Do you measure up to the expectations of ‘never normal’ customers?

Do you measure up to the expectations of ‘never normal’ customers?

The world is changing. Customers are changing. And businesses need to adapt to these constant changes which seem to be happening faster than ever before. So what does the new customer look like today? Steven Van Belleghem, an award-winning author, keynote speaker and world-leading expert in customer experience, discusses how to measure up to the complex expectations of the ‘never normal’ customer.

I recently had a conversation with the CEO of the United Nations Federal Credit Union, John Lewis, talking about how he sees business around the world at the moment. He told me: “My biggest concern is currently changing every 12 hours.”

If you talk to other leaders and managers in other businesses, I suspect this would be true for a lot of them too. If you look back to everything we have had to deal with over the past two or three years, both as businesses, and as individuals, it seems hard to believe – the COVID crisis, logistical problems, price hikes, energy crisis, international conflicts, inflation, pressure on purchasing power and more.

Seemingly, a new challenge has landed on the plates of managers and customers alike each month. In fact, there is a very strong argument that the world may never be as stable or predictable as it was for previous generations, and as marketers, we now need to understand some new complex behaviours and expectations for this new breed of ‘never normal’ customer.

So what do we know about the evolution in thinking in this new wave of customers?

  • They may hold increasingly extreme opinions

Nuance is becoming less common in public debates. As a brand being faced with increasingly extreme opinions and a polarised world, one positive difference you can make to customers is by encouraging positivity through your leadership, your company culture and your communications.

This doesn’t mean you should live in denial of anything negative, but the truth is, customers do not want to listen to your problems. In times of uncertainty, people are naturally drawn to feel-good stories with predictable endings – just look at the glowing reviews for the Top Gun Maverick movie.

  • They may be very concerned about society

Climate change is now a common topic of conversation around family dinner tables. Concerns are growing for a whole host of other worries beyond the climate, such as inequality, poverty and education. This behavioural trend just confirms the importance of the social contributions an organisation makes within its customer strategy.

As a CX leader, you can play an important role in your circle of influence – within your company, your industry and the wider world. Ask yourself, how can you add value to society in a focused way, while remaining as true to your company’s core objectives as possible? This circle of influence includes your internal and external stakeholders and those who may be affected, in both a positive and a negative way, by your company’s products, services, policies and actions.

  • They may be more open to new technology

Over the past two decades, technologies like the Internet and the Smartphone have drastically changed the relationship between brands and customers. As customers have enjoyed the benefits, an openness to the rapid adoption of valuable tech has emerged.

AI and other technologies are high up on the agenda for discussion in many boardrooms around the world, and it is becoming clear that they will play an important part in the relationship between customers and brands.

However, what is interesting is that these technologies are most effective when used in combination with strong human attributes. If you find yourself talking about Digital Transformation, stop to also think about the human transformation – or the change in skillset you and your team will need to add real value in the intelligence augmented world.

  • They may be losing interest in traditional jobs

At certain times, most companies will face difficulties in finding enough of the right people to maintain their customer experience. It seems fewer and fewer young people fancy a ‘traditional’ career, and scarcity in the labour market is an on-going challenge.

The world of work is increasingly transparent, and as a leader in your organisation, your own reputation and leadership style can make a big difference in getting the right people on board.

  • They often want low exit barriers

There is no denying it, customer loyalty has declined. One of the reasons for this is the ease with which customers can change who delivers their service.

Loyalty no longer starts with customers, but with companies. Don’t ask the question: ‘How can I make the customer more loyal to my company?’ Ask the question: ‘How can my company show loyalty to the customer?’

This doesn’t always come easily for large organisations, but you need to focus on making life easy for customers, managing their expectations with transparent communication, solving their problems (even if it means pain for you), treating them as an individual and nurturing their positive emotions. If you can follow these steps, you can build a connected community of customers stronger than any loyalty scheme.

The opportunities of the ‘never normal’ customer

The truth is that the stream of societal shocks combined with the characteristics of the ‘never normal’ customer create interesting new opportunities. History has showed that changes in consumer behaviour have often been the key driver behind some of the world’s most successful new businesses, and ultimately, a threat is usually just an opportunity that you have not responded to or have been too slow to respond to.

With this perspective, we are entering an era of exciting opportunity. Think back to the rise of Uber. The company was the first to address the frustration felt by millions of taxi customers around the world by exploiting several existing technologies. Many new financial services emerged in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Even the chocolate spread brand Nutella was born out of a global scarcity of chocolate at the end of World War Two when Ferrero turned this problem into an opportunity, using hazelnuts, sugar and just a little chocolate to create a chocolate paste.

Changes in the market always create opportunities. You just need to think about how customer behaviours and expectations change, spot what it means for you and take action.

Steven Van Belleghem ‘s new book, A Diamond in the Rough, is out now.

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