While businesses pivoted furiously to keep the region functioning, a recent survey showed that brand expectations were not actually met.

While the massive pivoting to e-commerce in 2020 also come with an improvement in digital customer experience?

In a survey of 5,900 consumers across APAC countries including Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, and Thailand, held between Feb and Mar 2021, consumer expectations versus actual experience seemed to show sizable gaps.

Three in four respondents were expecting brands to be purpose-driven, going beyond profits and transactional relationships, to demonstrate trustworthiness, empathy, shared values and corporate care for society during the troubled times. Yet, the APAC consumers in the survey indicated that businesses fell short when it came to being customer-centric. Some 48% stated that brands were still not able to resolve customer issues even after three interactions.

Expectation gaps

The survey, commissioned by SAP, sought to understand customer expectations and encounters with brands in 2020. Key gaps identified from the study centered on the areas of customer centricity, personalized experiences, openness in privacy and data control, as well as sustainability and ethical behavior. 

  • There were gaps in areas such as:
    • brands respecting the rights and welfare of their workers (77% vs 55%)
    • treating suppliers ethically (72% vs 48%)
    • active action to reduce gender and racial inequality (68% vs 47%)
    • abstinence from anti-competitive behavior (63% vs 42%)
  • Areas that businesses were found to be lacking included:
    • responsiveness within 24 hours to customer queries (73% vs 48%)
    • acting on customers feedback to improve products and services (72% vs 48%)
    • resolving issues in less than three interactions (73% vs 48%)
    • offering self-help resources to solve fast-emerging issues (73% vs 49%)
    • offering innovative or better ways to serve customers during COVID-19 (72% vs 53%)
  • Australian respondents were the most likely to cite a gap between their expectations and actual experiences of customer centricity overall (31% shortfall), followed by Malaysia (26%), Singapore (22%), Japan (22%), and South Korea (14%). Consumers in India and Thailand had the best customer experiences with expectation gaps at only 4% and 8% respectively.
  • Delivery, the last-mile of the shopping experience, was among the most dissatisfying areas for those surveyed, with 75% of APAC respondents expecting brands to provide timely and accurate delivery options they could trust, but with 53% saying this was met in reality. This gap was most prominent for the telco industry in Australia (36% gap), Malaysia (32% gap), Japan (23% gap), and supermarket players in Australia (31% gap) and Singapore (25% gap). 
  • 51% of APAC respondents found that brands were actively updating them on relevant specials and new products, while 45% felt they were being provided tailored suggestions based on their purchase history and preferences. Some 50% felt brands were proactive in anticipating their needs and wants.
  • 72% of APAC respondents expected brands to provide them with a network of physical and online stores, and 74% expected brands to have easy-to-transact options across multiple channels. 
  • APAC respondents highlighted shortfalls in the areas that included:
    • having full transparency over how their personal data was being used (32% gap)
    • security of private data and not sharing it with third parties (31% gap)
    • obtaining private data from customers to serve them better (25% gap)
    • making it easy to track their orders and queries (25% gap).
  • APAC respondents also cited shortfalls in brands in:
    • looking for new ways to recycle and reuse products, packaging materials and materials (18% gap)
    • having specific policies to reduce and report carbon emissions (14% gap)
    • having a strong focus on sustainability and ethics in sourcing and selling their products (10% gap)

Said the firm’s General Manager & Senior Vice President (Asia Pacific & Japan), Peggy Renders: “It is sobering to know that despite all the efforts businesses have put into digitalization over the past year, fundamentals around customer centricity are still not being met. There is clearly an urgent need for brands to humanize the gap between digital actions and heartstrings of consumers.”

With APAC consumers placing greater expectations on brands to go beyond transactional customer interactions, brand purpose must now take centerstage to show how businesses are actively demonstrating their care and concern for the environment, their workers, and broader community and society, Renders opined.