It is the proverbial million-dollar question: “what does the customer want?”
Every brand has gone to great lengths to understand their customers’ behaviours. A business may have a great product or service, but the challenge lies in understanding how it meets their needs better than any other options available to them.
Today, the experience a brand gives its customers during the purchasing journey is often what matters most. Instead of brands telling customers what they ought to be buying, today the customer tells the brand what their preferences are.
Customers today are in an always-on world; the way we live, consume and play has undergone a tidal wave of change.
As a Forrester study shows, mobile subscriptions are set to cross 5.5 billion by 2022. The proliferation of smartphones, combined with the fact that almost 70 per cent of all digital media is consumed on a mobile device, means the customer of today is used to having information at their fingertips.
For example, entertainment is no longer limited to the television in the living room. An eMarketer forecast says that as the year comes to a close, “nearly 55 per cent of internet users will be active on chat apps. Watching and sharing videos is a major feature on chat apps like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and WeChat…”
The impact of social media
For those born after the early 80s, known as digital-natives including the millennials and Gen Z, living in an always-on world is the new normal.
Digital immigrants are also quickly changing their lifestyles and preferences given the ease of access to internet and smart devices.
Digital native brands like Amazon, Walmart, Uber and Airbnb have led the way in changing customer behaviour. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and a multitude of sharing and social apps have transformed customer perspectives and behaviours.
They have taught the customer that brands can reach them anywhere anytime. Customers now expect the same kind of efficiency and seamlessness that digital brands have offered them.
Accenture research, titled Customer 2020: Are You Future-Ready or Reliving the Past, points out that consumers “seek quicker resolution and fewer hassles — and if companies don’t move faster, they’ll move on.”
The omnichannel experience
Conventionally, a customer used to go through a journey of discovery, consideration, evaluation, buying, using and (hopefully) loyalty in the past.
This path is now replaced by a model where the journey is more dynamic and free-flowing.
There are multiple touch points for the customer to engage with. They could be using traditional channels for discovery and then shifting to digital for purchase.
This is where it becomes imperative for brands to provide an omnichannel customer experience.
Customers can abandon one channel and continue their journey on another and now expect a seamless connection and ease of use across those channels.
Often, a key pain point for customers is a poor user interface, and lack of speed in delivering information. A customer expects a company to not just deliver information but deliver it in real-time, anytime.
The other common pain points for customers include not having enough information, and a lack of personalisation. It shows that the brand does not care enough and has not listened to the customer and anticipated their needs.
Customers expect brands to identify how they interact and engage in a digital environment and provide the right channel and technology to connect.
The role of technology
Customers and brands are now acclimatising themselves with artificial intelligence to enhance their purchasing journeys.
Chatbots and voice assistants come into the picture, among an array of technological conveniences. An Aspect Software Research report said that 44 per cent of consumers prefer interacting with chatbots over human agents.
Chatbots deliver speedy solutions to the customer while helping agents boost their productivity.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is particularly useful for customers who believe in self-service. Natural Language Processing (NLP) and machine learning (ML) can also help in intuiting and solving a customer’s problems at a crucial point in the buying funnel.
The use of Virtual Reality (VR), Application Programming Interface (APIs) and Internet of Things (IoT) will also go a long way in improving the customer experience.
Customer trust – a benchmark
Despite the major technological shifts, customers still need to know that the brand’s values they choose to purchase from align with their own.
They instinctively understand what the brand stands for and whether they deliver on promises made, as they move through the various stages of customer experience.
Customer-brand relationship cannot be highlighted enough.
The recently released Zendesk Benchmark Guide for Enterprise 2018 offers insights on both digital native and digital transformations (ie traditional enterprises).
The age of a company is irrelevant to the approach it takes towards providing an enhanced customer experience.
The brands that emerge on top are those who use technology to give agents the information to move fast and maintain consistency and context over channels at the same time. In turn, this is what helps build customer trust.
No matter what stage of the journey a customer is at, it is important to look at their experience through their eyes, and not through the brand’s.
In a future silo-free digital ecosystem, the reins are always in the customer’s hands.
Image Credits: puhhha
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