How winning brands are prioritizing the health + safety of customers

Jacqui Mueller | Aug 5, 2020 Jacqui Mueller 08/05/20

As brands across industries continue to adjust operational procedures amid the pandemic, it’s vital to understand the shift in consumer expectations and adapt your XM strategy to these new priorities. Customers are no longer blindly loyal—and heightened health + safety expectations mean they're turning to brands that take the precautions needed to regain their trust.

SMG's latest cross-industry research details what a safe service experience looks like to customers and how brands should adapt their approach to front-line hospitality in this new environment. Here are a few highlights:

Brands that don’t prioritize health + safety put customer loyalty at risk

With 75% of customers concerned about catching COVID-19, leading brands are taking extra measures to make customers feel safe when they venture out to a location. Our most recent study reveals nearly 1 in 4 consumers have stopped shopping a brand because they felt unsafe during a recent visit—so it’s no surprise to see health + safety protocols taking center stage across industries.

The impact of a single poor experience on future behaviors holds true even for customers who were previously brand loyalists. The pandemic continues to transform what drives purchase decisions—which means brands can no longer bank on what worked for them six months ago and must make strategic changes to accommodate these evolving customer demands.

Customers previously prioritized convenience—now it’s more about cleanliness

In 2019 (and much of the decade leading up to it), convenience was king. Customers were visiting brands that catered to their busy lifestyles and offered quick + seamless experiences. Today, prompt service is still important—but rising on that list is location cleanliness. Why? Because today, cleanliness is less about creating an aesthetically pleasing experience and more about making customers feel good enough about the brand’s health + safety standards to feel safe during the visit—and more likely to return to that location next time they decide to venture out.

When we asked consumers about what has become more important in their decision to visit a brand, cleanliness of location was the number one factor across industries.


It’s important to note that cleanliness isn’t just about being clean—it’s also about showing clean. Customers reported seeing staff clean frequently touched surfaces was the most important safety factor they expect brands to have implemented since safer-at-home policies were put into place.

Just “good enough” won’t be enough to keep customers coming back

A customer’s perception of your brand’s health + safety measures has a direct impact on their overall satisfaction—which is highly correlated with loyalty behavior, such as likelihood to return. Our data shows that customers who are highly satisfied with a brand’s health + safety efforts are 6.3X more likely to be highly satisfied with their overall experience.


Conversely, when customers are less than highly satisfied with a brand’s health + safety efforts, nearly half of them will not return within the next 30 days.

What steps to take next

Reestablishing customer trust amid a pandemic is no easy feat—but brands that take bold action and differentiate their safe-service model will secure short- and long-term customer loyalty. The key lies in understanding what your customer really wants and adjusting your front-line operations to deliver that optimal experience.

To learn more about the consumer trends driving these operational shifts and to get a 3-step action plan to optimize your XM strategy, watch the 20-minute on-demand webinar: Delivering safe service that wins trust + loyalty.

Jacqui Mueller | VP, Client Insights

Customer Experience Update