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Perspectives

Four Things Needed to Please the New Consumer

2014-10-14


Today's buyers are enormously informed, always-connected and highly expectant. You can either fight them or empower them. Here's how to do the latter.

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Have you met the new consumer?

Let us introduce you. He or she is enormously informed and knows as much as about your products as you do. She uses her smartphone to research competing offers when in your store, "showroom," or place of business. And she ignores promotions that aren't relevant, especially after providing personal information.

What's more, she blends her work and personal life. She doesn't load your full Web site on her phone—that's not how consumers use their mobiles—and when she moves between your touchpoints at all hours of the day, she expects your responses and interactions to be consistent, convenient and coordinated. If not, she'll abandon the transaction.

Figure 1

When aided and abetted by social, mobile, analytics and cloud technologies (aka The SMAC Stack™), this new consumer is tricky to engage, regardless of industry. But it can be done. Whether to millennials who have grown up with smartphones and social media or generational immigrants quickly adopting these new technologies and behaviors, here's how to delight and inspire the new consumer.

The Four Pillars of Customer Empowerment

In the wake of changing consumer behaviors, a new buzzword has emerged: "Customer experience." It basically describes any interaction a customer makes with your brand; a software interface, the feel and build of hardware, a worthwhile exchange with a representation, a loading bar, a miscommunication.

It also means customers no longer just want a great product at the best price; they often want rapture when making purchases; something to share, something to be a part of.

Here's how to give it to 'em while winning mindshare:

Abandon the linear shopping experience. 

When the internet was commercialized in the '90s, some executive established the convention of bifurcating promotional efforts. "Marketing" was in charge of driving physical sales. "E-commerce" was in charge of driving digital sales. It was a bad idea then. It's a worse idea today. The reason: Consumers don't shop by channel. They just shop and jump between "omni-channels" as needed. In an omni-channel business, a customer is treated as a single buyer, no matter in which channel he or she is transacting. To become an omni-channel business, companies must forge new lines of communication among business functions and technology applications. Instead of operating as separate business units, departments need to collaborate more or even merge to better engage the new consumer.

Respect customers as individuals. 

Depending on time, place and channel, customers expect the shopping experience to reflect their immediate circumstance and persona. For example, think of the busy worker with time constraints during the day but greater availability on the weekend who demands different kinds of interactions. The same customer may want to interact differently with a brand on the way home from work versus a weekend morning on the way to the gym. Few companies, however, consider this level of technographic detail when profiling customers. Without it, however, companies cannot optimize their customer interactions; for instance, sending e-mail promotions to customers who instead prefer text messages.

Define your omni-channel goals.

Understandably, the rise of the new consumer has caught many companies off guard. Consequently, some pivot prematurely without first determining their business goals and priorities. When asked why they recently launched a multimillion-dollar omni-channel, one company responded, "Everyone else is doing it, so we have to, too." While a company might get lucky without meaningful strategy, it's not a chance worth taking. Businesses need to establish what they are trying to accomplish—gain market share, boost customer acquisitions, drive more value from existing customers, attract more digital traffic, improve online conversion, etc.—and then align their initiatives with those goals. Otherwise, said companies will end up with capabilities that may have minimal, if not zero, impact towards their goals.

Prioritize your touchpoints. 

After abandoning linear shopping, adopting technographic profiles and prioritizing business goals, omni-channel companies can begin to employ proven touchpoint tactics. These include mobile technologies such as apps and near-field communications. Social platforms that go beyond "likes" and include zeitgeist monitoring, dialog participation and alerting customers to recent purchases made by their peers. It also includes smart Web sites that sell more with virtual showrooms and congruent brick-and-mortar experiences, personalized offers and visionary sales associates who help the customer do their homework, including matching a competitor's price, checking nearby inventory, arranging home delivery or otherwise serving the shopper in a way that isn't available elsewhere. The goal is choosing tactics that prioritize business value.

Don't Forget the Top Three Factors

Whether in retail, online or other industries, understanding and engaging the new consumer is a significant challenge for business management. However, the fundamentals of product, price and service are just as relevant as ever. Even while devising and executing a customer empowerment strategy, businesses cannot take their eye off providing the most relevant products at the right price and surrounded by excellent service, both in the store and online.

In other words, don't forgo the fundamentals. According to our 2013 shopper survey, 75% of customers still interact with companies through traditional channels and product selection, price and customer service continue to be the top three factors influencing purchase decisions. Additionally, as customers become pickier about product options and more informed about competitive pricing, they have higher expectations of sales associates.

When armed with a strong omni-channel and unified approach, companies can meet and even exceed the expectations of today's empowered customer.

For more information, read our white paper on customer empowerment, get inspired by our Future of Work series or visit Cognizant Business Consulting.

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