Insights — January 20, 2021

2020: A year in customer research insights

In 2020 we interviewed and surveyed more than 4,000 people. Find out what we heard from customers in a year unlike any other.

by Emily Smith Cardineau

User Research

Man and woman doing customer research over video chat

It goes without saying that when the pandemic struck nearly a year ago, so much of what we held to be true about the world we live in flew out the window. The way we live, work, and move about the world has been fundamentally transformed, perhaps for good; things that would have seemed impossible a year ago are now the new norm. 

So, as businesses, where does that leave our customers? Just as we would have done in any other year, here at Cake & Arrow we spent a good chunk of time in 2020 talking to customers – our own and those of our clients (mostly across the insurance industry)–trying to better understand their needs, their challenges, their values, behaviors and priorities. But this year our research took on a new urgency and sense of gravity as we sought to gain insight into what has changed for customers (and what hasn’t so much) in this year of so much turmoil and uncertainty.

A snapshot of our 2020 research


hours of 1:1 customer interviews




people interviewed and surveyed

In a final farewell to 2020, we asked our team to share some of the most interesting quotes and customer research insights from 2020 that they think will shape how we interact with customers in the coming years. Here’s what we came up with:

1. People still don’t trust insurance companies

“The less insurance knows the better.”

Homeowner and Policy Holder

We’ve heard it before and we’ll likely hear it again. In interviews we did with homeowners, we found that homeowners did not trust their insurance companies. And not only that, many believe them to be actively working against them–looking to dredge up any information they can find that will give them a reason to deny a claim or raise their premiums, ultimately making customers reticent to share data. This homeowner, for example, didn’t want to share that he was doing home improvement projects because he was afraid his premium would go up. It’s an antagonistic relationship that is primarily driven by fear and distrust. 

Rachelle DiGregorio, Digital Strategiest

2. People see insurance as a requirement, not protection

“Your mind doesn't go to insurance until the bad thing already happened."

Gig Worker

We found that many of the gig workers and small business owners we spoke with this year didn’t see insurance as protection, but as a requirement to get the gig or keep their business compliant. For small business owners especially, many of whom were paying into business interruption policies before the pandemic struck, the experience of the pandemic only affirmed this belief as these policies didn’t pay out when they needed them to most. Hopefully this will force insurers to expand their view on how to serve customers, on how to develop new value propositions, and on how to bring products to market that do more than just protect their customers against worst-case scenarios but offer them something in the immediate term.

Kiersten Chrystal, Project Manager and Tim Angiolillo, Director of Business Development

3. The pandemic has challenged the doctrine of individual responsibility

“When I think about my financial concerns a year ago, they felt like they were within my control. If I lost my job, it was probably something I did. That is not necessarily the case today."

Millennial and Mother of Two

The idea of individual responsibility has long been a driving force in how we decide as a country and as individuals who is deserving (and who is not) of assistance and support – from the government, from charitable organizations, and from individuals. The pandemic changed that. What we have found in our research this year is that the pandemic has made some people much more aware of their own lack of control and vulnerability, but also the vulnerability of others– in turn making them more open to giving and receiving help and support. 

Emily Smith Cardineau, Director of Content Marketing

4. A profound resource gap persists for gig and contract workers, leaving many feeling adrift and unsupported – especially amidst the pandemic

“I’m not an employee and I'm not considered a value-asset. I’m seen as replaceable and there’s a definite resource gap for people like me.”

Dentist and Independent Contractor

As the number of gig workers and contract workers continues to grow with more and more professionals and white collar workers entering the market, the lack of support and resources that exist for these workers is becoming increasingly apparent, with the pandemic drawing even more attention to the problem. It’s an issue that no one has adequately solved for that will soon amount to a crisis.

Shawna Rabbas, Experience Designer

5. The pandemic has further entrenched existing inequalities

“Don’t tell anyone, but I’m seeing more opportunity than you’d think. This disruption has given me some space to make changes for the better.”

Chiropractor and Small Business Owner

It was interesting in our research to observe the ways that the pandemic has disproportionately impacted people of varying means. While so many have lost their jobs, their healthcare, their homes, their health, and even their lives, some – whether it be due to their age, their job, their industry, their socioeconomic status, or just pure luck – were somehow still able to come out on top in 2020. Hearing voices like this in our research alongside those who were completely devastated by the fallout from pandemic seemed indicative of how the pandemic is further entrenching existing inequalities and deepening divisions between the haves and the have-nots in this country.

Emily Smith Cardineau, Director of Content Marketing

6. A decade or more into adulthood, Millennials still feel ill-equipped to manage their finances

"We need to do a better job of educating people on the benefits of money and also the dangers of money. Growing up, there was no basic finance class in school."


Many millennials don’t feel that they are set up for success, especially when it comes to finances. They graduate from college with debt, and struggle to feel financially independent or secure. They are very focused on money to meet their lifestyle needs, but often rely on their parents for help if and when a serious challenge occurs. Many feel ill-prepared for the financial realities of adulthood and therefore have a more “reactive” mentality when it comes to money. With many predicting that Millennials will be disproportionately impacted financially by the pandemic, this trend will likely continue unless something changes in how we – as private businesses, as educators, as a society – talk to and engage with Millennials about finances.

Jen LaRue, Director, Program Management

7. Trust is personal (and local)

“I know my neighbors aren’t going to deliberately steer me wrong … there is some sort of a social currency there.”

Homeowner and Policy Holder

The built-in trust that people have with their neighbors makes their recommendations far and away more trustworthy and valuable than Google, Yelp, or Thumbtack reviews. While “neighbors” can be broadly interpreted as anyone in a local Facebook group, we found, perhaps unsurprisingly, that the more personal the connection is between neighbors, the more credible people found the recommendation to be. This was as true among homeowners as it was among the gig workers and small business owners we spoke with, and perhaps even more so this this year as people leaned on their communities and neighbors for support amidst the pandemic.

Rachelle DiGregorio, Digital Strategiest

8. Community matters now more than ever, and is key to helping people (and businesses) survive and thrive in pandemic times

“The support from small businesses has been very encouraging- knowing that there are a a lot people in my same predicament has been one of the most important things in getting through all of this.”

Furniture Designer and Small Business Owner

The pandemic created a sense of solidarity amongst small business owners and their communities, making them more receptive to community support and more open to exploring creative ways of banding together with other business owners in mutually beneficial ways. As a small business owner myself, this also served as a timely and critical reminder that I wasn’t alone. Whereas in the past I would rely on resilience to overcome any challenge, this made me realize that this unprecedented experience called for letting my guard down and leaning on others more than I normally would. Additionally, these insights made me feel a sense of pride as a business owner and because of this, I found myself reaching out to people in my network that I wouldn’t normally have. Tapping into a community of people who are dealing with similar problems and stresses has been vital in helping me get through this experience.  It’s been a much-needed reminder about the power of community.

Josh Levine, CEO and Founder

9. Tech is table stakes, It’s all about experience now

“If it’s at the point where I’m looking at it, the technology is table stakes–they better do it all. But I don’t need more technology, I need tools that my organization will adopt and actually use.”

Consumer and Website User

Our research continues to find that the usability, perceived utility, and support aspects of a company’s offering matter more to customers than the technical sophistication. We are often the ones designing a user experience to compensate for lackluster tech, or simplifying complex operations—and we do this because, of course, the best tool for the job is the one you’ll actually use. “Adaptability” is tougher to credibly claim than tech features or performance, so your best proof is the experience itself.

Kate Muth, Director of Strategy

10. Good UX is good marketing

"Instead of trying to sell you on it, it seems like they're on your side and recommending what's best for you. The new website makes me feel like they care more about helping me than getting another $99 out of me."

Consumer and Website User

Good UX is essential to informing marketing and ultimately sales. This research participant went from having a negative perception of the service to being very interested in making a purchase all because of improved UX design. This proves that giving customers the tools they need make decisions, ensuring you aren’t getting in the way of their primary goal, and demonstrating value of the offering fosters trust and can very quickly shift the perception of your product or service.

Lisa McGee, Senior Experience Designer

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