While products and services overall have yet to fully regain their pre-pandemic customer satisfaction levels, television/internet providers, as well as streaming media, were among just three categories to actually exceed their 2019 levels in 2021.
That’s according to The Qualtrics XM Institute, a resource for experience management (XM) professionals, which has been collecting data on customer-satisfaction trends for a decade.
The organization analyzes year-to-year changes in brand loyalty as reflected in Net Promoter Scores (NPS).
Average NPS scores have fallen by more than 10 points over the past decade, but the COVID-19 pandemic brought the most dramatic decline across all industries.
Actually, many brands’ NPS scores rebounded last year after dropping in 2020 -- resulting in customer satisfaction levels overall returning to two-thirds of their pre-pandemic level, on average, in 2021.
But looking at 2021 NPS scores as a percentage of 2019 scores shows that the recovery was strongest among businesses that provided COVID-19 lockdown essentials, such as fast food, parcel delivery and grocery. (Table, top of page.)
The results certainly confirm that consumers’ appreciation of the importance of online connections and in-home entertainment was heightened.
Only TV/internet services (244%), streaming media (107%) and (non-health) insurance (115%) actually surpassed their 2019 satisfaction levels in 2021.
This would seem to be particularly good news for traditional pay-TV providers, given their uphill battle to stem ongoing subscriber losses. In 2020, these services' average satisfaction score plummeted to 54% of their 2019 average -- perhaps (my speculation) reflecting consumers' sudden mass love affair with streaming in the early, lockdown months of the pandemic.
But by the end of last year, the costs of multiple subscription-based streaming services, content discovery challenges and other streaming frustrations may have caused some to regain some appreciation of "traditional" TV providers -- particularly with platforms like Comcast's Xfinity offering speed and discovery advantages over legacy cable systems.
Consumers may have cooled on streaming a bit in 2020 (the average NPS for streaming media did dip by 6% versus 2020's) -- possibly reflecting major services' inability to churn out as much new content in the throes of studio shutdowns. But the return of more new originals on subscription-based video-on-demand services -- and perhaps the growing number of content-rich (even if largely archival) FASTs -- seems to have renewed satisfaction in 2021.
"In the early days of the pandemic, I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted the magnitude of the shift in consumer sentiment from COVID-19," said Bruce Temkin, head of the XM Institute. “It’s no surprise that the organizations in the best shape are the ones that pivoted quickly by responding to ongoing changes in their customers’ needs and expectations, While we’re not out of the woods yet, I expect we are seeing a permanent shift in the value consumers place on innovation and convenience, which will propel companies that find ways to make life easier for their customers."
The services categories that suffered most in 2020 were ones hit hardest by the pandemic -- such as travel -- while they still have the farthest to go to achieve full recovery.
For the 2021 analysis, 9,000 U.S. consumers were surveyed about their experiences with 294 or more companies across 20 or more industries.
Each company had a minimum of 100 responses from consumers who had interacted with it within the past 90 days. Surveys were conducted in the second and third quarters of 2019, 2020 and 2021.