Blog Post: Responses to the crisis from leading brands across the world

Nicolás Fritis C. / Head of Customer Experience and Channel Performance, Latin America / April 2020

Covid-19 is the biggest global crisis in living memory. It has already had a tremendous impact on people's lives, health ant those everyday things we usually take for grantes. For Customer Experience practitioners these have been tumultuous times, and brands all over the world have responded to the challenge in various imaginative, impactful- and occasionally ill-judged-ways. These responses represent different ways that companies have tried, in these troubled times, to stay connected with and serve their customers; to deliver the Customer Experience that continues to live up to heir Brand Promise, and meer their customers' needs and their expectations. In many cases, the fundamental challenge comes down to providing service continuity; to stay in business. Helping-or being seen to be helping- the fight against the pandemic ,while making sure that their operatons are run in a safe and healthy environment for all stakeholders, including employees, are centre-stage too. 

Ipsos reached out to team members in more than 40 markets, who, in a joint effort, helped collate some of these best practice examples and measures taken to adapt to this new environment, to provide support, care and protection to customers who face the fear of contagion, confinement, financial hardship or other restrictive measures; to do the right thing by employees and, indeed, to do the right thing by the world at large. (This paper does not address the steps organisations are taking to ‘simply’ survive, nor does it address actual changing business models – the likes of driving face-to-face service interactions to remote channels, and changes to business focus.)  We collected more than 180 initiatives from markets as diverse as China, the UK, Turkey, Czech Republic and Chile, with a few examples showcased here. 
This crisis will change the relationship between employee, customer and brand, and will be remembered as an important moment of truth. Today, everybody is more aware of, and more alert to, the responsibilities held by the brands which dominate our spending and our lifestyles.

Caring for Customers
Brands all over the world have faced store and branch closures. Some have been able to focus on covering basic needs and operating with adjusted service mechanisms.  For those that have kept their doors open to customers, keeping distance is key. There are all kinds of measures implemented, from limiting the amount of people inside a store, to signalling distance on the floor to organise properly spaced queues. Grocery outlets, including Sainsbury’s in the UK, have installed plexiglass to separate cashiers and tellers from customers. 
Companies are helping stop the spread of COVID-19 without distinction of category, country or language.  Brands are encouraging customers to help fight the spread of the virus by ‘Staying Home’ and to regularly ‘Wash Hands’ for more than 20 seconds. 
There has been special concern paid to keeping older customers safe. For example, Exito Supermarkets in Colombia and FairPrice in Singapore, like many other brick and mortar outlets, have introduced specific shopping times for 60+ citizens, as well as exclusive checkouts for their use. 
Companies have taken measures to reduce risk on delivery services, including Lazada Brands in Singapore.  Additional health and safety measures have been introduced for the ‘product picking’ process, access to ‘health declaration forms’ is being offered via QR codes, and staff wear nametags that have their body temperature and time of measurement written with dry erase markers, clearly visible for customers. 
As the pandemic continues to spread across the globe, there is growing concern about the shortage of medical personnel to take care for the sick. In response, Romanian supermarket chain Mega Image decided to help medical personnel by introducing exclusive express checkouts for them to use. New Zealand Countdown stores open at 8am to provide a shopping hour each day for medical services personnel.
Telecom brands have a huge role to play during the periods of isolation and confinement. Working from home, home schooling and entertainment streaming mean a much higher demand – and in turn requires an improved service delivery. Brands from different parts of the world have provided free extra services, such as extra allocation of download data on their internet plans, free minutes and even free premium channels. 
Brands have started adjusting the way they sell and serve customers, providing solutions that are compatible with social distancing and face-to-face service. All kinds of ‘at home’ services have been put in place. Examples include those offered by a Mexican Chevrolet dealer and Audi in the UK who are now picking up cars for service, allowing online payments and providing test drives from home.
Being socially responsible means understanding that this crisis is affecting jobs and incomes. As an increasing amount of businesses, small shops and stores are forced to close – and many even enter administration – employees and owners are facing a long-term economic crisis, on a personal as well as business level. Financial institutions such as Mexican Banorte and Czeck Česká Spořitelna have taken the lead in supporting their customers by introducing flexible payment plans. These give their customers the chance to postpone credit and mortgages payments during the crisis. Meanwhile others have removed charges on ATM transactions to allow customers easier access to cash. Nedbank in South Africa is helping senior citizens get access to essential services through its ‘Hey Ned’ lifestyle assistant on its ‘MoneyApp’. In Hong Kong, Manulife extended their insurance coverage to support the needs of those in quarantine/COVID-19 positive clients.

Other examples:

  • TSB Bank in the UK has added a 'Smart Agent' function to its site, enabling customers to ask a chatbot or live agent about measures the bank is taking during the Covid-19 pandemic
  • Oxxo convenience outlets in Mexico have introduced utensils kits for those customers consuming products in- store
  • Safeway supermarkets in the US have introduced a ‘one-way’ policy in the aisles, to reduce customer proximity

Caring for Employees 
Stories of companies taking care of their employees is especially cheering at a time of rising unemployment, furloughing and salary cuts.   As examples, Loblaw in Canada increased wages for all frontline staff by $2/ hour, with a guaranteed income for all employees who are sick or impacted.  Tesco in the UK offered 12 weeks’ fully paid absence for colleagues over 70, vulnerable or pregnant.
Of course, social distancing and other safety measures are not only about taking care of customers, it’s also meant to protect employees and their families. Denmark’s Bilka grocery stores have implemented ‘to your trunk (car boot)’ pick up methods, reducing face-to-face interaction for the benefit of employees – and customers. 
Because of the highly contagious level of this virus, disinfecting surfaces is at the top of the agenda for companies who need to provide a safe environment for their employees. Grocers, such as Unimarc in Chile, close for a period at midday to disinfect their premises.
While some businesses are closed and, people are temporarily unemployed, others can’t cope with the higher demand. Aldi, in Germany, has offered work to employees of a closed McDonald’s.

Other examples:

  • Terpel Oil & Gas in Colombia has introduced a new service protocol in petrol stations, to keep team members at a distance from customers
  • Peugeot in Slovakia has introduced security features to protect technicians; vehicles are disinfected, and technicians are instructed to use ‘protective sleeves’ whilst in the vehicle

Caring for the World
Beyond caring for immediate stakeholders, this crisis also presents an opportunity for companies to truly deliver on their values at a higher level; to work together with competitors, in some cases –  to act together in the best interests of all citizens.
Before the crisis hit, Ipsos’ research showed how consumers are making decisions about their product and brand purchases, taking into account shared values and greater societal purpose.   Forty per cent of customers (in a UK-based study covering more than 9,000 customer interactions across nine sectors) agreed that they want to share the same values as the company that they are buying from.(1)    We know that those who feel they have shared values, a sense of ‘belonging’, are more likely to recommend or have a higher emotional connection with the company, with the resultant behaviours of higher retention and share of spend – as well as advocacy. 
A great example comes from Turkey, where telecommunication brands acted together to change their network names to ‘Stay Home’, providing a strong message to all customers in the country. Lifebuoy soap producers in India launched an advertisement campaign to promote the usage of soap, regardless of brand choice.
Business to business (B2B) companies are working together too. As small businesses are strangled by lowering demand and obligations, larger businesses such as Salling Group in Denmark have offered to speed up payment and help inject liquidity to their partners.
There are several cases of companies making donations to support those in need. Examples cover a wide range of charitable initiatives from both the big and small players; the likes of significant cash donations and supporting food programmes.  Rogers in Canada have donated one million meals to Food Banks Canada.  Waitrose & Partners in the UK have delivered comfort packages, including pillows, hand cream and chocolates to the National Health Service.  At the other end of the scale, before closing down, coffee shops have donating remaining food stock to hospitals, florists have left flowers outside for ‘customers’ to help themselves.

Early reports in many countries showed people crowding supermarkets, hoarding toilet paper and cleaning products. As a result, several retailers implemented temporary measures, limiting the number of units a single buyer can purchase in order to have stock for every customer.
As the pandemic spreads and accelerates, a shortage of disinfectant products and hospital-grade masks has been reported. In some places there hasn’t been cleansing alcohol available at pharmacies or supermarkets for months. Some brands have decided to do their part as they’ve changed their production facilities to focus on shortage products. As just a few examples, French drinks giant, Pernod Ricard converted distilleries to make hand sanitizer, LVMH, the French luxury conglomerate switched production from perfume to sanitizer.  Dyson, best known for its production of household appliances, has announced it will develop a new type of medical ventilator for the UK’s National Health Service.  H&M shifted their textile production to protective face masks for hospital staff.
Acts of global kindness are not going unnoticed. Social media is awash with the reports of the #goodguys … with the #badguys also having nowhere to hide.

Other examples:

  • Dillon’s Distillery partnered with Volkswagen Canada to help bring sanitiser to the first responders and essential services across Ontario
  • Burger King in Guatemala provided free meals for health workers and firefighters
  • BCP Bank donated 100 million Peruvian Soles to vulnerable families affected by the COVID-19 emergency

Adapting for the Future
All of these responses play into the new Brand Promises that organisations are communicating to customers and society at large.  Even if it’s reasonable to assume that, in tough times, customers will be more understanding, we know delivery failure puts customer-supplier relationships in serious jeopardy. (2) Conversely, fulfilling the Brand Promise is key for a healthy relationship and the resultant desired positive customer behaviours.  We don’t yet know how customers will react to companies over-extending themselves in the crisis; will customers ‘cut them any slack’; will they appreciate the effort as well as the attainment?  Research from before the crisis suggests that companies will still need to be careful in terms of what they promise in time of crisis.  Then, 42% of customers told us they would buy less or stop buying from the brand as a result of the experience being not as promised. (3) We do know that now more than ever, customers want ‘certainly’.  As the brand promise and experience set a new benchmark in customers’ minds against which each new or repeat experience of a brand is measured, it will be fundamental for companies to understand, as a minimum, that they understand these new expectations.
It’s difficult to foresee how long the crisis presented by Covid-19 will remain – in terms of both economic and humanitarian impact. 
Preparing for the world that will exist ‘on the other side’ of this crisis, organisations need not only to adapt, but also to anticipate, grounded in a deep-seated understanding of customers’ new expectations, needs and behaviours; to evolve the customer-company interactions and relationships for the future. (4)
This crisis represents a moment of truth between brands, employees and customers, and with it, for those that survive, a huge opportunity to push the limits of understanding and delivering on newly formed needs and expectations. 






Further information:

For further information about the steps organisations are taking across the world to adapt, anticipate, and measure how they are living up to new brand promises, please contact the author of this paper, or your local Ipsos Customer Experience, Channel Performance or Mystery Shopping contact.

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