New study identifies critical factors shaping customer experience in 2020 and beyond
Salesforce unveiled the fourth edition of its State of the Connected Customer research reportOpens a new window earlier this week. The report examines how customer expectation and behaviors are shifting in response to ongoing economic, health, leadership, social justice, and climate crises.
The data has been compiled from a double-blind survey conducted from July through August 2020. Salesforce surveyed respondents across 27 countries.
All companies â€” regardless of whether or not they delivered superior experiences before â€” are now challenged to meet an entirely new set of customer needs and expectations. And those needs and expectations are largely digitally driven.
Why Customer Connections Are Essential During Crises?
The report found that 88% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to COVID-19.
While a majority (54%) of customers believe companies should offer new products and services in response to COVID-19, that’s significantly less than the 69% who want companies to translate the products and services they’ve enjoyed all along into new formats (such as digital versions of in-person experiences). Gen Z has a particularly strong craving for digital innovation.
Expanded methods of engagement â€” including through digital channels â€” are also popular in a socially distant world, especially with younger generations.
The report also found that while the majority of the population generally trusts companies to be honest and act with other parties’ interests in mind, a significant minority â€” a third or more in some cases â€” have their doubts. These individuals don’t only question companies’ customer-centricity, but also their performance as corporate citizens.
A generational view proves valuable for companies seeking to bolster trust, and in surprising ways. Baby boomers, with their extensive life experiences, are overall the most skeptical generation when it comes to actions and motivations of companies. However, the youngest generation â€” Gen Z â€” isn’t far behind. In fact, Gen Z customers are slightly more likely than Baby Boomers to doubt a company’s honesty. Conversely, millennials are the most trusting generation.
Driving Differentiation With Personalization and Convenience
Personalization has become so ubiquitous that most customers now expect nothing less from all of their interactions.
In a time when every customer is navigating their own set of uncharted and evolving circumstances, personalization is a subset of something bigger: holistic understanding and, ultimately, empathy. If someone has lost their job, for instance, it’s tone deaf to send an offer for an expensive item they eyed before. Similarly, if a business owner has had to slash investments, it’s likely not the ideal time to push a product or service upgrade.
Demonstrating 1-to-1 empathy on a grand scale is no small order, but customers are acutely aware of the disconnect between their expectations and reality.
Why It Is Imperative for Brands To Embrace Digital?
The report indicates that customers turn to an average of nine channels to browse inventory, seek advice, and make purchases. Millennials claim to use more channels than other generations, even Gen Z.
What hasn’t changed since last year is as notable as what has. Email, phone, and in-person engagement remain customers’ favorites, and online chat â€” often in the form of website pop-up windows â€” and mobile apps continue to round out the top five.
In 2020, messenger apps like WhatsApp and social media edged up in popularity. Text/SMS and video chat made their debut on the list of customers’ 10 most preferred channels this year.
At the end of the day, each individual has their own preferred means of engagement. In a world in which 66% of customers feel treated like a number, providing options and continuity between different channels is a differentiator.
It’s no secret that with much of the physical world intermittently cordoned off to various degrees, customers are spending increasing amounts of time online. In fact, digital engagement has hit a tipping point this year, with an estimated 60% of interactions taking place online, compared to 42% last year.
This trend is expected to persist beyond the pandemic. 58% of consumers expect to do more online shopping after the pandemic than before, and 80% of business buyers expect to conduct more business online.
As consumers and business buyers alike spend more time in their home offices and living rooms and less time in stores and offices, their rising standards have accelerated the timetable for digital transformation.
Consumers Expect Brands To Demonstrate Their Values
As digital transformation revolutionizes customers’ behaviors and preferences, it’s not the only phenomena impacting their buying decisions.
Companies’ reputations are shaped by the intersection of longstanding issues that have been laid bare by the events of 2020, including the treatment of employees, actions against racial and economic injustices, community involvement, and the existential threat of climate change.
In short, companies are being held to a higher standard, and in areas that boardrooms have largely not considered. Although many may assume these sentiments exist solely among younger generations, they are in fact pervasive across all age groups.
Ultimately, the rising calls for businesses to stand for more than their financial interests are a call for action, in addition to words. 89% of customers expect companies to clearly state their values, and 90% expect them to clearly demonstrate those values.
As younger generations of customers claim more say in the trajectory of their world, they’ll view the degree to which companies are responsible for acting in the best interest of their communities, neighbors, and environment â€” among other things â€” as more important than their predecessors
â€œRegardless of who they market, sell or provide services to, businesses are navigating a landscape they couldn’t have imagined at the beginning of this year,â€ said Vala Afshar, Chief Digital Evangelist at Salesforce. â€œA massive shift to digital channels isn’t the only challenge that leaders have to grapple with. They also need to listen and respond to customer demands for empathy and understanding, innovative products and services, and a fundamental rethinking of the role of businesses in society. Connecting customers’ various touchpoints â€” digital, human or otherwiseâ€”to gain a holistic understanding is the first step on the path to resiliency and growth.â€