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STAMFORD, Conn, March 17, 2021

Gartner Says 61% of Consumers Believe Ending COVID-19 Payment Deferral Programs Can Damage Brand Reputation

New Research Reveals How Marketing and Communications Leaders Should Influence How COVID-19 Deferral Programs End and How They Are Communicated to the Public

Sixty-one percent of consumers believe ending payment deferral programs can significantly damage brand reputation, according to Gartner, Inc. To mitigate the potential for reputational damage, marketing and communications leaders should look to minimize backlash by urging senior leaders to build repayment plans that accommodate individual customers’ circumstances and clearly communicate those plans with empathy and emotion.

“These are the moments where the brand is at risk,” said Dorian Cundick, vice president for Gartner for Marketers. “Marketing and communications leaders know better than anyone that the fine print on policy changes is generally lost on those who only hear about them from mainstream or social media.

“For highly sensitive messages, like announcing the organization is ending a period of bill relief and resuming normal business operations, that missing context can cause significant and lasting damage to the brand. Brands must tread carefully with these types of messages, ever cognizant that the audience extends far beyond current customers to include potential customers and the general online population.”

The Gartner Consumer Community Survey, which polled nearly 300 consumers in December 2020, shows that 55% of respondents view deferred payments for customers as more of an ethical issue than a business issue. In fact, another Gartner survey of 2,448 consumers in December 2020 reveals that 48% of consumers expect companies to act with moral integrity on social issues, even when it hurts their bottom lines.

Most consumers (90%) say they expect companies to help out their customers in times of economic hardship. COVID-19 pandemic related hardships have not ended for many U.S. consumers. Gartner research shows that two-thirds of consumers say that, even if they become fully vaccinated against COVID-19, they still don’t believe their lives will return to normal for another six months to a year or more. Combine that with the fact that a third of consumers feel that their personal finances won’t recover from the pandemic impact for a year or more.

“For most consumers, the pandemic is an ongoing, unabated crisis,” said Jennifer Sigler, director of research for Gartner for Marketers. “Therefore, corporate statements that suggest a return to normal operations may feel too abrupt or downright inappropriate right now.”

Marketing and communications leaders looking to guide their organization through the end of a COVID-19 payment deferral program with minimal harm to its reputation should consider the following:

  • Lobby to Continue the Payment Deferral Program: Explain to senior leaders the potential for reputational harm presented by a decision to resume normal business operations while the pandemic is ongoing. Suggest to senior leaders that customer welfare be their top CSR priority until the end of the pandemic, even if it means suspending other social and philanthropic efforts to cut costs.
  • Advocate for Flexible Repayment Plans: Stress to senior leaders the importance of building flexibility into repayment plans by, for example, allowing customers to design repayment schedules tailored to their unique circumstances.
  • Craft Empathetic Messaging at All Customer Touchpoints: Craft empathetic, human-sounding—rather than business- or finance-sounding—messaging to communicate the end of the payment deferral program to the public, and emphasize the steps that the company is taking to continue accommodating customers.

Gartner for Marketers clients can learn more in the report “Safeguard Your Reputation as COVID-19 Payment Deferral Programs End.”

 

About the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo

Gartner analysts will discuss the key issues facing CMOs during the Gartner Marketing Symposium/Xpo, taking place virtually August 17-19. This conference provides marketing leaders actionable advice about the trends, tools and emerging technologies they need to deliver business results. Gartner analysts address the biggest opportunities, challenges and priorities marketers face today, including data and analytics, customer experience, content marketing, customer insight, marketing technology (martech) and multichannel marketing. Follow news and updates for the event on Twitter at #GartnerMKTG.

 

About Gartner for Marketers

Gartner for Marketers provides the objective, expert advice, and proven tools that CMOs and other marketing leaders need to seize the right opportunities with clarity and confidence, and to stay ahead of the trends that matter. With in-depth research and analysis, Gartner for Marketers helps you focus on the opportunities with the greatest potential to deliver results. More information on Gartner for Marketers is available online at www.gartner.com/marketing. Follow news and updates from the Gartner Marketing practice on Twitter and LinkedIn using #GartnerMKTG.

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About Gartner

Gartner, Inc. (NYSE: IT) is the world’s leading research and advisory company and a member of the S&P 500. We equip business leaders with indispensable insights, advice and tools to achieve their mission-critical priorities today and build the successful organizations of tomorrow.

Our unmatched combination of expert-led, practitioner-sourced and data-driven research steers clients toward the right decisions on the issues that matter most. We are a trusted advisor and an objective resource for more than 14,000 enterprises in more than 100 countries — across all major functions, in every industry and enterprise size.

To learn more about how we help decision makers fuel the future of business, visit gartner.com.