The adage that there’s no one size fits all has never been more relevant to the retail industry.

While we’ve seen customers adopt and keep a range of new behaviours and preferences over the last year in response to the pandemic, we should not overlook those now wanting to go back to their previous habits and ways of doing things. Nor can we forget those consumers that go between the new and old ways.

It’s a reality that means the challenge ahead for retailers is equally as big and important today as the ones we were facing this time last year. Because while consumer needs are more varied than ever, their expectations are higher than ever too. And no single organisation can afford to deliver a less-than-great customer experience.

How consumer trends are changing

To help you understand the extent to which consumer preferences and expectations have changed over the last year, the Qualtrics XM Institute asked 1,000 Australian consumers about this very topic. Specifically, what new habits they had formed since the pandemic started, what ones they intend to keep, what ones they are going to stop when restrictions lift completely, and their overall satisfaction when engaging with brands.

The good news is Australians overall are upbeat with their customer experiences over the last year. Some three quarters of consumers (74%) said they are satisfied with their brand interactions, in comparison to two thirds (66%) globally. In fact, Australia ranked fifth out of the 18 countries rated. Of particular note were streaming services (83%), grocery stores (82%), and medical clinics (80%), who scored the highest levels of customer satisfaction.

But even those organisations with high satisfaction ratings can’t rest on their laurels. Our research also tells us that many consumers are settling into new patterns of behaviour, which will continue to change as we move forward through the pandemic.

For example, while a greater number of Australians now plan to do more transactional brand engagements through digital – such as online banking and shopping and contacting customer service – they are keen to get back to face-to-face engagements for more personal interactions.

Of particular note, Australians said they now expect to use online grocery and restaurant delivery services less than during the pandemic. While these services expectedly peaked during 2020,  the swing back outlines how consumer considerations extend beyond convenience. This is backed up by the finding 20 per cent of consumers make their buying decision based on how the business treats them, rather than product or price.

Two steps to great customer experience

In this new era of retail, there will be two things that set every organisation apart. These are the ability to rapidly design the products and experiences that people want and need right now across every engagement channel. And the ability to continuously improve each of those experiences – to the point where you set the standard and become customers’ first choice.

This is because regardless of how a customer might decide to engage with you, or the different considerations made in the buyer journey, they will reward you based on the quality of the experience you provide. It’s as true today as it was a year ago.

As a result, the customer listening channels used by retailers are more important than ever. Retailers must be able to capture real-time feedback from every customer type and channel to build a holistic understanding of the experience delivered, and then take rapid, targeted, and meaningful action to improve and tailor the products and services provided.

Look forward

After a year of huge disruption, retailers now need to prepare for the future rather than trying to recreate the past. And for those prepared to redesign and improve consumer experiences, the rewards will be huge.

Vicky Katsabaris is director of XM solutions and strategy for Qualtrics Asia Pacific & Japan.