Keepin Up with Expectations

The question “What do my customers want?” is maybe even more confounding than the 3000 year old Riddle of the Sphinx. Guessing incorrectly in either case brings the same fate—death (of the business, if not the owner). I suppose we can lay it all at the feet of digital innovation, which has raised the bar on customer expectations. Customers now expect the same level of end-to-end prompt, seamless performance and service from the small and mid-size companies that they still (thankfully!) patronize as they receive from well-funded and staffed multinational corporations. The little people must now work smarter, be evermore creative and resourceful and OMG hustle if we want to be viable.

According to a 2018 Salesforce CX Report, where 6,700 B2B and B2C buyers answered survey questions on technology, trust and the customer experience, 80 % of responders feel that the buying experience a company provides is as important as the products and services it provides. The report also found that if customers are dissatisfied, they’re ready to jump ship—75 % agree that it’s easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. So just because your customers are cozying up to you now doesn’t mean that they won’t look over your shoulder to see who else is in the room. https://c1.sfdcstatic.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/assets/pdf/datasheets/trends-in-integrated-customer-experience-salesforce-research.pdf

The State of the Connected Customer, a 2019 Salesforce survey of 8,000 B2B and B2C buyers, found that customers will switch brands for what they perceive as a better customer experience. The survey concludes that customers expect good-to-great experiences from companies they know or would like to try out. The report also shows that trust and company values are important building blocks of customer relationships. https://www.salesforce.com/content/dam/web/en_us/www/documents/infographics/2019-state-of-the-connected-customer-infographic.pdf

At the same time, customer expectations are continually shifting as a result of their ongoing interactions with the world around them. For business owners and leaders, this means that in order to get a handle on creating the most desirable customer experience it is necessary to reexamine / reevaluate the customer experience at our organizations, this time from the customer’s perspective.

By way of understatement, customer expectations are not always predictable. How a customer judges their experience will not always align with what business owners and leaders have assumed about the experience their company provides. According to a 2017 report compiled by the uber consulting firm Accenture, 73% of B2B buyers want the customer experience to resemble that of a B2C company. https://www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-60/Accenture-Strategy-B2B-Customer-Experience-PoV.pdf#zoom=50

We also know that the personal touch is highly valued. In 2015, The Harvard Business Review reported that companies that successfully master the art of personalization for their customers can reduce customer acquisition costs by as much as 50 %, increase revenue by as much as 15 % and increase the effectiveness of marketing dollars spent by up to 30 %. https://hbr.org/2015/11/how-marketers-can-personalize-at-scale

The fact is that the customer experience is impacted by customer expectations and those expectations play a significant role in how our customers perceive and judge our organization. Customers today expect the companies with which they do business to know their preferences and they want those preferences reflected in every interaction, whether online or face-2-face. 

What business leaders can do

First, recognize and define what the ideal customer experience in your organization looks like and take steps to ensure that the standard is consistently met. Remember to assume the viewpoint of the customer and guard against internal bias. Second, stay abreast of market research that reports on your industry to discover trends and evaluate what your organization can afford to do and what it can’t afford to not do, in response. Third, guarantee that all customer-facing staff understands the value of delivering a first-rate customer experience and empower staff to support the delivery of that first-rate customer experience. Training is often necessary to show organization leaders how to create an empowered culture for employees and teach customer-facing staff how to graciously and effectively meet (reasonable) customer expectations.

Creating a superior customer experience at your organization requires significant planning and flawless execution. Be aware that every facet of your organization has a contribution to make as you respond to your customer’s evolving expectations. As you prepare your organization to study and improve the customer experience provided, consider how customers and prospects might view your company’s website content and functionality, sales distribution methods, payment systems, content marketing, social media, sales distribution, business hours and other factors that directly or indirectly impact the buying and customer experience at your organization.

Happy New Year and thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: © Richard Termine for The New York Times. Samantha Barks (center) in the Broadway musical Pretty Woman (2018).

Exit Loyalty, Enter Relevance: The New 5 P’s of Marketing

Which quality best supports and encourages B2B buying decisions? In the 21st century, that quality is relevance.  According to a recent survey by Kantar Retail Consulting, whose North American division is based in Boston, MA, 71% of B2B and B2C customers feel that loyalty-incentive marketing promotional programs do not cause them to feel more loyal toward a company.  It has become evident that regardless of your industry, customers are doing business with you based on the perceived relevance of your products and services to their needs and priorities.  Attempting to buy loyalty with discounts, rebates, rewards, or swag bags is not as effective as it used to be.

A 2017 study by the global consulting firm Accenture found that U.S. businesses lose $1 Trillion a year in annual revenue to competitors because their (former) customers no longer consider them to be relevant.  The study results appear to indicate that to succeed, businesses must be perceived as fulfilling customers’ immediate needs as they occur. Personalization is helpful, but it is best applied in support of relevance.  The authors recommend that companies structure the customer experience  to deliver as does a butler or concierge.

So how do business leaders navigate the paradigm shift? Joshua Bellin, Robert Wollan and John Zeally of Accenture recommend that organization leaders move on from the former gold standard of marketing, the 4 Ps—Product, Place, Price, Promotion.  No disrespect to the 4 Ps, they served companies well for decades, but customer behavior and expectations have changed over the past 10 years or so.  The 4 Ps are unfortunately rather narrow and product-focused for our times.  Today, it’s about delivering customized solutions, especially for B2B customers.

Furthermore, a close reading of purchasing data indicates that the usual product-focused market segment labels, e.g., discount, luxury, or environmentally conscious consumers can no longer consistently predict purchasing choices.  The needs of all consumers, regardless of socioeconomic status and sociopolitical ideology, vary according to their immediate priorities and context.  In response, Zeally et al. suggest that companies expand their marketing guideposts to include these updated 5 Ps:

Purpose:           Customers feel that the company shares and advances their values.

Partnership:    Customers feel the company relates to them and works well with them.

Pride:                 Customers feel good about using the company’s products and  services.

Protection:        Doing business with the company makes customers feel confident.

Personalized:  Customers feel that their experiences with the company are always  tailored to their goals, priorities and needs.

The “what have you done for me lately?” mindset has replaced loyalty, to a large degree. Perhaps it’s a sign of the entitled and narcissistic culture in which we in the U.S. live.  Customer preferences are in constant flux. Short-term strategies and goals are often the norm.

Some companies are able to thrive in this environment, perhaps most notably the global retailer Zara, founded in Galicia, Spain. “Fast Fashion” is the guiding force.  In the 1980s, the company invested heavily in design, manufacturing and distribution systems capable of reacting to market trends very quickly.  As a result, Zara is on top of nearly every trend in women’s, children’s and men’s fashion and customers eat it up.  As of March 2018, there are 2,251 Zara boutiques in 96 countries.

Smaller companies and Freelancers cannot come close to being able to match the power of Zara, but it is possible to leverage relationships and personalization to encourage your current and prospective customers to share what is important to them and discuss how you can meet their needs today and in the future.  You probably already know that all too many of your customers will move on and do business with another company that seems to offer a better mousetrap without even discussing their needs with you first.  It is discouraging, I know.

The best defense is to be found in the 5 Ps.  Start with Personalization and move to Purpose, so that you can make it known that your company can advance the customer’s goals.  Segue next to Protection and use the trust that you develop to encourage prospects to feel confident about doing business with you.

Thanks for reading,

Kim

Photograph: Lurch (Ted Cassidy), the Addams family butler, in an episode of The Addams Family  (1964 – 1966, ABC-TV)