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Acres of words are written about managing customers; much less is said about what customers actually want. We all talk endlessly about providing customer value but what exactly is that? Consumer research, satisfaction indices and discussion at any social gathering all point at the same trend. En masse we are doing a poor job at meeting customer needs and they are getting very annoyed at our shortcomings.
So, lets pause from the frantic 'do it yesterday' rush of solving our internal problems of brand alignment, channel management, and sales targets and look at value from the point of view of our customers instead. For our customers are the only profit centre we have*.
The world may be global but building customer relationships differs between the Americas, Europe, Africa and Asia, because of culture. (see CRM Global Adoption – Jennifer Kirkby – free slide). The social trends below are primarily, but not exclusively, those of the western industrialised consumers.
1. Improving Returns
What customers really value is help in improving the quality of their lives, their wealth, health, competence and happiness. Increasingly, this means providing skills and experiences rather than just material goods – of which they have enough. A present of a massage will bring more delight than a 'soap on a rope'. Companies should understand goals and help customers achieve them (see Co-Managing Consumer Accounts in CRM – Scott MacStravic – free).
2. Outsourcing Non Core Competencies
Consumers are seeking more support and service. They don’t have enough time, knowledge, energy, and space and hate companies who waste these resources. They want solutions to problems not products. A wonderful example is the lingerie company Figleaf, who have a ‘blame it on us’ service for men who have forgotten an important anniversary. They send out the belated gift together with a full apology. Find out what is going on in people’s lives, not just product usage. (see The Support Economy – chargeable)
3. Reducing Complexity
Choice has turned into a double edged sword. As supplier switching costs have decreased, e.g. gas and electricity, the complexity of life has increased. Technology causes anxiety and annoyance; media messages create a cacophony that even invades public toilets; and the choice of 20 styles of jeans, 24 flavours of jam, and 22 models of mobile phone is dispiriting. Consumers seek trusted sources of personal advice and information – friends, family, networks or advisors. The lesson for companies is to innovate not copy and swap PR and mixed media for advertising. (see Move Towards A Redefinition of Critical Marketing – John Billett – free)
4. Channel Management
Consumers value convenience and channel proliferation brings great advantages if they can use what suits them. Sometimes they need high touch interaction and sometimes high tech – depending on the point of the purchase lifecycle. 51 per cent though, still want personal contact at all points even if that is the telephone.
Self service is seen as either customer liberation or corporate imposition depending on perceived intent. If it even smells of an agenda for transferring cost from company to consumer it will be rejected. The more confidence people have in a company the more self-service will be consider. (see Self-Service Society – Future Foundation –chargeable)
5. Company Trust Management
Consumers don’t talk about relationships, they talk about trusting companies. The hallmarks of trust are security, value for money and authencity. Increasingly consumers also want to see demonstrable humility and a sense of humanity (see The Next Hot Topic in CRM). Customers most likely to be attitudinally 'loyal' want this far more than the habitual price hoppers – who never will be loyal.
Consumers are discontent with companies and independent, non-government organizations (NGO’s) are gaining power to support them. The 'compensation culture' is spreading into company territory, court small claims in the UK have risen by 40 per cent in the last few years. Company risk management is needed, in the form of quality control standards, up to date terms, instructions, warnings and product recalls
6. Inspiring Communities
The times of attributing need by lifestage and affluence are going. Values and attitudes dominate behaviour and networking with kindred spirits is getting easier. Propositions need to inspire and reinforce community values groups (see Adversting to the herd – Mark Earls free). Real differentiation can be found here. Luxury travel for 'empty nesters' can mean marble bathrooms or, increasingly, local staff and natural materials. Eastern Europeans hang on to local communist style cafes and shoes rather than global brands. Nokia knows that 'the mobile community' is more about community than mobile.
People value involvement and respect. They want to engage with companies. They want dialogue not communication. They want to be known, listened to and co-create the brand (see Branding as an organic procsss – Johnnie Moore – free). An example is Elle magazine who recently carried a Future Elle supplement written by a team of readers. Trust is created when a company is familiar and open. Harness the value in technology innovatively – involve customers in incubation units
For many consumers the best companies provide value when they are sympathetic and trustworthy, dynamic and innovative. Hardly earth-shattering but true.
Strategy & Business Analyst CMC
Director, Mutual Marketing