What does the age of the consumer really mean?

It is widely accepted that today we are living in the "age of the consumer". This has prompted brands across all industries to recognise the importance of customers and placing them at the centre of decision making.

Discussing what the “age of the consumer” really means during a recent panel discussion held at Marketing’s Customer Experience Conference 2016, was Christina Lim, director of brand and marketing at NTUC FairPrice Co-operative. Joining her on the panel was Tomasz Kurczyk, digital transformation director at AXA Singapore and Stephanie Myers, a senior marketing professional with both client and agency side experience. Lim said:

It is a time where profitability is a result of customer happiness. It is an age where the customers are the CEOs.

Also putting customers in the driving seat is the onset of social media.

The court of public opinion is now a daunting one for most marketers as they become far more cautious in their decisions impacting consumers.  But this is not to say brands have lost all control over the influence they have on consumers. More than ever today, consumers are willing to give up more information about themselves for a seamless, convenient experience.

With the abundance of data offered up to organisations today, marketers now can not only understand consumers better but also shape and influence their choices, said panelists.

According to Kurczyk, having intimate relationships and knowledge about customers is now a must, given the increasing tools and technology present in the market today. What the trick is, is in finding the right balance and not invading the privacy of customers.

“The crucial part is not to cross the line to becoming creepy. The journey is in finding the right balance so the customer does not feel like you are stalking him/her,” Kurczyk said.

He further adds that this can sometimes be an issue for more advanced organisations as they are able to analyse the customer "a little too precisely."

Meeting expectations

In the age of the customer, expectations are sky high. Consumers expect their experiences with brands to be smooth sailing at every touch-point. As such, brands need to pay even more attention to micro-moments.  Any good moment is a chance for the brand to tell a good story which will stick to the customers’ positive memory. Similarly, every moment in crisis is also a chance for a brand to redefine itself.

“I think the challenge for us now is not so much catching up with the competition, which we are worried about as well, but rather catching up with the customer,” Lim said. She added that brands need to maintain their promises and constantly deliver on it to make sure advocacies are built.

Lim added that rather than constantly investing marketing dollars to acquire new audiences, brands should leverage on opportunities to work with various service providers and partnerships it already has established in the market.

Moreover, more marketers should consider involving customers to be part of a solution and to try out new initiatives, said Lim. This helps build brand build affinity with its target base and  build tolerance as customers can better understand the motives behind the change.  Lim said

There is a need to make the customer feel like they have a choice and there is a seeking of their input and making certain changes. Customers want know they have say in some of the changes and decisions the brand is making.

Meanwhile Kurczyk said engagement and on-going conversations help consumers to understand your brand and choices. “What is important is not to disappoint, if we can deliver a seamless experience, customers will appreciate it as this is good enough,” Kurczyk said.

Taking personalisation to scale

Panelists agreed that when it comes to personalised experiences, it more often than not a  psychological trigger.

According to Lim, for her business of selling packaged goods, personalisation is really making sure you have the kind of price that customers want. For other industries it could be the effectiveness of the service platform.

On taking personalisation to suit a large scale of consumer, Lim points out the issue could be an expensive one. Lim gives the example of Tesco, which is known for taking a personalised approach by acquiring information from its Clubcard membership database to send personalised emails on incentives and offers to its customers on products they would purchase.

Lim said while this is a great initiative, customising every offer can be a difficult to execute especially with the additional challenges when tapping on email communication despite looking into clusters of customer behaviour from an analytics standpoint.

If you want to be truly customer-centric, you will have to customise your offer for select groups of customers. Otherwise you will get paralysis from analysis.

Panelists also agreed that scaling up personalisation would require the help of third party vendor. This is especially given the increasingly specific digital skill sets and tools needed for successful engagement with consumers.

"I think it is essential to have your partners, because digital skill sets these days are so incredibly specialised, and the tools that we need are so incredibly specialised, so it is unrealistic to think an average organisation can bring all that in house. We need to appreciate where we are and the kind of help we need,” Myers said.

The flip side to that is that if organisations become over reliant, maybe it is time to build a team or extend the department because a good balance for ownership and for governance is needed to truly serve the brand.

Starting point in a brand’s digital transformation

“It depends on how ambitious you want to be as an organisation. You need to decide if you want to be at the cutting edge of innovation and disrupt business models through innovation in your space or be early adopters, or play it safe,” Kurczyk said.

He added that there is no hard and fast rule and a plan should be mapped out based on a company’s business objectives.

“Some just want to maintain their position, there isn’t a high need to be experimental or venture too far into the space of unknown experimentation and testing,” Kurczyk adds.

When asked on catering to the aging population in Singapore and balancing technology uptake, Lim said:

“There is always a debate in our organisation on being careful in moving too quickly into digital marketing as a lot of our customers are older and are not always as well versed in technology. But we know it is just a matter of time before they try new things,” Lim said.

As such the brand made an effort to build awareness as to how technology can be used to make the lives of customers easier. But she notes, embracing digital is vital in a world where customers are time starved.

“The world itself is complex, so we should aim to make it simpler hence that is the starting point,” Lim said.

Taking payment options as an example, having a self-checkout system now gives NTUC FairPrice consumers the option on how they wish to navigate queues. For those with smaller baskets this is particularly effective as they are able to get out of the store even quicker.

“Take Tesco for example, they did an R&D project in 2014 Berlin using virtual reality goggles to navigate the store and shop. Imagine no screaming kids. The starting point is always customers,” Lim added, stressing that a brand should always place their customers at the central of the experience.

The perfect experience

On anticipating what comprises the perfect customer experience and how marketers should prepare for it, the panel agreed that there is no such thing as the perfect customer experience.

“What helps is the recognition that customers will always view themselves as most important. For an organisation to succeed, it needs to make sure that it continues to use that as a navigator of future decisions and preparing your organisation for cultural changes,” Lim said.

Kurczyk recommends breaking the silos in the organisation and using the customer journey in supporting day to day operations in different departments. He also mentions the importance in utilising and adopting the right technologies relevant to the business and its consumers, but at the same time recognise that some experiences cannot be substituted with technology. He said:

Deliver the value of the experience but make sure the bottom line is not corrupted.