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The Accenture 2011 Global Consumer Research Study identifies key trends in consumer attitudes and behaviors underlying an increasingly challenging marketplace.
The research also suggests five potential blind spots that, when not recognized and addressed, may be hindering companies’ abilities to successfully engage with customers in today’s uncertain economy. Accenture provides actions that companies can take to help address these blind spots, attract and retain customers to contribute to growth and position themselves to achieve high performance.
In the newsRead InformationWeek’s February 27 issue cover story, “From CRM to Social,” [PDF, 3.2 MB] by Doug Henschen. Accenture’s Robert Wollan provides insights, and the article draws on the Accenture 2011 Global Consumer Research.
The rise of the tech-savvy generation, unstable economic conditions and the impacts of globalization certainly have resulted in an increasingly complex consumer landscape. But deciphering what truly drives consumer relationships may be even more difficult than executives think, particularly if they are missing important indicators of behavioral changes.
As consumers continuously re-evaluate their choices for providers, customer acquisition and retention are increasingly difficult to achieve. Satisfying customers, providing more competitive pricing, offering more compelling products or even delivering faster service are no longer – by themselves – sufficient ways to gain and lock-in customers. Today’s unstable economic conditions only add to this complex picture.
Accenture has studied consumer behavior and attitudes via this study for seven years. In 2011, we surveyed more than 10,000 consumers in 27 different countries between September and October. To better understand these behaviors across industries, we asked respondents to evaluate 10 industry sectors (up to four industries per respondent) on issues ranging from expectations and purchasing intentions to loyalty, satisfaction, and switching.
Our study revealed that, on the surface, providers’ relationships with customers appear to be on a solid footing. In fact, one of the study’s significant findings is that customer satisfaction actually increased slightly in 2011. However, a closer look reveals consumers’ wandering eyes, as expectations and provider switching are also on the rise:
Consumers reported increased satisfaction across each of 10 service characteristics evaluated. In fact, satisfaction rates on three customer service characteristics jumped by more than five percentage points from 2010.
However, only an average of one in four consumers feels “very loyal” to his or her providers across industries, and just as many profess no loyalty at all. Furthermore, two-thirds of consumers switched providers in at least one industry in the past year due to poor customer service.
Forty-four percent of consumers said their expectations today are higher than they were just a year ago.
In emerging markets, these contradictions are even more pronounced. While consumers there reported greater customer satisfaction than their mature-market peers, they more often switched providers due to poor service across all industries (in some cases by a 2:1 ratio over mature markets), especially within the Retail, Internet Service Providers, Wireless/cell phone providers and Banking industries.
Adding to the paradox, 59 percent of consumers in emerging markets (compared with 31 percent in mature markets) said their expectations had increased in the past year across more customer service characteristics.
The greatest frustration consumers cite regarding their providers is “having the company deliver something different than what they promise upfront”. This frustration was the most frequently-selected issue regarding companies’ sales and marketing practices as well as companies’ customer service practices (65 percent and 64 percent of consumers, respectively, find it “extremely frustrating”).
Accenture found the rise in satisfaction is likely driven primarily by basic operational improvement—for instance, reducing hold times on the phone—and not by elements that really stand out to customers. Companies are not attending to the things that help keep customers engaged, actions that can help the company sustain growth, such as delivering on promises made throughout all stages of the customer lifecycle and delivering a tailored experience.
Accenture’s analysis revealed five potential blind spots for companies that, when ignored, could make consumers more likely to switch allegiances:
"Nice to meet you." Companies are missing the chance to set expectations at the onset of a customer relationship, especially to ensure that the promise made by marketing is delivered later by customer service.
"You don’t know me anymore." Providers are not noticing more subtle changes that matter in customers’ need for recognition, reward and special treatment.
"Cheating heart." Companies are overlooking signs customers are itching to switch.
"Are you listening?" Organizations are failing to offer consumers opportunities to engage with them, including through digital channels—just as social media are changing many of the rules.
"Trinkets won’t save me." Companies are relying on point solutions to satisfy and keep customers—while customer expectations are increasing.
Our research and experience tell us that companies that recognize and eliminate, or at least dramatically minimize, these blind spots are more likely to attract and retain customers and sustain business growth.
The five blind spots represent possible potential lost opportunities to drive customer engagement—which our research showed to be a stronger overall predictor of anticipated spending patterns than satisfaction. Left unattended, these blind spots could leave customers vulnerable to poaching by a more attractive suitor.
The good news is that blind spots don’t have to remain a drag on companies’ pursuit of stronger customer relationships and growth. Accenture has identified actions companies could take to help minimize or eliminate these blinds spots and, subsequently, improve their ability to attract new customers, retain existing ones, and achieve growth:
Set the right expectations upfront using the right customer insights gleaned from analytics. With switching on the increase, the customer acquisition and set-up processes are more critical than ever. Companies need to proactively clarify what to expect at the onset of the relationship and, at bare minimum, ensure the experience through the entire customer lifecycle meets those expectations. Beyond that, agile companies leverage insights from data analytics to more deeply understand expectations to calibrate their own service delivery.
Recognize customers in increments that matter to them. Customers increasingly want more than a smooth experience—they want to be recognized and rewarded for loyalty. Leading companies monitor customers’ behavior so they can respond when a particular customer’s business pattern changes. Additionally, they seek to build recognition programs around the customer’s perception of important milestones and provide acknowledgements that customers perceive as valuable.
Identify the triggers that signal imminent switching. Companies must recognize when a customer is about to leave, before it is too late. Leading companies also are adept at identifying the warning signs of partial switching that may indicate complete switching is not far away. Additionally, agile companies look well beyond their aggregate customer retention rates, i.e., they continually look “upstream” for reasons existing customers remain customers.
Provide meaningful ways for consumers to engage with the company, including via digital channels. Boosted by social media, customers are craving personal interaction with service providers—especially when it comes to innovation. Leading providers interact with consumers via social media and engage them in areas such as innovation to tap into significant drivers of business growth.
Old ways of courting and trying to retain customers are no longer enough. Companies that use customer insights to identify their blind spots and then develop new capabilities to overcome them are likely to have an edge as they strive for high performance.
January 31, 2012
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