdotal evidence, personal experience or intuition – but at SAS, we have the empirical data to back it up. That means we can provide the insight you need to pinpoint any friction in your customer journeys, as well as the technology to help you build powerful, engaging and personalised digital experiences.

If you’d like to learn more about COVID’s impact on attitudes to customer experience, you can download the full report here. Or to take the next step and find out how SAS can help your business, please feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or email me at


About Author

Andreas Heiz

Andreas is Director Customer Intelligence Solutions at SAS. He is managing an organization of marketing experts and system architects, providing deep domain expertise in analytical marketing and customer experience to global clients, driving business value by focusing on customer centricity, analytical marketing and strategic execution.

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