Survey Says: Americans Want Companies to Step Up

By Jackie Cannon, Vice President, Head of Research & Insights

We are living in unprecedented times, with everyone asking themselves, “what will the other side of COVID-19 be like? What will the new normal be?” This question is fascinating to us, both at the human level as well as what it will mean for brands and businesses.

Our firm has been keeping a close eye on how companies are responding and asking hard questions about what is both smart and right. This naturally led us to wonder, how are people thinking about COVID-19 and its impact on businesses – and conversely, how are they viewing businesses’ impact on society during COVID-19? To help us better understand and unpack this, we conducted a short survey – some of the key highlights are below, but you can access the full results here.

Americans are taking COVID-19 very seriously, fearing the broader impact more than the personal impact.

  • Not surprisingly, people are hearing a lot about the crisis, closely following it, and understand the gravity of the situation – only 15% think it is “hype” whereas the remaining 85% say it’s a serious threat.
  • Roughly nine in ten are worried about the US economy (90%), Americans’ health (89%), and businesses in their community (88%).
  • But when asked about the impact to them personally, the number drops 15 points or more: their personal finances (76%), personal health (72%), and their job (47%).

They are already seeing victims – and potential heroes or villains – from this crisis emerge.

  • Solid majorities say several industries, primarily airlines (82%) and hotels (80%) but also banks (57%), will be negatively impacted and “hurt” by COVID-19.
  • On the flip side, they acknowledge that certain sectors will benefit especially those in healthcare, like pharmacies (68%) and pharma companies (66%), as well as grocery (56%) and e-commerce (54%).
  • Those in telecom (47%) and tech (41%) are seen as generally as unaffected.
  • The question for those benefiting and unaffected will be, did these industries do enough or could they have done more to support or enhance the greater good?

As Americans worry about COVID’s impact to society, they want companies to help.

  • Majorities want to see companies to prioritize employees, customers and communities over profits (85%), with another seven in ten saying it’s “very important” to compensate hourly workers during this time and cancel events even if it means taking a loss.
  • We asked about several actions a company could take to support communities including the elderly, medical professionals, employees, etc. and more than eight in 10 said it would make them feel more positive about a company if they were to help in this way.
  • There’s opportunity here for companies, not just from a reputational standpoint, but to more broadly demonstrate their values and social impact.

How businesses treat their customers and their employees are under the consumer microscope.

  • We asked people to evaluate companies across 11 industries on how they treat their customers and employees and the results vary widely by industry.
  • The most interesting learning here was how little consumers knew about what companies are doing for their own employees. Every person and business are impacted by the crisis in one way or another so for the jury to be out on this could be detrimental in the long run.
  • In fact, more than half of respondents said that if they were to learn a company did not provide paid sick leave for their employees, they would be less likely to be a customer of that business.

This is a quick snapshot of the current landscape, which is unfolding and changing day-by-day, moment-by-moment. With no end to COVID-19 in sight, only time will tell what this “new normal” will look like – but the longer it endures, the more important it will become for companies to step up, assuage concerns, lean into this moment by reflecting on their own stances and practices, and evolve with consumers.