Leaning On Local

“The bigger the company, the worse it is.”

Male, 35-60, Texas

In our latest study, No Staff, No Stock, No Service, we’re exploring evolving perceptions of customer service in the wake of COVID disruptions and changes. As big companies continue to struggle with inventory and staffing issues, many consumers are leaning on local more than ever.

Big Companies, Big Differences

While consumers are giving more grace to all businesses post-COVID, and most believe poor experiences aren’t necessarily the fault of individual employees, there are some major differences in perceptions of bigger retailers/restaurants vs. local businesses/restaurants.

“The bar has lowered. Knowing you may struggle with some companies to get what you want, you’re going in with expectations being a bit lower.”

male 35-60, california

“Lowe’s, Home Depot, and Walmart have always been bad, now they have gotten worse.”

Male 18-34, Idaho
Customer Service Quagmire

Some larger companies like Costco, Chick-fil-A, and Ace Hardware have always had a reputation for good service and still get high marks for customer service from consumers. Companies like UPS and FedEx also receive credit from consumers for how well they adapted to changing circumstances and took the pandemic chaos in stride.  But these businesses are the exception not the rule. For many, dealing with the customer service quagmire that large corporations have set up leads to frustration and decreased loyalty.

“I’m mad at Wells Fargo. I’ve used them forever, but I can’t even get somebody on the phone. Give me an option that works. If I have to do your job for you to figure out how to get ahold of you, that rubs me the wrong way.”

Male 18-34, Florida

“Verizon, what should have taken a simple ‘ok it’s done,’ took 5 phone calls over the course of 2 months and 8 hours of my time on the phone.”

Male 35-60, Colorado
The Local Difference

As big companies continue to operate the same way they did pre-COVID, they are falling short, causing customers to turn to local for solutions and a better overall experience. Because smaller, local businesses have so much at stake and thinner margins, they are working harder than ever to provide a good customer service experience. They may also have non-traditional supply chains that allow customers to circumvent shortages. Local restaurants and retailers, in particular, earn praise for their customer service.

“We had a lot of restrictions in place for a longer time than other cities, and our restaurants were just struggling so much. (They really pushed themselves) to offer contactless pickup, they were delivering, and doing anything and everything to keep their doors open.”

Female 35-60, Arizona

“Local businesses like my dentist, everybody at their office is so apologetic and they’re doing the best they can to adjust to this situation.”

male 35-60, california

“Big companies, airlines, etc. have been jerks. I know they are exhausted, but it is not an excuse. Local has been a positive change for the better. Much better.”

female 35-60, california
Personal Connection

That personal connection, seeing the same employees each time you go in, and in turn being recognized or known by name is a significant factor in participants preference for local businesses.  Local business employees are also called out for being more knowledgeable in general, likely due to smaller number of staff and less turnover.

“We bought a baby carrier (from a local business) and brought it back because we couldn’t figure out how to use it.  They were able to help, at Walmart they wouldn’t even know what the product does.” 

male 18-34, New York
Coming Up Next…

How will this shift to local, and the more positive customer experiences consumers are having with local businesses come into play this holiday season?  In our next post, we will be sharing insights about customer service and shopping behaviors during the upcoming holiday season.  

No Stock, No Staff, No Service is a national quantitative survey in August of 2021 (N=1000) and qualitative focus groups in October of 2021. In this national study, we measured perceptions of customer service before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, causes of positive and negative customer service experiences, industries that excel and/or fall short at customer service, and expectations of customer service post-pandemic.