A lot can change in 10 years, but if you ask today’s customers, a lot certainly has stayed the same.
The Accenture Global Consumer Pulse Research study, which has annually tracked the intentions and actions of consumers around the world for the past decade, reveals how digital technologies have continued to reshape customer behavior and needs to the point at which all customers have become digital customers—albeit ones who move at different speeds.
Yet it also shows that companies have struggled to keep pace with these changes— so much so that customers still encounter confusing websites, staggering call center wait times, and difficulty solving their problems no matter which channel they use.
It all adds up to increased customer switching that has put an estimated $6 trillion in revenue opportunity in play globally.
What can you do to capture a greater share of that opportunity?
It starts by becoming a “multi-speed customer company.” Such companies have moved beyond the one-size-fits-all customer agenda. They avoid incremental improvements in favor of more impactful “do-it-differently” programs that are guided by a test-and-learn competency. And most importantly, they master an integrated approach to both analog and digital channels that match the speed and preferences of multiple customer segments.
By providing interaction capabilities that appeal to traditional as well as digital-savvy customers, these companies drive customer retention and attract new customers who are leaving slow-footed competitors.
Accenture research provides a window into some of the dramatic changes that have occurred during the past 10 years in how consumers learn about companies and brands, purchase products and services, and access customer service and support as part of the customer journey.
For example, consumers now:
• Use more digital channels than ever— and more than you might expect: Five years ago, 78 percent of consumers used at least one online channel when prospecting. Today, 88 percent do—and four in 10 want even more digital interactions than what companies are providing.
• Look for more options—and more companies to serve them: Two-thirds said the number of companies or brands they consider for purchase has increased significantly compared with 10 years ago.
• Do greater “due diligence” before buying— the first time and the next time: Compared with 10 years ago, seven in 10 agreed they make much more informed decisions about providers. Compared with two years ago, four in 10 consumers find themselves evaluating or considering other providers more often.
• Listen more to what others have to say— a whole new definition of “word of mouth”: Compared with 10 years ago, just over half rely much more on other people’s experiences or reviews to inform their purchase decisions.
• Seek quicker resolution and fewer hassles— and if companies don’t move faster, they’ll move on: Nearly two-thirds said they use online channels across sales, marketing, and service because of their speed and convenience, while just over half said they have become more impatient and want their buying decision process to be fast with minimal effort.
As these findings show, today’s consumer model—which Accenture calls the “Nonstop Customer” —is significantly different from the one of 10 years ago in many ways. While consumers have embraced digital technologies to varying degrees, digital has become more important to consumers across the board. Some consumers have completely “gone digital”—they prefer to interact with their providers via online channels at every opportunity and are loathe to be forced into conversations with humans. At the opposite end of the spectrum are consumers who still lean heavily on traditional channels, but even they are likely to use available digital channels at different times for certain activities. Many simply generalize this as a millennial phenomenon, but it is not that simple.
Most companies’ customer strategies, fueled by customer analytics, will need to change to really take advantage of it. For example, our research shows that consumers between 18 and 34 years, those who have grown up immersed in digital technologies, are two to three times more likely than consumers older than 55 to want use more digital interactions than companies currently support. Yet our experience shows that the older group is surprisingly open to adding other channels to their portfolio and is experimenting with online interactions, using a wider variety of contact channels in specific industries and to meet select needs. So, by focusing on millennials, most companies are missing an important opportunity.
The point is, the rise of digital has given consumers many more options for interacting with companies they patronize. But companies have been slow to recognize when and how these channels fit the preferences of different groups of consumers in developing or mature markets and then change their operations and strategies accordingly. As a result, they continue to fall short of consumers’ expectations and, consequently, miss out on