Our customers’ expectations are changing as they are able to connect among themselves and get better answers to their questions. The web has enabled this change and can also help us meet the challenge; at the core of our response is our relationship with each and every customer as well as our online corporate personality.
Let’s follow our customer’s quest, comparing her expectations with the response she is getting from brands. At the very beginning, our customer has a set of needs which she expresses in her own way; she is not a product expert so she doesn’t know exactly what is best for her, what she should be looking for, what’s a reasonable price, in fact she may not even be certain of making the right questions.
With her new web powers she is able to fire off a few search queries which may result in some answers, depending on her language, the topic at hand, and how many other consumers have made the same questions before. The responses she gets from companies are ads and “marketing speak” which she has been conditioned to ignore from years of watching TV or reading magazines, and she gets more useful responses from other consumers, even if they don’t directly address her questions.
If she is brave enough she might even sign up on a forum, ask a question directly, and get different types of responses: some will chide her for even asking, others will offer what they see as the obvious choice (what they themselves have bought), and a few will try to be useful. In so doing she refines her quest.
She then decides she’s done enough research and goes to shops which sell the product she is looking for. Talking to the sales staff she quickly realizes she knows more about the product than they do, and that beyond price promotions and the latest models they are unable to help her further refine her own quest and decide what is best for her. Sales staff may have the very best training, the best motivation, the best of intentions; they are simply out of sync with the customer, who will only go to their shop once (a) she’s tired of searching, (b) needs to solve her need even if she’s unsure of what’s best for her or (c) finds going to more shops a hassle.
The important bit is the difference between our customer’s new expectations and the response – or lack thereof – that she is receiving. Our customer now knows more about the products that may satisfy her needs, but she is also more frustrated, has the feeling that she is missing out on better options, and isn’t finding answers from us; this is what we urgently need to address.
Beyond reacting to our customers we also need to engage them, to propose solutions, to be a player on equal footing, otherwise we run the risk of always playing catch up. The prizes are well known to progressive CEOs around the world, we want the long term relationship, the loyalty, the good referrals, but these need to be earned on the web by being relevant, useful, by investing in goodwill and trust. This is hard work and there is no magic formula, but it also takes us back to a more primordial meaning of marketing, in which we know our customer, we understand what she’s looking for, we are on her side, we know what’s best for her at this precise moment, at her budget, we can show her the end result of her quest and how to get there, and we can even get out of the way if needed. The future is here.