Offering customers a positive online experience has been the price of admission for marketers since the dawn of digital marketing. The problem is that the definition of positive keeps changing. Where do customers expect you to engage with them? Once upon a time, having a website was plenty. Then having a mobile presence became essential, followed by customers’ demand for mobile applications that personalized their experience of your company. Next came social media. Which platforms did they prefer? How many platforms did you have to manage to satisfy their demands?
Customers keep raising the bar and sometimes it’s tough to see how high your company has to climb. Certainly, COVID19 further upped the ante. Customers wanted more and better service from the safety of their homes. But even in the pre-COVID era, customer expectations for technology-enabled service grew every year. And analysts predict they’ll demand even more should we ever reach an age that can be called the post-Covid era. Gen-Z will likely lead the charge, expressing a distinct preference for helping themselves via digital channels, from in-app messaging to online chatbots.
Customer Expectations by the Numbers
What do customers want right now? A comprehensive 2020 study by Appnovation provides some insight, reporting that 44% of customers surveyed fully expected businesses to adopt new and innovative digital solutions in 2021. Another 45% of survey respondents expected companies to enhance their existing technology, as well. Then there were the hopefuls: even those customers who didn’t expect these changes expressed a desire for innovation, nonetheless. Only 17% of customers reported that they didn’t much care about digital service innovation. But that number may be suspect. Customers who profess not to care quickly change their tune when they’re inconvenienced or unable to get the services they need online. That’s precisely the customer experience that drives innovation. So don’t discount the seemingly disengaged. They should figure as an important segment in your marketing planning.
The Common Threads Among Customer Expectations
According to a study by Aqui, 78% of customers want to do business with brands that “get them.” Brands that demonstrate insight into their needs and can quickly solve their problems get top marks. Most of us aren’t mind readers, of course. That’s why primary market research should be an essential element of your brand planning. If you haven’t hosted any focus groups or put a survey out into the market in some time, now is the right moment to do so. The global pandemic brought profound changes. Customers are shopping differently now and 75% of respondents to Aqui’s survey reported trying new brands, stores, and channels during the COVI19 era. If what you know about your customers is based on 2-year-old data, your established customer profiles may be way off target.
Customers want to trust brands and see companies live up to their brand promises. Trust has new meaning now. Customers expect brands to prioritize their safety, demonstrated by actions as basic as implementing enhanced sanitation or as complicated as cybersecurity. They also want brands to provide financial security for themselves and their employees, even if it means taking a financial hit themselves. No doubt, that’s why record inflation has become a hot political issue. The pandemic has even influenced customers’ expectations of brand communications. They’re less interested in light-hearted advertising and prefer to see messages that demonstrate empathy and help them solve the new problems they’re having now. You may want to discuss that trend with your advertising agency.
Digital Readiness Cuts Across Industries
Customers have varying expectations of the companies they do business with, of course. Would you buy a new car without taking it for a test drive? Not surprisingly, Appnovation’s study found that, in the pre-COVID era, a majority of consumers wouldn’t. That’s not to say they didn’t visit car dealer websites or read a lot of online product reviews—but the need to physically touch something before you buy it is real and underscores that in-store and person-to-person customer experiences shouldn’t get lost in the digital shuffle. Many people want to squeeze the avocados, too. Despite an increase in shopping for essential goods online, Kroger, Stop and Shop, and Piggly Wiggly parking lots are still jammed.
Customers making purchases in certain industries, especially banking and other financial services, express a high level of digital readiness. Let’s look at banking for a moment. It may have started with ATMs—people didn’t care to wait for a teller to serve them in bank branches—but now customers are plenty content to perform a wide range of banking tasks online and via mobile app. They want to open checking accounts, pay their bills, refinance their student loans, invest in their retirement, and more, all online. And the banking industry upped its game in response.
The lending industry stands out for having made some tremendous strides towards improving customer experience, aided by new financial technology applications that make the process of applying for and being funded for a loan faster, simpler, and more convenient. Traditional banks and credit unions, established online mortgage lenders like Quicken and LoanDepot, and a booming new crop of fintech lending startups have all adopted digital lending platforms in recent years. The insurance industry and its many tentacles—from traditional home and auto policies to the growing pet insurance sector—has also benefited from financial technology. Indeed, these companies have their own moniker: they’re known as insuretech companies. Not surprisingly, fintech has dominated in the venture capital arena, attracting $134 billion in funding in 2021—a number that represents 177% year-over-year growth.
Fine-Tuning Your Sales Process
If you’re still relying on the same Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application you’ve used for years, you’re not accessing all the technology available to help you close deals. Sales enablement applications are gaining favor and 77% of companies who employ a sales team in excess of 500 members are now relying on SAAS companies that provide sales enablement tools. And interest is growing. Google searches for “sales enablement” increased by 52% between 2020 and 2021.
What’s the difference between CRM and sales enablement platforms? CRMs collect the data you need to manage relationships. Sales enablement manages relationships for you. These applications often feature digital conference rooms where salespeople and customers can meet virtually while having immediate access to proposals, relevant content, records of previous conversations, and more. Sales enablement platforms can better align your sales and marketing functions.
Sales enablement solutions also function as sales training resources. Training not only improves sales performance, but also keeps your sales team happy. One of the most commonly cited reasons why sales people quit their jobs is a dearth of training and a clear path to career advancement. A LinkedIn study revealed that 94% of employees say they’d stay put in their roles if their employers invested in their futures through sales training. Sales enablement technology is one way companies can keep their salespeople engaged and satisfied—and manage the other epidemic we’re in the midst of: record attrition levels. One in four workers quit their jobs last year. And attrition levels are even higher in the sales arena—19% higher, in fact.
The First Step in Meeting Customer Expectations
As the old saying goes, you can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken. Research that enhances your understanding of your customers—and your employees—is vital to meeting, or better yet, even exceeding, customer expectations. And yours should cover every touchpoint. Website and mobile stats, email CTRs, customer service standards, monitoring product reviews and consumer ratings—there’s a wealth of data out there that can help you fine tune your customer experience. And one last suggestion: study your competition carefully. Find a way to differentiate yourself in a meaningful way. What does meaningful mean? That’s a question only your customers can answer.
Susan Doktor is a journalist, business strategist, and principal at Branddoktor. Her contribution comes to us courtesy of Money.com. Follow Susan on Twitter @branddoktor.