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Context is key when it comes to customer decisions


October 12, 2022

I’ve made a handful of leisure trips in the past year. They’ve all been different. I’ve travelled with different people for different reasons. Wherever I’ve gone, though, I’ve noticed the world around me has changed quite dramatically, and the places I’ve been to have been marked by current events. Interrailing through a Covid-marked Europe, in shock as the war had just started. That was an emotional journey, yet exciting since it was such a great experience to do the train rides with my daughters. Travelling in Sweden with my Swedish parents was nostalgic, yet frustrating, because of the convenience the two octogenarians needed. And flying to Greece with the entire family was fun and relaxing, but the “flygskam” (shame of flying) nagged me.

I cycle when I want I drive when I want
I cycle when I want I drive when I want

It turns out I’m not the only one with mixed feelings when making consumer decisions. The Human Paradox report, research I recently worked on, showed that 69% of consumers globally admitted to behaving inconsistently and stated that they think paradoxical behaviors are both human and acceptable. And we learned that “oversimplifying segmentation and underestimating the impact of life forces on behavior has led to a growing disconnect between what companies think their customers want and what consumers say they want.” Customers have always been complicated and have gotten even more complicated as they are adapting to an unpredictable world.

With so much in flux, we decided the best way to understand the situation was to dig into the complexity of human minds and how we think when we act as consumers. We went through several steps to deepen our understanding and in this blog, I wanted to talk about something that never made it to the final report, but it was a great help for the team and me to advance our thinking.

A method to get into customer minds

We tested many ways to understand how customer expectations from brands are changing. Over and over, context came up. So, we decided it was time to look at mindsets. While this research methodology isn’t new as a tool, it may not have been used as much as it should because it has become quicker and easier to paint a clearly defined customer profile with the abundant available customer behavioral data. That data is fantastic as a tool but if you only ask the data about the specific moments when interactions with a customer happen, you will not have a complete story and miss all the context around what a person is thinking.

The mindsets we used, which map out people’s approaches to important everyday things like money, shopping, travel, and health have been developed and updated several times within Accenture Song. Some mindsets are fluid. People move between them, just as I had different expectations and experiences in my travel. Shopping mindsets are also very fluid.

In our research, we saw how each mindset impacts decision-making on purchases and the expectations on brands.

Imagine yourself shopping for the same type of product when you are stressed for time, when you feel relaxed, when you are alone or with friends. Other mindsets are more static, such as how we think about managing our money or health. But in times like these, with life forces pushing us in multiple directions simultaneously, even these mindsets become more fluid.

In our research, we saw how each mindset impacts decision-making on purchases and the expectations on brands. Even when priorities remain the same at the highest level, things look very different when you get into the finer details.

Building consumer trust has gotten trickier

For example, think about trust. Trust is an essential yet very vague concept that’s so difficult to grasp. Trust can mean many things. For most people, reasonable pricing is a key component of trust-building (not necessarily low price; reasonable price). But when people are in an exploratory mindset, we learned that the sourcing of the product is even more critical for building trust. And when people are in a highly focused mindset, the secure handling of personal data is the most important trust-builder.

Another example is convenience. A focused mindset will see the quick overview of options as the most important convenience factor. Somebody slightly more exploratory might appreciate the flexible delivery options more. And somebody far more exploratory sees the store design and the inspirational suggestions as key for the convenience experience.

A lifestyle centric approach

As we learned more about how we as customers move between mindsets—when shopping, booking our travel, interacting with our bank, our insurance provider—it becomes clear that companies cannot expect their customers to behave in the same way from time to time. There is rarely, if ever, one single customer journey, but parallel ones that we constantly move around in.

And yet, many companies like to describe their customer experience in a singular way. Very few people would put their whole attention into their interaction with a company. For most of us, we have a lot of things going on in our heads at the same time. And yet, many companies think of their customers as one-dimensional creatures who only do one thing at a time.

Context will tell which mindset we are in and how our expectations change. And what makes it even trickier is how context is likely to continue changing. What’s the solution for today’s organizations to meet consumers where they are? Become a more life-centric enterprise. Creating options, addressing consumer values, and connecting to the multi-faceted people that consumers are today— along with the world in which they’re living—will help organizations be better positioned to meet the future, no matter what the future holds.

Lifestyle-centric brands will:

  • Look how they’re analyzing consumer data to be sure they do not erroneously understand their customers a tidy persona or profile. Understanding a customer’s “why” could be as important as demographics.
  • Stay flexible so they’re prepared to adapt and deliver to accommodate shifting circumstances.
  • Simplify the way that customers can understand and move between different types of products and offerings.

Appealing to consumers is not about distilling a customer’s profile down to one thing because, let’s face it, people are complex. Customers never were and certainly, now, in this new and ever-changing world, never will be simple profiles. 


Agneta Björnsjö

Global Research Lead – Accenture Song