Lots of business executives claim to be focused on delivering a better customer experience, but the reality is that meaningful experiences are a product of strong relationships. And unfortunately, relatively few companies can truly say they maintain strong customer relationships.
By and large, customers simply don’t feel valued.
In the not-too-distant past, whether customers felt valued by brands was not the primary point of discussion. Interactions were almost entirely transactional, and conversations were one-sided at best. Brands would talk through whatever medium they felt gave them the most reach, and consumers would either perk up or tune out.
Technology has changed that dynamic completely and put buyers in the driver’s seat. Modern consumers have countless options at their fingertips — whether they’re shopping for groceries, apparel, or electronics. Now, once iconic brands that dominated the American economy are struggling to survive as newer, more innovative companies put a bigger emphasis on the consumer experience.
Yet even these disruptive, tech-driven upstarts have struggled to generate long-term loyalty.
For both consumers and young companies, technology has undoubtedly been a source of empowerment. Increasingly, however, it’s also a source of friction.
Salesforce reports that more than half of consumers do not believe that brands have their best interests in mind. Growing concerns about corporate use and abuse of consumer data have helped to cultivate a more cynical consumer outlook. Consumers aren’t being unreasonable; they simply want brands to earn their trust.
Furthermore, according to data from PwC, consumers would willingly pay up to 16% more for products and services that were accompanied by a superior customer experience. Most agree that such experiences are relatively rare, yet there’s no shortage of tech-driven shopping experiences and highly personalized messaging. So what’s missing?
Many companies — in their haste to acquire technologies that can help them better understand and engage with audiences — seem to have lost sight of those audiences altogether. More than tech-driven experiences, the majority of American consumers (roughly four in five, according to Salesforce) want brands to treat them like people.
Companies that are willing to commit to doing the following three things stand the best chance to earn their business:
- Anticipate customer needs. The ability to understand what other people want before they express that desire is the hallmark of a strong relationship, but it’s only possible if there’s a shared history. Jennifer Matthews — CEO and president of The Bloc, one of the largest independent health creative agencies — believes that data allows brands to establish that sense of history.
“Companies and brands that understand this reality are investing in building deeper relationships with their customers through the use of data that enables them to better anticipate and deliver on each customer’s needs,” says Matthews.
Those needs will depend on the person — and they’re ever changing. Salesforce also reports that 62% of customers expect brands to read between the lines, using past behaviors to predict future actions. Data analysis can help you get an idea of customer needs, and interpersonal interactions or context clues can help you pinpoint exactly how to meet them.
- Use the past to build the future. When consumers interact with your brand, they expect you to remember details from that interaction: preferred channels, which ads led to sales, etc. That doesn’t mean bombarding customers with ads for items they clicked on once. It means using information from those past interactions to make future interactions more seamless and relevant.
According to Jim Marous, co-publisher of The Financial Brand, the best brands are doing this by creating omnichannel experiences that inform and build on one another. “Consumers want what you know about them and what they have done in the past to be immediately available and deployable,” says Marous. Just be sure you deploy that information the right way.
- Measure customer health. In healthy interpersonal relationships, expectations are clear and no one is afraid to speak up if needs aren’t being met. Just as there’s a sense of shared history, there’s a shared vision of the future, and both parties play a role in crafting it. Your customers may not always be satisfied with your products or services, but if they feel appreciated, they’ll be patient as you work to improve your offering. They’ll even help you.
Show your customers that you value them early in the relationship by actively seeking out their input as you develop your plans for the future. Encourage them to be transparent about your performance and how you can make them feel more valued. Customers who feel valued can become your most convincing salespeople.
Brands must look at the customer experience as an ongoing initiative, rather than a single interaction. No matter what you’re selling, chances are good that your customers could find a similar product or service elsewhere. But if you’re able to deliver relational value that extends beyond a transaction, they won’t feel the need to look.
Written by Rhett Power.
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