It’s 2018 and simply put, customers are tired. Oversaturation is affecting retail and eCommerce sales across a variety of sectors. From an abundance stores hawking readily available fast fashion, electronics, consumables, and other consumer goods with increasingly rapid paces, customers and retailers alike are fatigued. Additionally, flash sales, promotions, and holiday-related markdowns occur steadily throughout the year. This doesn’t even take into account the number of advertisements and branded content cluttering up media outlets online, on TV, and in day-to-day life. According to the American Marketing Association, the average consumer is exposed to over 10,000 brand messages per day. So, with customers constantly bombarded with choices, are retailers and marketers actually analyzing the effects their tactics have? Is this benefiting their bottom line? Let’s dig a little deeper.
Understanding & Anticipating Needs
Before the marketing campaigns, social media outreach, and even before retailers open for business, entrepreneurs need to do a little psychological research into the minds of their potential customers. What drives their demand for certain products? What tactics appeal to their desire to buy something?
With some qualitative analysis or customer research, retailers can gain some in-depth insights into these motivational aspects. This level of analysis should be used in order to enhance services and products offered. It may also help identify new opportunities for product and service development or improve other elements of how your organization is run.
When starting out with customer research, some key principles need to be addressed:
- Start with an end in mind. The information gathered should result in improvements or an enhanced relationship with customers
- Research should directly feed into a customer service strategy. This strategy should also be updated regularly to account for changes in customer behavior along with shifts in demand.
- All research should be forward-looking, not or reactionary.
- Data should enable you to identify trends and specific causal and effect relationships. These will allow you to set targets.
- Research should be actionable. Again, it should result in specific improvements that can be measurable (increased conversions, in-store sales, new subscriptions, more qualified leads, etc.)
- Customer time is precious. Don’t waste it.
Depending on the size and scale of your business, this may be well-utilized in independent market research. Outsourcing this ensures that there’ll be a strict adherence to professional research standards, an emphasis on objectivity, as well as constructive feedback from real, everyday people who could all be potential customers.
If you decide to go down that route, consider some aspects and dimensions on which you may want some more insight. Let’s say you decide to outsource this research in the form of a focus group. What are some things you’d want feedback on?
Start with brand and image impressions. What do customers first encounter when they see your product on store shelves or in eCommerce stores? Do they have a positive experience with how your product is visually portrayed? Do you have a readily identifiable logo or professional packaging that instills trust? If this focus group is reviewing the products themselves, consider how they’ll react to quality and if they perceive your product to be well-priced and live up to its value proposition. In terms of delivery, is the way you’re distributing goods feasible and customer-friendly? Lastly, think about what it would take to turn those potential first-time customers into long-time brand loyalists. Is there a sustainable demand that would drive more and more customers back to your products or services?
Anticipating Customer Expectations
Now that you’ve considered actual needs regarding your product, how it’s portrayed, and how it’s distributed and accessed, consider the expectations your customers may have about your brand and product at large. Remember that customers have more than their fair share of choices when it comes to products available to them. What will be the defining factors that intrigue customers and entice them to return for more?
While you can provide the most advanced product that may be objectively the best on the market, it won’t see any traction unless you have the infrastructure and customer support to back it up.
According to Kissmetrics, customer service plays a crucial role in leveraging customer expectations into actionable results and lasting brand loyalty. They highlight a very telling truism about customer service, “Great customer service and poor customer service are the two extremes that get talked about. Good customer service doesn’t.”
When you think about it, it’s only logical that both extremes would merit the most attention, either positive or negative, while qualitatively “good” customer service experiences are likely to be overlooked.
Kissmetrics asserts that when people use a service, they subconsciously go in with a certain degree of expectations. This harkens back to that popular customer service fundamental, “The customer is always right.”
When Harry Gordon Selfridge, the founder of the iconic Selfridge’s department store in London, coined the phrase, such an idea was groundbreaking at the time. In the early 20th century, particularly among more upscale stores, the vast majority of retail centered on bespoke, regimented experiences and products. Customers would typically only go to a store for the product they were seeking, an order would be placed, and it would be delivered at a later date. “Simply browsing” wasn’t an option and department stores routinely staffed floorwalkers who would actually eject people they perceived to be dawdling or not inclined to buy anything. This all changed with Selfridge’s. With that modern axiom that retailers worldwide still abide by, Selfridge also championed other key innovations such as ready-to-wear clothing that was available for immediate purchase, a keen understanding of retail merchandising that placed more affordable, staple items deeper in the store, and fundamentally, an emphasis on good customer service.
What set Selfridge’s apart was the importance the store placed on building relationships and fostering long-term brand loyalty, things that we consider to be paramount in today’s retail and marketing landscapes.
However, modern expectations tend to vary by industry and priority. In restaurants, for example, people tend to expect food to arrive at their table within 10 to 15 minutes for mid to low-tier eateries. Gourmet establishments have a few more minutes in terms of expected wait times. Anything longer than 20 minutes at any restaurant will typically cause customers to complain.
In more blue-collar establishments such as auto body shops which are perceived to be male-dominated enterprises, the expectation for attentive customer service isn’t particularly high, which makes good customer service a key differentiator. However, for more family and female-oriented businesses such as coffee shops, clothing stores, and other boutiques, the expectations for customer service tend to be much higher.
So, you’ve taken the time to analyze your targeted customer base and provide them with a certain level of customer service and support to which they’ve become accustomed. What’s going to motivate them to buy from you and keep coming back?
According to Entrepreneur, there are two psychological factors that motivate customers to buy:
- Current Dissatisfaction
- Future Promise
In terms of current dissatisfaction, purchasing decisions start with an inherent dissatisfaction. It could be the perceived or designed obsolescence of a product the customer already has. This is a common tactic employed automotive and electronics companies. No one needs the latest iteration of the iPhone. However, Apple has cultivated such a strong following that every new product release will motivate their core customer base to ditch their old phones in exchange for newer, shinier versions year after year.
After that dissatisfaction is identified, namely the aspect or feature that’s “wrong” about a customer’s current product, companies can lead them to a future promise of something that “rights” that wrong. Knowing these beginning and endpoints will enable brands and retailers to ask the right questions.
What’s a must-have priority for a customer? How do they define a future product or service that’s ideal? With those questions in mind, the process can start all over again. Key information or feedback can be used to improve current processes or create something brand new that fills that gap. What changes is the medium through which this is mediated, whether businesses are interfacing with customers in brick & mortar outlets or forging digital relationships through live chat support on eCommerce stores? However, despite these variables, the fundamentals of anticipating needs, expectations, and motivations continue to be part of an evolving, analytical process.