Nowhere is the need for greater agility more pronounced than in business-to-consumer marketing. In the new world of consumer decision making, the customer calls far more of the shots, often with a simple click of a mouse or tap on a touchscreen. Buyers no longer enter a marketing or sales channel but are continuously in the channel. In this world, the consequences for the provider of an irrelevant customer experience can be dire.
Accenture’s latest Global Consumer Research Study shows how fickle consumers really are these days—how rapidly their expectations are rising and how diverse the factors that influence them can be.
The study finds that only one in four consumers feels “very loyal” to his or her providers across industries; just as many claim no loyalty at all. Two-thirds switched providers in at least one industry in the preceding year due to poor customer service. What’s more, the performance bar keeps rising: Forty-four percent of consumers said their expectations are higher than they were only a year earlier. Such contradictions are even more marked in emerging markets.
In this podcast, the authors explain that consumers want services and products that perfectly match their expectations. As a result, marketers must be able to roll out programs in parallel rather than serially—requiring greater agility, which is often hard to achieve. Media Help
These days, the new grail is “extraordinary relevance.” Just as friends and family provide relevant inputs online and in social media, so consumers want services and products that match their expectations perfectly anytime they want them. And it’s never a one-time thing: Customers’ intentions are constantly changing, and the choices they make are increasingly dynamic, open and continuous, so providers must be able to offer a constantly evolving library of experiences.
As a result, marketers must now be able to roll out programs in parallel rather than serially. They must be able to continually refine campaigns based on breaking trends, right up to the last minute. And they need to be agile enough to analyze, on the go, a wide variety of sources of information from the very beginning of a marketing campaign, and be ready to change its focus or its content or its targets on the fly.
That’s not the end of the agility challenge. When it comes to providing relevance, the real differentiator will be the ability to get the right customized messages out on an unprecedented scale—to thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of potential shoppers at the right times through the right channels, in real time. Today, the winning play is not to be relevant to some of the people some of the time; it’s to be relevant to all of the people most of the time.
And the agility challenges are not limited to the B2C arena. Increasingly, consumer-centric behavior is influencing business-to-business activity for the simple reason that people buy for companies in many of the same ways that they buy for themselves.
Agility on the demand side no longer stops at the door of the marketing department. It touches sales and customer service, too, upending every segment of the traditional demand funnel, from the earliest awareness building and consideration to conversion and retention, across all customer touchpoints. Customers don’t see the distinctions: If they cannot return something purchased online to the physical store, that provider has just gotten a black mark.
Today, agility also means being able to flex to meet unexpected surges in demand generated by customer advocacy, where fans of a particular product or service actively propel sales, often through social networks.
To better understand the desires and intentions of so many individual customers, agile companies have developed a heightened ability to read the market; top performers have more finely tuned antennae than their peers. They can predict, sense, respond and adapt in much shorter cycles and in more dimensions than ever before.
They must also be ready to respond to rapid assaults on their reputations. When consumers can use social media to rise up, en masse and literally overnight, corporations do not have the luxury of ignoring the clamor or taking their own sweet time to see if the complaints are serious. Netflix learned that lesson well after it split its services between online streaming and DVD rental, which raised fees sharply for those customers who kept both services. Users turned to Facebook and Twitter to sound their displeasure—and quit the movie-rental service in droves. In response, Netflix scrapped its “Qwikster” rebranding plan for its DVD rental service—a stunning step-back in the face of consumer protests.
Top performers use real-time market data and advanced analytical tools and capabilities to pinpoint unexpected and incipient shifts in customer behavior, sense competitor moves and predict likely trends. “We look for anomalies in the data—what products are growing fast that shouldn’t, which campaigns are not working that should,” explains a leading retailer. “Those nuances tell us something. We just have to be smart enough to listen very carefully.”
More signal, less noise
The latest analytical tools and capabilities help to increase the “signal to noise ratio.” Much the way that night-vision goggles amplify available light, analytical tools’ amplifiers make it easier to filter and make good use of data that was previously considered useless or, at best, discretionary. For instance, when a large chemicals company noticed demand dropping, it dug deeply into the data to find out whether the drop resulted from its customers’ seasonal destocking or a real slowdown in an important market sector.
Top performers also make good use of new social technologies. South Korean carmaker Kia Motors Corp. can attest to the value of using social media to listen to its customers. The seats of its 2012 Kia Optima were designed in response to criticisms “heard” in social media channels about the seat comfort of previous models.
Two points are noteworthy: Companies like Kia pay very close attention to customer sentiment in a host of online forums, and they act very, very quickly on what they see and hear there, even in time for the next product launch cycle. The carmaker’s insight: It can improve and innovate continuously by using technology to pay close attention to what its customers have to say.
About the authors
Glen A. Hartman is the managing director of digital consulting within Accenture Interactive. He is based in Boston.
Baiju Shah is the managing director of strategy and innovation within Accenture Interactive. He is based in Chicago. Robert E. Wollan
is the managing director of Accenture Sales & Customer Services. He is based in Minneapolis.
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