Fostering customer trust

How can retailers earn and keep consumer trust during and after COVID-19?

  • Janet Alexander
    Janet Alexander
  • Jun 20, 2020

Three capabilities retailers need to foster customer trust

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The scale of COVID-19 and its subsequent economic impact has made trust between consumers and brands—already an important part of customer engagement—even more critical.

Eighty-one percent of consumers say that being able to trust a brand is now a deciding factor in their buying decision. At the same time, people who have been furloughed or laid off are reducing their spending and buying less expensive brands than before. Closures have led brick-and-mortar-based businesses to lean into digital strategies and ecommerce more than ever, given the surge in contactless delivery and pick-up in store options.

Consumers are having to change how they shop, leading to a permanent shift in consumer preferences that will push retailers to continue to pursue more engagement innovations even after the containment of the virus.

The importance of trust for consumers

Consumers are seeking comfort and assurance, and are demanding integrity from brands. Seventy-one percent of consumers say companies that place their profits before people during this crisis will forever lose their trust.

Consumers already have little regard for a brand’s bottom-line, and with the extraordinary circumstances of COVID-19, 90 percent of customers believe brands must do everything they can to protect the well-being and financial security of their employees and their suppliers, even if it means suffering big financial losses until the pandemic ends.

In order to earn or keep consumer trust, retailers must offer transparency around their efforts; 89 percent of consumers say a brand needs to keep the public fully informed regarding how it’s supporting and protecting employees and customers.

Right now, it's not about selling as much as it is being in service to every customer.

Brands who are seen as opportunistic while so many find themselves vulnerable will be at greater risk to lose existing and potential customers; 33 percent of consumers have convinced other people to stop or not use a brand that they felt was not acting appropriately in response to the pandemic.

Changing consumer behavior in light of COVID-19

While customers continue to shop in-person at stores, that doesn’t mean they aren’t concerned about possible risks to their personal health.

When deciding where to shop, a brand’s ability to effectively communicate the safety of their environment, sanitization and cleaning practices is the top determinant.

It’s no secret that many consumers adapting to lockdowns have had to change where they shop and what they buy. A fifth of consumers have switched brands and among those, 63 percent intend to continue using them.

Some changes in response to COVID-19 are less likely than others to stick around for long after. For example, restaurant curbside pick-up has increased by 98 percent but the intent to continue among consumers is just 29 percent. Meanwhile, in-store self-checkout is seeing a modest 9 percent growth in use but an impressive 76 percent intend to continue.

An increasing number of consumers shopping online not only saw ecommerce sales increase in Q1, but the US ecommerce market share of total retail sales has also been growing––11.8 percent of overall retail sales, a 1.3 percentage point increase from Q1 2019’s 10.5 percent.


To adapt to this new normal within retail, there are three fundamental capabilities to meet consumer expectations around trust during COVID-19 and beyond.

Priority 1: Mass notifications

Consumers prefer secure, 1-to-1 communication, or group channels, with just 12 percent of consumers preferring a company’s mobile app for receiving communications from a business. To reliably provide accurate, real-time updates, and time-sensitive messages to many users at once, you need a short code. Short codes can send SMS and MMS at 100 messages per second, and this high throughput is perfect for marketing communications, notifications, and high volumes of one-to-one transactional notifications.

Forty-seven percent of consumers want to hear from companies either with the same frequency as before COVID-19 or more frequently given how rapidly things are shifting. It’s important to consider what kind of notifications are best-suited for SMS versus email.

Start by asking two key questions:

  • How business-critical is the message?
  • What is the message’s timeliness?

Priority 2: Contactless delivery

Contactless delivery is taking different forms in every business, involving Buy Online Pickup in Store (BOPIS) for retailers with both a physical location and online store, or relying on couriers or delivery services to place items at customers' doorsteps.

At the end of 2019, just 7.7 percent of the 208 store-based retailers in the Top 1000 had the buy online pickup in store (BOPIS) capability. Over 90 percent of those who have tried BOPIS since COVID-19 lockdowns went into effect said curbside was convenient, according to NRF’s Spring 2020 Consumer View survey.

Keep in mind since traditional methods of verifying identity like showing an ID or signing for a package are no longer an option with contactless protocol, using a customers’ phone number for verification becomes important for the entire order fulfillment process.

The most common method for confirming a working number belongs to the account holder is by sending a one-time code—usually a 4-to-6 digit token—via SMS and asking the recipient to enter that code back into the application. To reach customers using landlines be sure to offer the option of receiving a voice call or having the code read aloud over the phone.


Priority 3: Self-service

Self-service means interacting with a business without talking to a human. Self-service can take place through interactive voice response (IVR), web and mobile chatbots, messaging channels, or automated responses. Gartner predicts that 85 percent of customer service interactions will start with self-service by 2022. Typical use-cases for self-service include answering frequently asked questions, generating leads, routing for customer service inquiries, and scheduling.

Artificial intelligence that can respond to customers with more personalized responses is ideal. For example, U.K. retail giant Marks & Spencer uses natural language understanding (NLU) technology within its interactive voice response (IVR) system to convert speech to text for Google DialogFlow to determine customers’ intent. From there, the IVR routes calls to the correct department, or presents relevant self-serve opportunities to the customer. Marks & Spencer can automatically route customers without needing to request a “reason for contact.”

Earning and keeping customers’ trust during and after COVID-19 will require an omnichannel engagement strategy that allows for flexibility, scale, and transparency. To learn more, watch an on-demand webinar all about how to take a phased approach for adapting to changes in consumer behavior caused by the global pandemic.

Customer trust

Learn more about what's necessary for enabling self-service during a crisis.

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Janet Alexander

Janet Alexander

Janet has a decade of professional writing experience. With a focus on B2B technology, she helps Twilio's subject matter experts, product managers, and customers share their expertise, knowledge, and unique points of view through thought leadership, storytelling, and customer resources.