If you think it has become harder to make your customers happy these past couple of decades, you’re right. The rise of the modern consumer necessitates a greater effort from brands so they can keep meeting people’s changing demands.
In 2016, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) released a report saying that it has become more difficult for US retailers to keep customers happy. They discovered this after interviewing more than 9000 customers via email between November and December 2015. ACSI then found that customer satisfaction slid by 2.6% since 2014.
ACSI’s managing director David VanAmburg that said this could be attributed to customers’ higher expectations.
“Customers have higher expectations now. They have a little more money in their pocket to spend, and they’re going to be more discerning about the quality of the shopping experience.”
But retail stores aren’t the only ones suffering from the decline. Even ecommerce brands also saw a 2.4% reduction in customer happiness. It seems, therefore, that instant gratification and shopping convenience aren’t doing much to keep a consumer satisfied.
We all know what these findings mean: Brands need to work harder than ever before to capture and sustain buyers’ interest and make their journey a satisfying one. However, you won’t be able to pull this off if you don’t understand the driving forces behind customers’ evolving expectations.
Here are the five main reasons why making customers happy—and keeping them that way—has become an even more demanding task.
1. Varying preferences across generations
Generational researchers have just outlined the five generations making up the marketplace:
• Traditionalists (born 1945 and before)
• Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964)
• Generation X (born 1965 to 1976)
• Millennials (born 1977 to 1995)
• Gen Z (born 1996 and later)
Most retail brands are probably focusing on three generations: the Millennials, the Generation X, and the Baby Boomers. (Later on, however, the Gen Z would start building up their purchasing power, thus making the customer experience game even tougher for brands.)
Now, these three generations have largely different wants and needs. Millennials are known for their faultless command of tech devices, short attention span, intolerance for unethical business practices, and a dire need for fast services. The Gen X, on the other hand, value efficiency more than anything else, preferring to research about products before buying them. Lastly, Baby Boomers are likely to have the largest purchasing power, but they have very definite tastes. They know their priorities and their exact wants and needs, which makes marketing a new product to them difficult.
Brands catering to these three different generations at once will thus find themselves facing a challenge. How do they get to keep all of them equally happy? Should separate customer journeys be designed for each demographic? And how can they tailor-fit their customer service to account for consumers’ varying characteristics?
2. Explosive growth of mobile
Just recently, web analytics company StatCounter surprised everyone when it reported that Android surpassed Windows as the number one platform for going online. Clearly, people are so glued to their smartphones and tablets, and these devices are, in part, replacing desktop computers.
What’s problematic about this (although brands can also think of it as an opportunity) is that there are plenty of platforms that come with mobile devices. They bind together social media, email, messaging apps, the phone, and SMS into a single device. That’s a big convenience for customers, but not so for call centers and businesses.
If brands are to follow their customers on the communication platforms they frequent, and they should, they need to adopt and deploy an omnichannel strategy. This is far from being a simple feat. Doing this successfully would require various forms of expertise (e.g., data analytics, IT, customer experience management and design, etc.), several tech resources (e.g., customer relationship management tools, knowledge systems, different types of contact center software, etc.), and a highly competent workforce.
3. Social media and online reviews
A 2014 survey by marketing services provider BrightLocal revealed these statistics:
• 88% of the respondents consult online reviews to determine the quality of a brand
• 93% of the respondents said they checked reviews before buying something or eating at a restaurant
• 85% of the respondents read up to 10 different reviews as they research about a product or a brand to gain an objective assessment of their purchases
• 88% of the respondents trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations
These numbers point to one fact: your brand’s reputation really does matter. The problem is, it has become harder to manage one’s reputation and keep one’s image spotless with every single customer pitching in reviews and spreading them through social media. A single client with a negative experience of your brand or product could rant on and on online, and they could drive prospective buyers away.
This is why many companies now employ a team of online customer service agents, content moderators, and online reputation management experts. With people who monitor online conversations about your brand, you’ll know what others are saying about you, enabling you to handle the issues before they get out of control.
4. Fiercer business competition
As though the struggles mentioned so far aren’t enough, brands should also watch out for their competitors. They can’t slack off, they can’t stop innovating, and they can’t ever be complacent about their performance even if they are indeed doing a laudable job. Customers can swiftly switch brands if they find a company that offers something more valuable or unique.
In fact, there’s surely more competition nowadays, especially as the Internet enabled aspiring entrepreneurs to put up their own virtual businesses instantly. Building a physical store is no longer the only way to launch products and make money. This also means customers have countless choices regarding which brands to follow and which products to buy.
5. Customer experience as a brand differentiator
Speaking of business competition, here’s another challenge for every brand: How can you create a consumer experience that’s unique and completely your own?
Business consultancy firm Walker predicts that customer experience will overtake products and prices as the most critical brand differentiator by 2020. That’s just three years from now, and in fact, we’re already seeing this happening before our eyes. If you look at the world’s top brands—Amazon, Apple, and Starbucks, to name a few—you’ll notice that their success is hugely a result of their ability to delight and surprise their customers.
While this doesn’t mean that you can go without creating innovative products, it’s clear that the trend nowadays is leaning more on hassle-free customer journeys, rather than flashy products. After all, in a competitive landscape, plenty of brands have almost the same capacity to come up with intelligent products. Not everyone, however, can back them up with a well-designed consumer experience.