Why it’s useless to wait with customer surveys until “it’s over”

All industries are now seeking to adapt as good as they can to the challenges that a tiny sting of DNA is posing to all of us. Some very successfully, some less so. It’s good to see that my own area, the CX / UX research community, has very effectively changed their toolbox to accommodate the requirements of working (and running research) from a distance.

During the recent status call with my colleagues at UX Fellows, all of them said they had successfully switched to remote UX testing, remote IDIs, and even remote ethnographic research. And all fellows, who are from regions like Brazil, USA, Europe, Russia, Singapore or Australia, agreed that their clients and participants accept qualitative remote research pretty well. Quantitative research has already been online-only for a while and isn’t affected anyway.

However, one topic that I do discuss with my clients now isn’t the feasibility of remote research. It is its validity, that is, what the insights we get mean, what they stand for and how long their meaning will last.

Questions we are discussing are:

  • Will participants only talk about the corona situation? Will all insights be overshadowed by the exceptional situation?
  • Are participants able to remember how they would have answered, how they behaved or felt before the crisis?
  • Can we observe natural behavior at all, given the “unnatural” situation?

In the past few weeks I got to think that these are perhaps the wrong questions to ask. It seems more and more evident that we won’t return to a pre-Corona state as we knew it.

Many countries have been in lockdown for six or more weeks now. After most businesses and private persons found themselves in a state of shock after the sudden onset of the events, they tried to orient themselves and took immediate measures to safeguard both, their physical and economic health. Many businesses stopped their non-vital spendings (e.g. for customer research) altogether.

We can, however, assume that this phase is over now. We are adapting to the new situation, check out new business opportunities and possibilities to live with the virus. In fact, it seems that many are accepting the fact that the virus will still stay with us for a while and that there will be a new normal once it’s gone.

What does this mean for customer research?

It doesn’t make much sense waiting with customer surveys until the spell is over, because we are not going back to a world before Corona. Since the shock phase is over, we can also assume that customers are able to tell us how they feel, what they need and what they deem relevant for the next time to come.

  • Corona is a technological catalyzer which speeds up tech adoption and change in usage patterns
  • Digitization shortcomings and pain points, e.g. with a paper-based bureaucracy are becoming strikingly clear
  • Special needs of people will persist, like the lack of personal encounters, solitude, financial sorrows and other existential problems
  • There seems to be a shift in values going on, e.g. regarding sustainability. Many are thinking about how they can support their local shops, restaurants and communities now for example.
  • In the long run, we can assume that many customer behaviors will change, e.g. regarding travel, work, shopping, communication. We can see the beginning of those changes now.

That means that now is the right time to understand this new normal. We should use the customer-centric research tools we have to proactively design it.

The Coronavirus crisis currently poses challenges to many areas of business, but also creates new opportunities. In the Serviceplan Group’s first live session of the webinar titled “Acting Successfully in the Corona Crisis”, Verena Letzner, Managing Director of Plan.Net NEO, presented her analysis of the effects of the crisis on social media. In her expert article, she looks at the current situation in Germany and explains what questions brands should ask themselves now, and why it is worthwhile to take a look at the situation in China.

The use of social media platforms, from Messenger and video platforms to classic social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook and others, has risen significantly. Due to the lockdown and social contact restrictions in Germany and the resulting social distancing, people increasingly use the Social Web to inform themselves, discuss and get in touch with others – including brands. This creates opportunities for brands to strengthen their market position sustainably during the crisis, however the procedure brands follow in order to do so is important. Only those brands that make a helpful contribution now will become part of the conversation and have the ability to emerge from the crisis stronger.

1. Improve people’s situation

Brands should create an offering on the Social Web that adds value to the many people who currently must stay at home. Brands can support important areas of life such as sports, health and education through their offerings, or create alternatives for activities that are restricted or completely forbidden during the lockdown phase, such as eating out together, shopping and maintaining physical social contacts.

2. Have a purpose and radiate optimism

Currently, the “Time with brands” is in a peak phase, which means that users engage more with brands on the Social Web than usual. For brands, it is important to use this time to authentically place values such as solidarity, community, care, trust and optimism at the centre of their communication, thereby increasing their brand capital in the long term.

3. Benefit from changes in media usage

Due to the withdrawal of many advertisers from the paid social sector, the advertising pressure and the competition for placements is currently decreasing. Therefore, it can be especially useful for brands to buy cheap advertising space or to get more reach for the same budget.

Five questions that brands should ask themselves now

In order to exploit the potential of social media during the Coronavirus crisis, brands now have to urgently address the question of a strong and relevant social media strategy. The following five questions provide a guideline:

  1. What role can social media play for my brand in the communication mix during the Coronavirus crisis?
  2. How do I deal with my community in times of crises?
  3. Which channels are the right ones for me?
  4. How can I establish a performance-oriented social media approach and invest my budget effectively?
  5. How do I measure my success ­– during and after the crisis?

A look towards China – Looking ahead

An interesting question is certainly what happens as soon as the lockdown in Germany eases. It is worth looking at China, where the crisis and its effects are ahead of European countries. In China, too, the social media use of various services and platforms increased significantly during the lockdown, and the personal exchange that usually takes place in shops, such as product or purchasing advice, shifted to the Social Web.

And after the lockdown phase? Social media use in China has remained high, only the daily usage time has decreased slightly again. In a survey of Chinese marketers on how they would invest budgets in the future or which fields they would use more after the crisis, most of the respondents cited the social media sector.  This shows that long-term business opportunities are seen here.