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2019: How Customer Preferences Guide The Customer Experience

March 26th, 2019 12 min read

We are hearing a lot about the customer experience these days – and the idea is here to stay.

The only way a company can give customers a great experience is through knowing their preferences first. Of course, every company is going to have different customers with a different set of motivations and expectations. Customers in all fields are experiencing similar large scale changes in technology and purchasing patterns.  

Every year we see new trends emerge as technology evolves and buyer journeys shift. We are now well underway into 2019 — it’s time to look at where customer preferences are heading.

Omnichannel Experiences Make Customer Experiences Seamless

Customers expect businesses to keep up with their reality—they can find reviews, marketing content, and competitor pricing and inventory across all their devices. They expect to see these things in-store as well. B2C customers both “showroom” and “webroom shop,” meaning that they either look at products in-store and then make an online purchase or vice versa.

Customers want the best prices and quality of products, but they also want their digital and physical worlds to interact. Companies that integrate these customer realities together give customers a better experience. Omnichannel shopping is when customers can experience all the multichannel touchpoints seamlessly. When online stores don’t line up with physical stores, customers can become confused and frustrated or even lose interest. For example, customers might prefer their favorite local pizza place, but if there are no mobile ordering and delivery options, they might choose a bigger chain instead.

What do customers want?

Customers want all the touchpoints they experience to come together. Otherwise, they will go somewhere else for better pricing, quality, or a more desirable experience.

REI has already picked up on this shift in customer mindset. The REI App allows salespeople (who all carry iPhones on them) and customers to scan in-store products to see customer reviews and other details. This allows customers to experience their digital and physical realities as one. They get to see reviews and product details online. Additionally, they interact with a human sales rep and feel the physical products. They get the immersive, tangible feel of traditional shopping with the versatility of an online platform.

It is not just B2C customers who want integration between all their touchpoints. B2B customers prefer to have a seamless omnichannel customer journey as well.

B2B Customers

Forrester reported that 60% of B2B buyers no longer rely on salespeople as the primary sources of information in their journey. Instead, the majority of customers prefer to do their research online.

Product demos, user reviews, and the company/product website are the three sources of information B2B buyers rely on most. A company’s website is the most frequently visited destination during all stages of a B2B buyer’s journey–from discovery to evaluation and selection. It’s easy to return to, and buyers want to hear straight from the source so that they can cross-reference the information they find elsewhere with a vendor’s own information. But customers expect more from a website than simple broadcasting information like what a company is, what it does, and how it helps. They want personalized portal access, helpful content, social proof, ROI calculators, augmented reality, and instant messaging with real sales reps and the ability to call or use video chat. The website should be a platform for integrated marketing, sales, and support.

For B2B companies that do have physical locations, such as FedEx, business shoppers expect to have complete integration between their desktop, mobile apps, and physical experiences.

Consumers are accustomed to interacting with companies along multiple channels. But customers increasingly want to experience these different touch points as one integrated process.

Friction is the Enemy

With the rise of automation and technologies that make consumer’s lives more convenient and streamlined than ever, any amount of friction when buying or using products and services is noticed and causes frustration. Friction can appear at any point along the customer journey — not finding relevant or helpful content, complicated or slow check-out options, or disconnected and unhelpful customer service.

With the demand for mobile access, companies that do not offer mobile-friendly websites or apps will lose customers who expect to access content whenever and wherever they want. Google’s search ranking algorithms are starting to reflect this as well, with more priority given to mobile-optimized sites.

Dennis Maloney, the Chief Digital Officer at Domino’s, says that “customers today are impatient, and their standards are unforgiving. Increasingly, consumers expect brands to intuitively know what they need, when they need it, and deliver it instantly. Tackling those challenges has meant rethinking the way our business operates.”

Reviews play their part

With the increase of online reviews and shopping, both B2C and B2B customers move along their journey quickly. Many customers start their research and make their payments on the same day.

With the increased expectation to do things quickly and excellently, customers do not like it when anything gets in their way.

Take Amazon Go stores, for example. With the Amazon Go app, shoppers can enter the store, grab any product and walk out of the store without any line or check-out process. Lines and checkouts are a normal part of the shopping experience, yet they slow customers down from their fast-paced lives. Friction, even when normal and anticipated, is still friction. Customers are seeking companies that keep friction to a minimum.

Mark Bartlett, Chief Experience Officer of FPX, believes that the B2B space will also see innovative advancements that reduce friction in the buying process. He believes that the integration of voice-activated and CPQ technologies are the next big frontier in the B2B buying journey.

Bartlett writes, “The biggest strength of voice commerce is its ability to reduce friction in the buying process. This already plays out well in the B2C world: Users can easily make purchases using their voice if their hands are tied, or if they find the act of navigating e-commerce sites too tedious. The ability to reduce friction in this manner could significantly ease B2B buyer frustrations, and completely transform the space.”

Personalized Content From Trusted Business Relationships

Personalized content is not a new thing, but customers now expect it as a routine part of their customer journey. Customers even get frustrated when content isn’t directed at them individually. A recent Adobe study found that 42% of participants get annoyed if the content isn’t personalized.

On the other hand, companies need to find creative and non-intrusive ways to deliver this personalized content. Another study found that 75% of customers believe that personalization is creepy to some extent and 22% would choose other brands after feeling crept upon.

Customers expect personalization, yet still find it intrusive depending on how it is executed. Companies need to tread lightly.

Customer Loyalty and Customer Experience 

One way to do that is by getting customer buy-in first. Customer loyalty programs are one way to build transparent relationships with customers. Customers want to be understood and remembered by brands that they already trust and regularly frequent.

Nordstroms’ Nordy Club is a prime example of how a retailer is using a loyalty program to deliver individualized content, deals, notifications, and experiences to people who want personal attention. The program allows members to upload their personal profile and keeps track of shopping history, reserved items for in-store try ons, and even gives personalized in-home stylist services to the most loyal of customers.

This type of personalization enhances their customer experience, rather than making them feel stalked by a stranger.

Personalization is not reserved for the B2C realm. B2B buyers want personal attention too. Perhaps even more than B2C customers, B2B clients base their continued business on a trusted relationship.

B2B buyers expect to have solid communication with their vendors—especially when it comes to continued support or client success teams. A relationship simply isn’t possible if B2B customers aren’t receiving personalized information, opportunities to share feedback, or attention. Personalization in the B2B space might not manifest itself in a digital loyalty program, but it will certainly be a part of a strong retention strategy.

Transparency Builds Customer Trust

More than ever, customers value the transparency of companies. Customers have access to customer reviews online and can detect when marketers and salespeople are overselling their products.

Companies have a hard time earning customer trust. The 2018 B2B Buying Disconnect found that only 37% of buyers believe their vendor was open and honest about product limitations. That’s why customers turn to customer reviews and peers to learn more about products they are considering.

Customers trust personal referrals and online reviews because they are typically balanced and unbiased. This is true in B2B and B2C spaces.

Customers don’t only want transparency about the quality and features of a product. Customers today are looking at how transparent companies are about their business practices. They also want to know how they treat their employees and the values they hold as a company.

According to Rachel Barton, managing director at Accenture Strategy, a company used to build trust with customers by doing what they said they would. But now, she writes, “it has moved to trusting the foundations and purpose on which a company is built.”

Even B2B shoppers care about the companies’ environmental, social, and philanthropic efforts. 80% of millennial B2B buyers consider how open vendors are about their ethical principles when choosing who they are going to do business with.

Buyers only come to salespeople once they have done extensive independent research on a company and product. They are not looking for a sales pitch. They are seeking openness and honesty.

Know Your Customers Best

Customer preferences are always shifting. This macro view only shows a general direction of where customer preferences are heading.

To offer enhanced customer experience, companies need to know their specific customers best. Customers will want many things — but companies need to learn what their customers values most and make that a priority.

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