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The five customers you must satisfy to make 2011 a success

3rd Dec 2010
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The Wall Street Journal recently identified the 'just-in-time consumer' as a new customer type that has been shaped by the recession. But there are potentially another five customer types that have emerged that businesses must keep in mind when designing and delivering products, services and experiences. 

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled 'The Just-in-Time Consumer' discussing new trends in consumer purchasing behaviour. The article highlighted the impact of the great recession on consumer purchasing activities and found that consumers are increasingly purchasing fewer products in smaller packages.
The trend for these just-in-time consumers is that they are steadily opting for more frequent store visits but are not increasing their purchases beyond what they absolutely need. All the while, consumer packaged goods companies are designing and delivering their products in smaller packages to fit this new consumer trend.
But just-in-time consumers are not the only individuals affected by the great recession. Customers of all stripes who have endured two years of financial hardship and who continue to face financial uncertainty are shaping their behaviors to adjust to their new financial realities.
At the same time, many companies are still in denial regarding the duration of time required for customers, old and new, to return to 'normal' purchasing behaviour. Are we ready to adapt our value proposition, products and customer experiences to recognise these seismic shifts? How are we planning to stay relevant to today’s customer?
Today's customer
So who is today’s customer? In addition to the just-in-time customer, I would like to propose several other customer types shaped by these challenging financial times.
  • The value or discount customer – Following two years of heavy discounting, today’s customers face difficulties correlating value with price. Bargains have become the rule and not the exception for this customer.
  • The mistrusting customer – Following the disappearance of major brands from Circuit City to Lehman Brothers coupled with the challenges experienced by major brands such as Toyota, today’s customer is skeptical and lacks trusts in once reliable institutions. 
  • The fearful customer – This long economic distress shows no end in sight. Customers remain fearful over job security and their ability to help keep their loved ones afloat. This fear is becoming existential and persists during any transaction owing to the hesitation and fear over the short- and long-term.
  • The do-it-yourself customer – Many personal sacrifices have been made during these challenging economic times. Customers have given up indulgences as well as other products and services they might have considered basic just a few years ago. Our customers today are inclined to do things themselves to ensure that their scope of sacrifices need not grow any further.
  • The small indulgence customer – Our customers are still human and want little more than to catch the occasional break. All their fears and mistrust are weighing heavily on them and they are reluctant to indulge on expensive vacations or a lavish night out on the town. They are increasingly substituting their lavish desires breaks with small indulgences. Small and personal indulgences are the manner in which customers are creating a small sanctuary away from their pressures and fears.
The 2011 customer will enter the new year having faced two or three years of intense financial distress. Even if individuals didn’t personally lose a job, they likely experienced salary cuts, suffered losses in the stock market, witnessed layoffs among their family, friends and colleagues, and read about bleak financial news, causing more fear, doubt and uncertainty. Ignoring this state of mind will be dangerous for any company. 
The longer this financial distress continues, the greater the long-term impact will be on consumer purchasing behavior. We ought to take a lesson from the history of the great depression where many consumers simply couldn’t contemplate purchasing a luxury item, even many years after the great depression ended. While the financial outlook of today’s customers is uncertain, companies would do well to look back in history for guidance.
As you sit down to conduct your 2011 strategic plan, ask yourself about the manner in which you’re designing and delivering products, services, and experiences that are relevant to today’s consumer. Just shrinking the packaging may not cut it anymore. Demonstrating compassion, understating and flexibility will go a long way. Like any relationship milestone, this is the moment that will define the future of the relationship with consumers. It is your opportunity to elevate the quality and duration of your customer relationships.


Lior Arussy is the founder and president of Strativity Group, a global customer experience research and consulting firm specialising in design, innovation and deployment of differentiating, profitable customer experiences. His books include Excellence Every Day: Make the Daily Choice and Passionate & Profitable: Why Customer Strategies Fail and 10 Steps To Do Them Right!

His latest book is Customer Experience Strategy: The Complete Guide From Innovation To Execution.

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