Previously considered a niche or a nice-to-have option at best by U.S. consumers, contactless experiences have become absolutely essential during the COVID-19 pandemic. Everything from virtual telemedicine appointments to contactless delivery and payment systems have seen usage skyrocket in 2020.
Given that businesses and customers alike are taking advantage of contactless experiences for their own safety right now, this isn’t exactly surprising.
But a GetApp survey of nearly 1,000 consumers tells us that not only will contactless experiences remain important long after the pandemic is over—they will become a deciding factor in who customers decide to do business with. (See our survey methodology at the bottom of this page.)
In this article, we’ll dive into the results of our survey to understand why it’s important for your business to support great contactless experiences long-term. If your business is struggling with contactless experiences, we’ll also offer advice on how to improve these experiences and keep customers coming back.
A contactless experience is one where a consumer does not have to physically touch or interact with a person or piece of equipment from your business to complete their desired transaction. Making a payment with a contactless credit card, receiving a purchase through contactless curbside pickup, or having a virtual telemedicine meeting with a doctor are all examples of contactless experiences.
Key finding: While less than half of consumers (45%) considered contactless experiences important before the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly double that number (82%) say those experiences will be important when the pandemic is over.
As we wrote about in July, nearly all small businesses (92%) have had to reinvent themselves to stay open during this pandemic. If you’ve had to hastily implement contactless experiences to cater to customer needs—be it curbside pickup service, contactless payment options, or otherwise—you’re certainly not alone.
If you expect interest in these experiences to return to “normal” levels post-pandemic, though, you're mistaken. Our data shows we’ll enter a new normal, as 82% of customers tell us the availability of a contactless experience from businesses will still be important when the pandemic is over. That’s nearly double the amount that felt this way before the pandemic (45%).
Though the health and safety aspects of contactless experiences have taken center stage this year, consumers have noticed other, more long-term benefits.
Take transaction speed, for example. A majority of those who say that contactless experiences are important say it’s because they’re quick (59%). They’re right. A March study found consumers using curbside pickup completed their shopping trips 35% faster than shopping in-store. Contactless payments are also much faster compared to chip-enabled credit cards.
Even more consumers in our survey (67%) highlight that contactless customer experiences are important because they’re easy to use.
In other words, consumers found more opportunities to use contactless experiences this year, discovered unexpected benefits, and now they want more.
Key finding: Gen Z consumers are more likely than any other generation to consider contactless experiences important and are also more likely to switch businesses to those with better contactless experiences.
This long-term appetite for contactless experiences isn’t the same across the board. For example, here’s how that 82% figure on the importance of contactless experiences from the previous section breaks down by generation:
The younger the consumer, the more likely they are to consider contactless experiences to be important after the pandemic is over. Gen Z in particular puts a ton of value in contactless experiences with 9 in 10 saying they consider them important.
That’s not all. Gen Z is also the generation most willing to take action if their experiences aren’t up to par. When asked if they’re likely to switch retailers or service providers to ones with better contactless experiences, 9 in 10 Gen Z consumers say they are.
Short-term, this means that the younger your consumers tend to be, the more they’ll scrutinize your contactless experiences, and the higher the risk is if you don’t deliver. There’s long-term implications to consider too: As Gen Z and subsequent generations begin to make up a larger share of consumers, all businesses will have to deal with heightened expectations around their contactless experiences.
The stakes are high. Yet many businesses—especially small businesses—aren’t able to keep up with this sudden shift.
Key finding: Consumers say most industries aren’t able to deliver consistently positive contactless experiences. They add that larger chains are doing a better job than small businesses.
We know consumers want contactless experiences for the foreseeable future, but are businesses able to deliver? Not always. In fact, our data shows many businesses have a lot of ground to cover.
When we asked respondents to select all of the industries that have delivered consistently positive contactless experiences, only two—retail (54%) and restaurants (52%)—were selected by a majority of respondents, and just barely so. eCommerce, an industry that relies almost entirely on positive contactless experiences, was only selected by 34%.
Many businesses unexpectedly had to quickly implement contactless solutions this year, and they can attest that there are multiple challenges to delivering a consistent contactless experience:
Consistency at transaction: Customers expect to be able to easily complete contactless transactions regardless of what device they’re on (laptops vs. smartphones), what access point they use (websites vs. dedicated apps), or what channel partner they interact with (working directly with your business vs. a third party).
Consistency at payment: “Cash or credit” is no longer acceptable—the options for payment have broadened considerably from contactless cards (Visa) to mobile wallets (Apple Pay), wire transfers, and digital currencies (Bitcoin).
Consistency at delivery or pickup: Shipping companies, overwhelmed by increased demand, aren’t meeting expected delivery dates. The variability in pickup processes from business to business is also causing confusion among some consumers.
Though customers showed some patience for inconsistencies at the beginning of the pandemic, our data shows this patience is wearing thin. Remember our earlier generational breakdown of the likelihood to switch businesses based on contactless experiences? When confronted with a bad experience, three in four consumers (75%) say they are very or somewhat likely to switch retailers or service providers to those with better contactless services.
And where are consumers going to get these better contactless experiences? Big businesses. When asked which businesses have made the best impression on them with their contactless services, large stores such as Walmart (32%) and large eCommerce companies such as Amazon (24%) were mentioned more often than small stores (19%) or small eCommerce companies (20%).
The writing is on the wall for small businesses: Improve your contactless experiences, or lose your customers to your bigger, more technically-enabled competitors. In the next section, we’ll show you how.
Key finding: 50% of consumers say ease of use is the most important aspect of contactless experiences.
Whether you’re a small retailer, a service provider, or even a doctor’s office, improving your contactless experiences matters now, and it matters moving forward.
Where do you focus your efforts, though? What should you prioritize? Using data from our survey, here are three ways you can improve your contactless experiences:
When comparing the quality of different contactless experiences, consumers tell us one factor plays a bigger role than any other: It has to be easy to use. In our survey, consumers were twice as likely to choose ease of use (50%) as the most important aspect of contactless experiences over the next option (data security, at 25%).
Even older, tech-averse generations are taking advantage of contactless services. Gartner suggests that businesses “practice empathy” for these customers and build websites and apps “with accessibility, both cognitive and motor, at the forefront” (full research available to Gartner clients). The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) is a great resource for advice on developing websites and apps for older users.
Gartner says simplifying the customer journey can also help. If you haven’t already done so, allow customers to create their own accounts on your website or app with their information and preferences to reduce hurdles in repeat purchases or interactions. You can survey your customers periodically to identify common hurdles or complications in their journey.
Lastly, reassuring and consistent messaging at every step in the transaction is vital. Anticipate issues across devices and partners and make information about potential solutions easy to find.
If you’re doing curbside pickup, align instructions on your website with the instructions customers receive on their order, and with the parking signage explaining what to do when customers arrive. If you’re offering in-person contactless payment, make it clear which options you support and which options you don’t.
Contactless services can’t replicate the experience of holding and judging a product in-person. Picking out a shirt in a clothing store guarantees that you'll get the quality you expect. Ordering a shirt online doesn’t, which could lead to disappointment.
Our data shows consumers know this frustration all too well, as 40% tell us judging the quality of products is a common challenge they face when using contactless services. It was the top challenge cited in our survey.
To get around this, you need to supplement your contactless experiences with quality indicators—something to tell your customers that what they expect is what they will get.
At bare minimum, adding high-definition images of your products or any tangible service offerings to your website is a must. Rating systems and the ability to leave written reviews can also give your customers more information on product quality.
Virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) also offer new ways for businesses to “show” products in action. Furniture retailer BoConcept created a fully virtual showroom where customers can examine items at full-scale. Makeup brands such as Chanel and Maybelline have added tools that allow customers to see what different products would look like using their smartphone’s camera.
If you’re a retailer, implementing a lax and flexible return policy can also give customers peace of mind that they won’t be stuck with a poor quality product just because they couldn’t examine it in-person.
When technology is involved, things can (and will) go wrong. This leads to another challenge consumers are having with contactless experiences: Not being able to get help.
Across all channels, it’s important for businesses to provide a quick option to contact an actual person for help with contactless services. Tutorials and support documents can only solve so many problems, especially with experiences that customers may not be accustomed to using.
And when customers need help, you need to know how to help them. This is where customer service software can be incredibly valuable. If you have multiple support roles, software can route customers to the best support person for the job (e.g., curbside pickup problems are automatically routed to a designated support person for curbside pickup).
Even if you’re the only person handling customer support, software can still give you more information about the problem before you interact with the customer, such as what channel they’re coming from and what kind of issue they ran into. This can help you narrow the possible solutions down to provide faster help.
Businesses may not have asked for this “new normal” of contactless experiences, but they must compete in it nonetheless. Hastily implemented experiences due to the pandemic will only worsen over time, so now is the time to think long-term with your contactless experience strategy.
To that end, the right customer experience software can help you optimize customer interactions, track feedback, and improve your websites and apps.
If you’re looking for new customer experience software, here are some next steps:
Read our Customer Experience Software Buyer’s Guide to learn more about what customer experience software is capable of, and how to evaluate vendors.
Our Customer Experience Category Leaders report represents the best of the best in this category, based on user reviews. Start your software search here.
GetApp’s Contactless Customer Experience Survey was conducted in September 2020 among 968 adult consumers in the U.S. We worded the questions to ensure that each respondent fully understood the meaning and the topic at hand.