By Colin Clarke, Ph.D.
The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted consumer preferences and behavior. As we continue to move through this post-pandemic phase, manufacturers, service providers, and small businesses are intent on “returning to normal.” However, those expecting to manage their business the way they did pre-pandemic are in for a surprise. More has changed than many realize.
There Is No Normal
Consumer preferences have changed greatly over the past two years. The pandemic forced people who were brand loyal across many categories out of their comfort zone to try different brands. McKinsey and Company, from their U.S. Consumer Pulse surveys, states: “Approximately 90% of consumers who have switched brands or retailers plan to incorporate these new behaviors in their routines.”
Think about your own experiences during the pandemic. How often did you make brand and retailer decisions differently than you otherwise would have? On home goods, grocery items, automobiles, equipment needs, service providers, and more. Given those experiences, are you quickly returning to your prior purchasing habits? Things have changed for everyone, and businesses need to realize that a “return to normal” approach could be a precursor to failure.
Adapt to Change
Companies that recognize how customer habits have changed will be best suited to adapt and most likely to stabilize their business and succeed. One of the key tools that companies can use to adapt to these changes is customer research data. Companies that wish to thrive in this new business environment need to understand that history and longevity in an industry no longer translates into truly “knowing one’s customer.” With so many outside influences pressuring businesses, from staffing shortages to product availability to increasing input costs, companies need to know their customers better now than ever before.
Customer research data can help companies understand how customers’ behavior and preferences have evolved and make them better positioned to meet changing customer needs. For example, data can help companies identify changes in the types of products or services that customers are most interested in, allowing for more concise inventories or product specialization. Customer feedback can also reveal how customers prefer to interact with a company, whether in-person, virtual/online, by phone, or combinations thereof. This feedback allows businesses to better deploy resources to best meet customer service needs. Additionally, customer data can also reveal how customers prefer to take delivery of their products and services, giving companies key insights into optimizing distribution.
Data for Decision Making
Armed with customer data, companies can be better informed when it comes to making tough decisions about business direction in a changing environment. Decisions such as identification of new customer segments, optimization of product lines, enhancements in service offerings, adoption of new technologies, changes in distribution, meeting challenging staffing demands, and uncovering new market opportunities are best not made by “gut feel.” Business leaders should leverage their historic experience and write out what they think is true about their business environment, then undertake effective customer research to validate if the customers truly see their business the same way. We call it, “Bridging the gap between what you think (to be true) and what you know (validated with data).”
Overall, customer research data can be a powerful tool for companies looking to stabilize their business post-pandemic. By analyzing customer behavior and preferences, companies can gain insights that help them adapt their products, services, and strategies to meet the evolving needs of their customers. Companies that are able to do this successfully will be best positioned to thrive in the post-pandemic world.
About Colin N. Clarke, Ph.D.
Colin is a senior research strategist and consultant for Prime46. He has worked on assignments from the Mississippi delta to the western Canadian prairies to the Bering Sea off the coast of Alaska. His projects have covered industries from manufacturing and logistics to energy and food production, along the way working for the likes of 3M, PepsiCo, Bobcat Company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Royal Dutch Shell.