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Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

In his letter to shareholders from March 2020, BlackRock chair Larry Fink, considered one of the most powerful businesspeople on Wall Street, set the scene for the importance of customer experience (CX) in brands surviving and thriving post-pandemic: “People worldwide are fundamentally ​rethinking the way they work, shop, travel and gather. When we exit this crisis, ​the world will be different.” ​

Seven CX lessons for SA brands to drive preference, loyalty and advocacy

Even those who don’t consider themselves numbers people find themselves captivated by the number seven because of its psychological and to some, magical, properties. From the seven colours of the rainbow to the seven deadly sins, from it’s prime number status to the various religious connotations, there’s something in it for everyone: even in casinos, three sevens side-by-side signify a big win at the slot machines. 

Speaking of three, the top three societal disruptions and trends bound to further accelerate in 2021 are those of “digital everything”, ranging from work to social interactions; the “era of the public”, echoing a desire for businesses and brands to have greater societal purpose and responsibility​; and the prominence of mental health and emotional wellbeing as we live increasingly isolated lives. ​ 

Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

These highlight the importance of what people experience and how they feel towards brands, companies and society overall today, as CX augments customer spend. Research from Deloitte proves companies performing well on CX are 60% more profitable than companies that don’t. 

The main criteria for business success today is therefore to ensure the customer sits at your boardroom table. But customer-centricity during a crisis is not about replicating an existing journey onto a different channel. Success will be determined by how well a brand adapts to meet peoples’ needs and emotions as new habits and behaviours transform. Enhancing how people experience your​ brand can convert the crisis ​into a growth opportunity for your business​. ​

We unpack seven CX insights to ring-fence your brand from the downturn and focus on growth.

1. Me, myself and you

The concept of customer experience is being revolutionised as brands realise the opportunity to grow by helping their people grow. Build engagement by supporting customers’ personal development journeys with a duality of deep social connection and helping them discover their “new me” identity in everything now done from home.

Drive brand loyalty by facilitating this transformation in the social sphere to understand the social and cultural drivers of change. This is more intimate than CX’s current focus on personalisation. Just think of mass market brand IKEA’s brand purpose of co-creating a better everyday life.

2. Smashing the CX script

We still have many daily experiences in times of pandemic, from tech issues when working from home, to ordering in meals and groceries. As this largely digital interaction has heightened human emotions and made them laser-sharp, brands need to manage the customer relationship beyond the functional perspective.

Our CX+ 2020 study shows only 18% of consumers are delighted about their last experience with a brand, so we’re wasting 80% of the opportunity to create positive memories that translate into brand preference, a long-term driver of brand loyalty.

The Verge confirms even giants such as Amazon make changes to enhance their customer experience in everything from prioritising food delivery to ​implementing a longer-return policy and offering Covid-19 symptom support via Siri.

3. Human-centric CX

Making the world a better place may have been top of mind at the start of 2020, but the pandemic quickly put this to the test. Because human-centricity isn’t just about your customer, it’s about humanity at large. People are more likely to buy from companies that show flexibility and empathy towards employees, so take on human-centric, fearless and bold category leadership to be noticed and valued. 

Microsoft proved its long-term human-centricity by offering customers and partners six-month free trials of the premium version of the Teams app to help scholars and those now working from home.

4. CX as the infinite game

In early 2019, the American Marketing Association’s Marketers Confidence Index with Kantar showed that marketers already felt unprepared to market in the digital age, without sufficient training and the right operating model​ to be competitive​. Imagine how they feel now that everyone’s been thrust into a world that’s digital-first?

Companies have quickly embraced the “infinite game” mindset, a concept introduced by Simon Sinek. They’re building stronger, more innovative, more inspiring organisations where leaders have the resilience to thrive in an ever-changing world, leading the rest of us into the future. 

As Amazon’s Jeff Bezos famously said, we need to embrace our customers always being beautifully dissatisfied. Every company needs to adopt the mantra: “What’s the next thing? What’s the next improvement? What’s the next way we will delight our people?”

5. Demand for CX coherence has amplified 

People’s expectations of companies have dramatically changed since the pandemic started. Customers are hungry for promises they can trust and expect businesses to play a part in solving the crisis to build trust and strengthen long-term relationships with customers. ​ 

Translating this to the world of CX means ensuring the actual customer experience fits your brand promise authentically, with integrity and openness, as that’s where the real magic comes to play. Volvo mastered this challenge perfectly. Aware that people have deeper worries than buying a new car now, the brand reminded the world that they are there, their brand promise is still valid, and they care, which strengthened their brand promise. 

6. Reimagine the customer journey

Our CX+ 2020 study found that, despite 95% of grocery retail businesses believing online spend will increase, only 55% were actively upping their e-commerce capabilities, and just 20% were seen by customers to offer excellent online shopping experiences. With online groceries set to grow 10 times as fast as offline, grocery retailers need to continue to rise to the challenge to innovate and find the opportunity — and do so quickly, because customers often switch retailers when switching channels. 

But despite the rise of all things digital, there’s more to it than just focusing on online and e-commerce right now. Consumer behaviour patterns overall are shifting, with 37% of those surveyed intending to continue to buy from new physical stores, and 69% think buying local is the way of the future. Investigate new formats and business models to fit changing needs, shopping journeys, and buying power, as success will come from reinventing channel strategies to the best-performing channels. Also test upcoming models of growth and partnerships such as social commerce, direct to consumer, and voice-led search. ​

​7. Experiential sustainability

Last year saw strengthening support for issues of inclusion and diversity across the globe, from the #BlackLivesMatter movement to more interest in US politics than ever before. Kantar also found that 85% of people want to buy products from companies that support society and causes they care about. Young people in particular demand that brands not take a passive approach, so get involved, show your colours, and put that ethos into everything you do in this age of two-way conversation, beyond just your brand values.

Brands today need to fit the flux and step it up, re-examine their brand purpose and ensure a continued but authentic fit with the shifting culture of consumer lifestyles. Levi’s set a notable example in this regard, by fully disclosing their employee diversity make-up, while formulating a pledge and actions to do better. Sustainable change means having a higher-order purpose beyond the environmental issues which initiated the push for progress. 

But responses to social issues need to be authentic, appropriate, credible and true, so formulate a long-term transformation plan around the seven anchors of​ sustainable organisations:

Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR
Picture: SUPPLIED/KANTAR

Taking experiential sustainability to heart, it’s about driving change and actively doing rather than just talking. The next decade will be about offering the best societal experience, so it’s time to truly champion your customers’ needs.

The deciding factor of success or defeat will be how well a brand has adapted to the emotions of its customers and how well it can implant itself in the minds and hearts of customers: ​it’s now or never.

Find out more about our CX+ study and join the conversation on LinkedIn and Twitter.

About the author: Mark Molenaar is director: customer experience, SA, Insights division at Kantar.

This article was paid for by Kantar.

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