Customers today are energized by tech innovations — but also plagued by deepening distrust of the companies that provide them. They have high expectations about what makes a great customer experience, and not a lot of patience for companies that fail to deliver.
For the second edition of the “State of the Connected Customer” report, Salesforce Research surveyed over 6,700 consumers and business buyers globally to better understand the modern customer mindset. What do these new norms mean for companies that are vying for their business and their trust?
These trends impact every company, regardless of whether they sell to consumers or business buyers purchasing on behalf of their companies. In this research, “customers” is an aggregate of both consumer and business buyer responses.
The report dives into the nuances of this tricky customer landscape. Here are five of the high-level findings our research brought to light:
1. Customer experience matters even more than you think
“Customer experience” is an unavoidable topic these days, and here’s why. Eighty percent of customers say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services [CLICK TO TWEET]. A majority take this sentiment a step further by voting with their wallets; 57% have stopped buying from a company because a competitor provided a better experience.
Much of this experience is rooted in trust: 95% of customers say that if they trust a company, they’re more likely to be loyal patrons. Emphasis on if — but more on that later.
2. B2B expectations mirror B2C standards
The concept of "B2Me" isn’t new, but it’s gathering steam. Eighty-two percent of business buyers want the same experience as when they’re buying for themselves. But only 27% say companies generally excel at meeting their standards for an overall B2B experience, signaling ample room to improve.
3. Companies face new connected mandates
Our culture is shaped by constant connectivity and instant gratification. At every stage of the purchase process, “me” and “now” are the magic words. For 84% of customers, being treated like a person — and not a number — is very important to win their business. Another 70% say connected processes are very important to win their business (such as seamless handoffs between departments and channels, or contextualized engagement based on earlier interactions). This means that the marketing, ecommerce, sales, and service teams that have traditionally concerned themselves only with one part of the customer journey must now consider every customer touchpoint.
Even before a purchase, personalization is hugely important; 59% of customers say tailored engagement based on past interactions is very important to win their business. For example, sending unique offers for an item that was abandoned in a cart, or offers for items that complement another purchase they’ve made can make all the difference.
While they buy, 78% of business buyers seek salespeople that act as trusted advisors with knowledge of their needs and industry. Business buyers are more likely than consumers to value product recommendations and mobile apps — a testament to the blurring lines between B2C and B2B behavior.
After they buy, consumers and business buyers alike hail the importance of real-time service that’s available on their preferred channel. Increasingly unfamiliar with the concept of “waiting,” customers are keen on self-service tools that empower them to find quick answers on their own, and even chatbots that allow them to skip queues are seen in a positive light.
4. Technology sets new benchmarks for innovation
Real innovation, not lip service, is a deciding factor for most customers. 56% of customers (including 66% of business buyers) actively seek to buy from the most innovative companies.
Technology, of course, plays a significant role in those innovations. 59% of customers say companies need cutting-edge digital experiences to keep their business. Fifty-nine percent also say they’re open to companies using artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their experiences.
While some emerging technologies are only starting to take root, a majority of customers say these technologies have transformed (or are actively transforming) their expectations: the Internet of Things (60%), voice-activated personal assistants (59%), and AI (51%).
5. Facing a crisis of trust: finding the balance between personalization and privacy
To provide the experiences that customers expect, and demonstrate a 360-degree understanding of each customer, companies need a new breed of tech as well as a heap of data. But, as recent incidents have laid bare, not all companies are earning their customers’ trust to do the right thing with these technologies and data. Sixty-two percent of customers say they’re more afraid of their data being compromised now than they were two years ago — and nearly half of customers (45%) feel confused about how companies use their data.
On the surface, it may seem that companies face a paradox: how can they provide personalized experiences when customers don’t trust them with the data necessary to provide them? Yet, when the benefits of their data use are clearly spelled out, a majority of customers are actually on board. Some of the standouts include:
82% of customers will share relevant information about themselves in exchange for connections between their digital and in-person experiences.
81% of customers will share relevant information about themselves in exchange for more consultative help from salespeople.
85% of customers will share relevant information about themselves in exchange for proactive customer service.
For 92% of customers, the ability to control what personal information is collected makes them more likely to trust a company with that information. Building trust, and balancing personalization with privacy, will be key for companies to meet customer expectations in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
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