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​Surfing the wave of consumer expectations

Surfing the wave of consumer expectations

Why doing everything right is no longer good enough

Tim Pritchard

Managing Director, Customer Experience

Kantar TNS


It should be easy, right?

  1. Win a customer
  2. Start on the right foot
  3. Keep your promises
  4. Create         lasting memories

The customers come back for more; they tell their colleagues, friends and families to do likewise. In turn, they all come your way to buy your products or services. And so you build the perfect business ecosystem, with happy customers and a thriving company. Customer satisfaction 101, job done!

So why in practice is it never this straightforward? Why do many companies fail to deliver, even those who pride themselves on being customer-centric?

The truth is that many companies do things right most of the time. They know it makes commercial sense—better to retain profitable customers than constantly chase new ones.

They invest heavily and often intelligently, empowering everyone from the front line through to the CEO to ensure that customers are treated well. They have the right people, the right technology and the right processes to achieve great things. And with everyone aligned to their “North Star” brand promise to deliver an authentic experience for customers, what could possibly go wrong?

Undoubtedly, part of the trouble is that customers are more demanding. They expect more, and they’re increasingly hard to please. They’re more powerful and savvy; less willing to stay loyal in the face of shoddy treatment. And with the rise of social media and, with it, an added confidence to amplify their feelings, many argue that it’s the customer who is now in control, rather than the companies they buy from.

Welcome to Generation CX

They pay less attention but with a sharper and hyper-informed eye. They are constantly connected yet only partially attentive. Opinionated and digitally influential, they’re expert messaging filterers, looking for great experiences with mutual rewards. They are savvy cynics who trust their peers more than marketers, who won’t pay more for ownership if they can pay less for access. They move fluidly between the digital and physical worlds without making a conscious distinction between them.

While some argue that the expectation level of Generation CX has become unrealistic—given the amount paid for the products or services acquired—it is a necessary evil that cannot be ignored.

Today’s customers are more open than ever to giving feedback. But, in return, they expect short, snappy, and effective resolution of any problems. It’s a fast-paced world of instant gratification—customers are quick to make decisions and expect the organizations they buy from to meet their needs quickly. Otherwise, they will simply move on.

But for many businesses, it’s hard to keep up. The faster they paddle to stay ahead of customer expectations, the more water they take on board. And when leaks appear, they’re so busy applying short-term fixes to stay afloat that they miss the broader customer sentiment that demands a more strategic, enduring remedy.

Responding in the moment to resolve sub-optimal customer experiences is non-negotiable. But doing so with the right tone is increasingly important.

A speedy tactical fix to appease a disgruntled customer can still fail to hit the right chord among Generation CX. They’re typically more interested in how you made them feel during an interaction than they are in your ability to resolve their query.

Every “touch” matters. Which is why, as anyone involved in delivering great customer experience will attest, CX is an exhausting business. Akin to painting Scotland’s Forth Road Bridge—it’s a job that’s never actually done! And while very few employees go to work intent on delivering a lousy experience for their hard-won customers, delivering near-perfect interactions on a consistent basis, across all channels and customer segments, is far from easy.

Exploding brand choice

As if rising expectations weren’t enough, brand choice has also exploded. New challenger brands are often the aggressors. Set up to succeed (born out of initial customer angst with existing category players), they’ve identified an opportunity to compete on CX rather than products or services alone. They’re customer obsessed. As such, they’re adept at delivering right first time and, in so doing, raising the bar of expectation to new peaks.

Anticipating those peaks of expectation and re-aligning a business to deliver have become table-stakes. As ice hockey legend Wayne Gretzky famously said, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

While every customer interaction should matter, the reality is that some moments matter more than others—carrying more weight, both in terms of the impact they have on CX, but also a company’s likely ROI. When allocating investment and deciding which moments to respond to first, these are the moments to prioritise.

Identifying such moments is no longer about a reliance on ratings or scores. Instead, the focus has swung towards unstructured data—unlocking the golden nuggets of insight that reside (often undetected) in verbatim responses to open questions, or in the content provided by customers via unsolicited feedback in emails, social media dialogue and web chat. We need to become more adept at making sense of “dirty” data, be that voice/speech, pictures, video—even emoji’s!

Alas, too many companies fall into the trap of listening to customer feedback but failing to either learn from it, or act on it. And that’s a cardinal sin. Activation is king—the ability of a company to operationalise and institutionalise CX learnings and best practices to drive change. Done well, it generates enhanced customer experiences and ensures ROI for the company.

So whether you’re part of the C-Suite, the CX Director, Head of Customer Service, contact centre boss, insights lead, Complaints Manager or social media response lead, now, more than ever, it’s time to identify, optimise and activate the moments that matter most to your customers.