In some ways, our digital world has made personal relationships easier. We can quickly meet new people online, chat before we meet in person, and share everything from photos to favorite movies, even before a first date. But after making a connection, we can also search for information about the person on the web or social networks and make judgements before they have a chance to show us who they really are. Trust seems harder to build, and digital communication, devoid of body language and tone, can often lead to misunderstandings.
The same holds true for the relationships that exist today between brands and consumers. Trust and clear communication often prove elusive, and the relationship can end before love has a chance to bloom.
Customer engagement meets the digital economy
Brands want advocates, or at least loyal customers. However, shoppers now hold the keys to the relationship, often visiting online forums, social media, review websites, and more without ever visiting a store or listening to a marketing message. To establish meaningful long-term relationships, brands must understand their customers’ expectations – including what makes them happy and what might lead to a “breakup” with a brand.
The good news is that while shoppers have an array of tools at their disposal, brands do too. Big Data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are improving the customer experience and helping brands get closer to being a real partner. But experience goes only so far. Despite their willingness to share data to have a great experience, consumers also want privacy and expect their data to be protected while being given transparency in how it’s used. This means that brands which give their customer a say in how their data is used are more likely to succeed in the digital economy.
Sharing is caring: When it comes to data
What do people expect in today’s digital environment? To find out, we conducted a survey of more than 20,000 consumers worldwide. Our 2017 SAP Hybris Consumer Insights Report found that 80 percent of respondents are willing to share some information with brands, which isn’t a major surprise given that most people want to have personalized experiences and understand that this requires some degree of openness. What was interesting, however, were the dramatic differences between countries and cultures. For instance, only 52% of consumers in Japan were willing to share personal information, compared to 92% in Colombia and India.
Respondents from every country except Russia said that their email address was the information they were most willing to share. Next on the list of “shareable” information were shopping history and preferences – but not always. Nearly half of consumers in the Middle East would sooner share their mobile number than either of those. And when it comes to sharing across borders, that’s actually a big deal. For example, 40% of the Americans who were willing to share personal data changed their mind when they knew it would leave the United States.
Winning a customer over isn’t easy
Just like with any relationship, keeping it strong takes work. Nearly 90% of consumers want questions answered within 24 hours – which seems like a long time when you consider how web searches have led us to expect instant answers, but incredibly short to employees who are scrambling to respond.
Consumers also expect brands to actively protect their interests when using their personal data and not bombard them with unwanted information or irrelevant promotions. And speaking of promotions, our respondents made it clear that consistency is important. They expect brands to offer the same promotions online as in-store. But don’t mistake a desire for consistency with a desire for the mundane. Shoppers say they like good surprises, too – so put a perk, discount, or freebie in their inbox, and you’ll be rewarded with more than just a smile.
Losing a customer is easier than you may think
Our global survey, which produced results from 20 countries across Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America, found not only what it takes to keep customers happy, but what also what makes them walk away. We expected that “unresponsive customer service” would be the top reason for a consumer to abandon a brand – but it wasn’t. It came in second place, nine percentage points behind “used customer’s data without their knowledge” which 80% of respondents called out as being the deal-breaker. Other runners-up in the category were “spammed unnecessarily,” which was cited by 57% of consumers, and “made mistake more than twice,” which 53% said would cause them to leave. So – if you want to lose a customer quick, just abuse their data.
Make up or break up? The ball is in your court
The customer may hold the power in the modern relationship, but they’re more than willing to share it. It’s up to brands to make sure that their people, processes, and technology are ready to take on that responsibility. Deliver great experiences across channels, protect the customer’s data, and make it feel like a partnership, and you’ll be rewarded. Use or share their data without permission, bombard them with irrelevant communications, or ignore them completely, and they’ll be gone before you can make things right. The choice is yours.
For more on customer engagement strategies, see Three Ways To Ensure Your Customer Is Heard.