Empathy, flexibility, and customer-first experiences hold key to success for retailers, says Selligent

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Sam Counterman, director of marketing, Northern Europe & global digital lead at Selligent discusses what customers really want from brands in testing times

Unprecedented? Strange? Unusual? Let’s be honest there aren’t really the words to describe the bewildering and ever changing face of 2020 for customer focused businesses.

The customer that we all want to help and serve is changing as fast as the news agenda.

Unsurprisingly there have been seismic shifts in consumer behaviour this year. People are working less (75 percent of consumers that responded to the Selligent Global Connected Consumer Index, reported working less due to COVID-19) and modifying purchases to focus on essential items, like food and safety products (60 percent).

While it is clear that consumer spending habits are rapidly changing, there are opportunities for brands to cater to the ‘new normal’. Almost a third (29 percent) of consumers say their purchasing behaviour has changed forever – with increased focus on things like weekly online shopping (up to 36 percent of consumers vs 28 percent pre COVID), and over half (59 percent) are planning purchases to support working from home long term.

How can retailers keep on track?

A customer-first approach of delivering exceptional customer experience remains key. However, as the economy and consumer priorities shift, so too must brand behaviour. Consumers need brands to go back to the basics with pricing, quality, value, and clear communications about safety and their response to current conditions.

Brands have the opportunity to rethink messaging so it is more personalised and resonates with what consumers need to hear now. People appreciate brands’ empathy and acts of caring, yet there remains room to improve. 

Now more than ever, consumers expect brands to provide products and services that make their lives easier and meet their essential needs. As conditions remain fluid, brands must be responsive and agile in tailoring messaging and campaigns to adapt to consumers’ expectations.

Cross-channel presence is key

Customers expect brands to meet them where they are. Relevant, omni-channel communications remains a critical component of marketing, with 75 percent of consumers reporting they prefer to receive messages via email or mobile.

Reliance on phone customer support as a first point of contact has dropped ten points to 33 percent this year, underscoring the importance of customer service availability across channels, including email, website chat, social, and SMS/text.

First class customer service

Consumers are becoming understanding overall in terms of expectations of brands with 38 percent believing brands have made a considerable effort to improve their overall customer experiences in the last year. Consumers are more patient regarding the pandemic’s impact on customer service response times too, 93 percent expect a response from a brand within 24 hours – down 3 percent from 2019.

However, brands must not rest on their laurels. Real-time, customer-first service should remain the priority. 76 percent of consumers expect real-time email or mobile updates and 71 percent want to know product availability before purchasing online. 

Consumers expect brands to be more empathetic to their needs and to factor in the unique situation we are currently in. 76 percent desire clearly communicated safety protocols and 64 percent want mobile and contactless pickup or check-in options.

Providing benefits to customers

Loyalty and advocacy are shifting, with a growing preference for free products and buyer perks over specific brands. Only 8 percent of consumers say a brand name is important to their loyalty, while 51 percent believe that free products and buyer perks are the best ways for brands to show they care.

Tangible benefits have become a must-have for brand interactions, sales and deals are the most valuable communications for 54 percent of people – linked to consumers being more cost-conscious and value-focused.

The brands that survive and ultimately thrive the challenges of today, will be those that listen closely to their customers, focus on loyalty and look for opportunities to deliver customer-first experiences. There is no question that customers have changed – the challenge for brands is to understand how and respond with new experiences that meet these new customer needs and expectations.