Brand loyalty has been declining for several years now. No longer are people flying just one airline, washing with only one type of detergent, or wearing only Nike sneakers.
In the age of the empowered customer, people have more options and more influence than ever, and customer retention is difficult to maintain. And it's becoming even more challenging for companies as spending power increases among Millennials and Gen Z—two groups that are fickle, impatient, and extremely tech-savvy.
Customer loyalty has slipped for three years in a row, according to a recent Deloitte report. Customers are choosing cheaper private brands that are just as good as national brands—a trend predicted to continue with customers unwilling to spend more. That means companies need to focus more than ever on becoming customer-centric. Amazon, Cisco, and Sprint have all proclaimed customer-centricity a top priority, and it's a mandate to be shared by many other businesses.
So where are companies missing the mark?
Here are three strategies brands should apply to become truly customer-centric.
1. Get omnichannel right
With the many choices customers have available to them, companies must provide an omnichannel experience.
Empowered customers expect a seamless experience with brands. In the retail sector, that means there must be consistency when a customer wants to buy a product in a store, online, or through direct vendors. Customers expect the same prices, promotions, and product range on whatever channel they interact with a brand.
An inconsistent brand experience is a turn-off. It will drive customers away.
According to PwC's last holiday season forecast, two-thirds of shoppers are now omnichannel consumers. That includes me.
The other day, I was on the Bed Bath & Beyond website via my smartphone, and I attempted to order a gift through a wedding registry. At checkout, I was asked for the shipping address, which didn't make sense, as it should be programmed by the bride and groom. Frustrated, I went to my laptop in attempts to make my failed purchase. Through my computer, I was able to complete the transaction successfully.
That story highlights time wasted, a disappointing user experience, and most importantly, an ineffective omnichannel strategy.
Brands must pay close attention to the experience customers receive in person (whether in a direct store or through a reseller), on the Web, and via mobile.
2. Hire a chief customer officer
As companies begin to recognize the importance of listening to the empowered customer, it is paramount that the customer's point of view is represented at the highest level of the organization.
Enter the chief customer officer (CCO)—an executive responsible for aligning a company's goals with customers' needs.
More established brands are hiring C-level professionals to lead the charge to resolve customer issues, drive the company-customer relationship, and create profit, according to a recent report by the CCO Council.
Currently, 10% of Fortune 500 companies have already adopted the CCO role, a percentage that jumps to 22% among the Fortune 100.
Why the need for a CCO? I'm not the first to point out that the customer is no longer "owned" by any particular department but rather "shared" between various key business verticals: Operations, Marketing, Product, IT, etc. As customer satisfaction and retention become the key factors that indicate a company's success, a CCO emerges as an indispensable part of the C-suite.
3. Give customer data a voice
Marketers have been turning to customer data to help guide decision-making for some time, but the convergence of marketing tools and Web technologies has changed the game.
Businesses have unprecedented access to individual transaction-level data, which can be matched with online activities, social engagement and, most importantly, ongoing customer intelligence and feedback.
Arguably the most important objective of data-driven marketing is to understand why customers do the things they do so brands can give them what they want.
For example, say a customer named Kelly goes to Starbucks every day for a month, except two times. Two times she instead chooses to walk into Peet's. Though Starbucks and Peet's can collect transactional data over time and try to match it with her online behavior, neither company knows why Kelly prefers Starbucks and why that brand lost Kelly on two occasions. Kelly is more than the wake she leaves behind with her credit card. Did she see a promotion? A new drink type?
Unlocking "the why" behind these decisions—through an actual customer-brand dialogue—is the secret to growing a brand's market share. A brand can engage in these conversations through secure, online communities made up of many customers and tap them on an ongoing basis to uncover preferences, opinions, and insights.
Robust information helps companies make more informed and better business decisions to keep existing customer and attract new ones.
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