We all know of the digital migration that occurred this year as a result of the pandemic.

Just shy of half (47%) of consumers in the U.S./UK have opened a new online account in the last month.

But the experience of signing up and using online accounts – from entertainment and financial services to social media platforms and grocery services – isn’t always plain sailing. 

Using our new GWI Zeitgeist data in the U.S. and UK, we’ve taken a deep dive into this topic to:

  • Determine what consumers’ tech pain points are. 
  • Evaluate the importance of the customer experience, in an increasingly digitized environment.

The transition to digital began far before the pandemic took hold. But even for brands that had an omni-channel approach beforehand, many weren’t equipped to manage this unprecedented influx in digital demand.

For brands, it’s not enough to just “know” where new demand is coming from. They also need to work on continuously improving customers’ overall online experience.

With Christmas approaching fast and new lockdowns taking effect, brands that get this right now are best set to weather the storm.

Consumers of all ages are opening accounts online. 

It’s a common misconception that older generations are more likely to be hesitant of new tech.

44% of internet users globally are confident using new technologies, a figure that only wavers by one percentage point for Gen Z, millennials, and Gen X. While it drops to 36% among baby boomers, it’s evidence there’s a clear appetite for new tech – regardless of age.

What’s more, COVID-19 has led older generations to diversify their media habits.

Globally (excluding China) the average time spent online on mobile per day among Gen X/boomers has increased from 02:39 in Q1 2020 to 02:55 in Q3. 

And they’re not just browsing Facebook. Among these generations, quarter-over-quarter, usage of messaging/video call apps, mobile payment services, and finance apps have all increased.

Older consumers are increasingly becoming more and more reliant on the internet to do everyday things. While it’s true they’ve been slower to adopt new technology, they’re certainly catching up, with many opening online accounts.

37% of Gen X and 24% of baby boomers in the U.S./UK have opened a new online account in the last 6 months.

For these generations, it’s more traditional payment services that are seeing the biggest uptick.

For instance, among those who use mobile payments or money transfer services at least monthly in the U.S., 67% of Gen X/boomers say they’ve used PayPal in the past month, compared to 56% of Gen Z and millennials.

Instead, younger users are more likely to be using a range of other payment services, like Venmo and Apple Pay.

Younger consumers have the highest expectations and struggle the most. 

While tech adoption has never been so inclusive, the customer experience varies. Of any generation, younger consumers are more likely to say using more technology has been challenging over the last 6 months. 

In the U.S./UK, 15% of Gen Z say this, compared to 8% of baby boomers. High-income individuals and those living in urban areas are also more likely to agree.

This might seem paradoxical, but the consumers struggling with new tech aren’t who you think they are. They’re actually much more likely to be digitally savvy.

Who are the tech-challenged?

It’s likely that with their greater experience of using online accounts, they’ve developed higher expectations of digital infrastructure. 

As Mark Evans, managing director of marketing and digital at Direct Line Group, says “the bar on customer experience has been raised through Covid because of new cohorts coming in and because of an increase in digital sophistication.”

It’s vital that brands accommodate their online offerings for consumers who might be newer to the scene, such as older consumers, while simultaneously keeping up with younger consumers’ expectations.

This is crucial. Younger, tech-savvy, yet frustrated consumers are early adopters in technology. As we explored in a recent blog, they play the unofficial role of brand ambassadors before technology penetrates the larger market. If they can’t be won over now this only becomes more difficult.

While sign up-processes are largely favorable, pain points are evident. 

Generally, consumers are content with the sign-up process for new accounts.

78% of consumers in the U.S./UK who’ve opened a new account in the past 6 months say that the experience was straightforward and easy.

That said this drops to 73% for Gen Z and millennials, and increases to 85% for Gen X and baby boomers. Further evidence that the digital experience has resulted in higher expectations among younger consumers.

There are often numerous hurdles to jump when signing up to a new account. Among consumers who’ve opened an account in the past month, 93% said they had to do at least one of the actions in the chart below.

Digital onboarding pain points

While some of these actions – notably verifying via an email or proving not to be a robot – may help to reassure users that services are undertaking adequate security precautions, other frictions such as having to read a lot of terms and conditions (36%) are very likely to hinder the customer experience.

This infographic from Virtual Capitalist shows just how long it would take to read the T&Cs of several popular online services. At just 9 minutes and 42 seconds, Instagram’s small print is the quickest read. Microsoft comes in last place, it’ll take you just over an hour to get through that one. 

The sudden influx in demand means online grocery providers are still playing catch-up.

The ease of the overall sign-up experience varies considerably depending on the type of account being opened up.

For instance, finance account openers are more likely to say they needed help from someone, that it took multiple attempts to complete, or that the language was difficult to understand. While there’s clearly room for improvement here, the associated complexity of financial services perhaps makes this less surprising.

Grocery delivery services, which have seen explosive growth this year, also want to provide a good customer experience – yet they’re still playing catch up. 

Between Q3 2019 and Q3 2020, the percentage of internet users in the U.S./UK who have purchased grocery items online has steadily increased from 22% to 32%.

The primary concern here is security: consumers who’ve opened an online grocery account are considerably more likely to have been uncertain about giving payment details. But there’s also a practical factor, they’re much less likely to have been able to use other sign-in details (e.g. their Google/Facebook login).

Online grocery providers must assure consumers that their accounts are safe and simple to open. For many, especially the most vulnerable, these services have become a lifeline. It’s critical that consumers can easily use them, while also trusting their information is safe.

42% of baby boomers worry about how companies use their personal data online compared to 33% of Gen Z.

Once they’re signed up, they’re satisfied: 80% of grocery account openers say that once they’d opened the account the service was straightforward and easy, compared to 74% of financial service account openers, and 64% of entertainment account openers. 

For online grocery services it’s about getting consumers through the door. And while work has been done to achieve this – grocery account openers are more likely to have said they were sent a referral code by a friend – there are also other methods.

For instance they can partner with takeaway services. In the UK, Morrisons’ partnership with Deliveroo lets customers order household items for on-demand delivery. Consumers now don’t need to open a new account to order their groceries and can rely on the tried-and-tested infrastructure of digital-only providers.

While only “essential” goods are offered currently, partnerships such as these are encouraging steps toward simplifying grocery delivery services.

Getting the online customer experience just right: what’s at stake

The vacuum left open by the closure of stores has forced many brands to put the majority of their customer experience efforts into the digital front. 

Across 7 countries, we found the top concern among consumers when buying from a brand is bad customer service (60%). This comes above socio-economic concerns such as a poor environmental record (39%) or a lack of political/social activism (15%).

Customer service will always be a hygiene factor where the stakes are high. Getting it right pays dividends, but getting it right when most interactions are online can be tricky.

Half of consumers who have opened a new online account in the last month say they’re loyal to the brands they like. 

And in an increasingly digital-first world, social media has emerged as the key battleground for delivering first-in-class customer service. 

Globally, 23% of internet users have liked a brand on a social network in the past month. 

And in the U.S./UK, consumers who’ve opened accounts in the past month are more likely than the average to have interacted with brands on social in various ways; including through a messaging app, by sharing a branded post, or by uploading a photo/video to a brand’s social media page.

Ultimately, they’re very engaged with brands and consume a lot of their content. But this has its downsides, especially if the customer experience isn’t up to scratch.

Consumers who’ve had a bad experience signing up to a service online are 59% more likely than the average internet user to ask a question to a brand on a social network.

Consumers who’ve opened accounts also place significant weight on others’ opinions – 38% say reviews from other customers influence their likelihood of buying a product. Meanwhile, 34% say they tell their family/friends about new products.

Given their tendency for word-of-mouth and reliance on reviews, getting them on side is even more important for brands. Social media can be a double-edged sword, but delivering a top-class customer experience can really pay off in the long-run for these highly engaged consumers.

Even traditional industries must develop their social media support. Liberty Mutual Insurance is an example of a brand doing just that. Its Social Care program delivers quick and quality customer service through personalized and real-time interactions on social. 

The pandemic has no doubt thrown many hurdles in the way, but it’s also provided brands with a real opportunity to better engage with consumers and develop new digital innovations. It’s not as simple as just increasing online infrastructure, it’s about improving it as well. 

Brands should focus on alleviating pain points, supporting consumers, and using social media to build up positive brand sentiment and engagement. As we move more online, the customer experience becomes an important differentiator from competitors when other brand-building tools, such as physical retail, have taken a backseat.

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