Over the past year, and thanks in general to the Covid-19 pandemic, consumer behaviours have continued to shift - and so have the ways in which brands interact with their customers, according to a customer experience and communications study from global Fintech provider Broadridge Financial Solutions. This article is copyright 2021 The Best Customer Guide.

While 70% of North American consumers have taken a step toward greater digital interaction with at least one provider, nearly 60% believe companies need to improve their customer experience, with this sentiment most strongly felt by millennials (71%).

The company polled the opinions of 3,000 North American consumers, finding that brands have higher standards to live up to in delivering relevant, personalized and data-driven content.

In a year when over half (56%) of consumers believe the pandemic has fundamentally changed how they communicate and engage with businesses, 54% have also seen an increase in 'humanity' in the communications they've received from providers.

"Companies have been challenged to rapidly adapt to rising customer expectations as a result of the pandemic," said Matt Swain, managing director for communications and customer experience consulting services at Broadridge. "Whether it's the purchase experience or essential communication touchpoints like bills and statements, the bar has been set very high for brands to provide consumers with easy, engaging and personalized digital interactions. Until more digital experiences meet these higher standards, a large portion of consumers will continue to hold onto print."

Building On 2020: A Year of Firsts
The study found that 2020 was indeeed a year of 'digital firsts'. For the first time:

  • One third (32%) of consumers made an online bill payment and nearly a quarter (22%) created an online account.
  • Nearly one in five consumers (18%) went paperless with at least one company.
  • 19% of respondents overall - and 27% of Millennials - used the chat feature on a company's website, portal or app.

Just over half (54%) of consumers who went paperless for the first time in 2020 rated their experience as "excellent" showing that, to outlast first time usage and break long-term print habits around essential communications like bills and statements, companies need to invest in improving seamless and consistent digital experiences.

Digital Experimentation is on the Rise
With more cross-generational digital experimentation over the past year, there was an uptick in consumers using their providers' mobile options. Since the pandemic began, nearly half (49%) of consumers' usage of mobile apps from companies increased, including 32% of Boomers.

Consumers also became more receptive to mobile payments, with the majority (65%) of respondents saying they would use a mobile app to make a bill payment. Six out of 10 (64%) consumers are interested in receiving short informational videos personalized to the services they receive. A majority (58%) would also like companies to deliver bills, statements and other important documents directly into their preferred cloud storage location.

Paper for the Record?
Despite these digital firsts, when it comes to favourite channels for receiving communications, half of consumers still prefer physical mail most. Of those, three-quarters (76%) say they will still want to receive print communications in three years.

Regardless of delivery preferences, consumers expect a seamless omni-channel experience. An overwhelming majority (84%) of consumers expect companies to make it easy for them to interact across print, digital and other channels.

"While brands place emphasis on transitioning customers to digital channels, we are seeing a sustained demand for print communications among consumers," noted Swain. "Whether serving as a reminder for payment or providing a renewed sense of novelty in a digital world, printed bills and statements will long have a place in brand communications."

Personalize Communications or Lose Business
Relevance is paramount. In fact, a personalized omni-channel experience across digital and print channels is a consumer expectation that can cost providers business when not executed well. Two out of five consumers (43%) have stopped doing business with a company just because it did a poor job of personalizing the experience. Millennials (59%) and Gen X (51%) were most likely to change providers compared to 28% of Boomers.

As consumer needs evolve, it will be imperative for companies to focus on increasing the value of print and digital experiences, embracing digital experimentation, and providing seamless experiences tied to consumer preferences.

"Companies that win customer loyalty in the post-pandemic recovery will be those that continue to invest in their digital communications toolkit while optimizing the print experience for consumers who remain partial to the channel," concluded Swain.