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The Post-Pandemic Customer: More Demanding, Harder on Employees

The Post-Pandemic Customer: More Demanding, Harder on Employees

by Ben Wigert, Kate Den Houter and Ed O'Boyle

Today’s organizations are rapidly transforming in response to economic forecasts and changing expectations among employees and customers.

Customers in particular have formed new habits and expectations for customer service. Many of these changes are in response to conveniences adopted during the pandemic, such as home delivery, curbside pickup, on-site digital menus, on-demand video calls with experts and a general urgency to please customers.

In fact, 56% of U.S. employees report noticing that expectations of customers have changed since the COVID-19 pandemic began, according to a nationally representative Gallup survey of 18,665 employees.


Among employees who have noticed a change in customer expectations, more than seven in 10 cite one of two ways that consumer behavior has shifted. The top change employees report is that customers are more demanding and expect higher levels of service (43%), followed by customers now having greater expectations for virtual/remote service (28%).


What are employees’ greatest barriers to delivering better customer service?

A mere 23% of employees strongly agree that their organization always delivers on its promises to customers. And the percentage of employees who strongly agree that they are extremely proud of the quality of their organization’s products and services has dropped from 36% in 2020 to 30% in 2023.

Employees are clearly acknowledging that their customers could be better served -- and that sentiment has only intensified amid new customer expectations.

To help organizations improve, Gallup asked employees and CHROs of U.S. Fortune 500 companies to identify their greatest barriers to delivering exceptional products and services to their customers.


The resounding answer from both parties -- 43% of employees and 30% of CHROs -- was that staffing is the greatest barrier to delivering exceptional products and customer service. There was not a close second. The remaining responses scattered across issues such as training (15% and 13%, respectively) and materials/equipment (9% and 13%). Notably, almost two in 10 respondents said they did not see any major barriers.

Staffing issues are particularly acute for the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers are among the most likely to say they have noticed changes in customer expectations (71%) and are the most likely to say staffing issues are their greatest barrier to exceptional customer service (52%), compared with all other industries. A separate study, Gallup’s annual Health and Healthcare survey, illustrates that consumers are also feeling underserved -- their ratings of the quality of U.S. healthcare dropped steadily from 2020 to 2023.

What are the consequences of higher customer demands?

Often, new or intensified customer demands fuel improvement and innovation.

At the same time, today, an unfortunate consequence seems to be an ongoing cycle of frustration between employees and customers that causes dissatisfaction for both parties.

Employees who say they’ve noticed a change in customer expectations are 57% more likely to “very often” or “always” feel burned out at work. They are also 32% less likely to strongly agree that their organization always delivers on its promises to customers.

In other words, elevated customer expectations feed a cycle in which employees burn out, deliver worse customer service and quit their job -- which consequently leads to staffing problems and more unhappy customers.

Reigniting Customer Centricity

Delivering quality products and service to customers is job No. 1 for every organization, regardless of industry. The reality is that this core responsibility has become harder to accomplish -- and people are feeling it.

Attracting and retaining talent addresses an acute need, but that is not always easy in the current talent market. The good news is that leaders can make an immediate difference and create a more customer-centric workplace culture by adjusting how their people are managed.

All hands on deck for the customer. Start by ensuring that employees understand how their job affects the customer experience, regardless of their role. This helps teams prioritize what matters most to customers -- and thus, the organization.

Adding goals for creating “customer impact” to your performance reviews is one way to galvanize customer centricity into your teams. Currently, only 19% of employees report having customer-oriented goals, while 60% of managers believe they are extremely important.

Add the right customer centricity metrics and feedback to your employee listening strategy. Ask employees what support they need to deliver an exceptional customer experience. Ask questions that unearth what customers really want -- beyond transactional things like faster service and lower prices.

Teach managers to routinely ask their team how they can “surprise and delight” your customers -- then experiment with the suggestions. Making these efforts a part of every team’s development is a great way to ignite their passion for owning the customer experience.

Put customer engagement on leadership scorecards. Leaders are responsible for understanding customers’ changing expectations. Accountability for engaging customers spurs the right kinds of conversations about improving the customer experience.

Customer engagement measures should be designed to create accountability for delivering on promises made to customers and stabilize negative experiences. Yet, spending too much time on the 10%-15% of customers having problems hinders the opportunity to proactively grow customer relationships.

Make sure you deliver on your promises to customers. Then, shift all additional resources to growth strategies that boldly surprise and delight your customers -- and deepen those relationships. Invest in creating exceptional experiences.

While the expectations of customers and employees alike continue to evolve, one thing is clear: The organizations that win customers will win the future.


Ensure customers are at the center of your business.



Ben Wigert is Director of Research and Strategy, Workplace Management, at Gallup.

Kate Den Houter is a Research Fellow at Gallup.

Ed O'Boyle is Global Practice Leader for Gallup's workplace and marketplace consulting.

Ryan Pendell contributed to this article.

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