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October 10, 2017

Adapt or die: how tomorrow’s brands will meet consumers’ needs

How will consumer demand change in the coming years? What will the consumer of the future will look like? What tools brands must leverage to ensure they remain relevance? Marcus Ruebsam has the answers.

By Ellie Burns

Customer service guru Shep Hyken once commented, ‘customers want positive, consistent experiences. Consistency creates confidence, which can lead to retention and loyalty.’ For many, this would be considered the Nirvana of customer service. Yet, I can recall a certain customer experience nightmare that fell way short.

In 2009, musician Dave Carroll boarded a plane to make his way to play a show. Sitting on the tarmac before take-off, he looked out the window and saw baggage handlers throwing guitars around — and when he arrived, his guitar was broken.

Dave tried for nine months to get a claim processed with the airline responsible. The response was a firm and consistent “no.” The airline claimed he had waited longer than 24 hours to process a claim, so he was out of luck. It cost him $1,200 to fix his beloved instrument and the airline refused to pay, so he wrote a parody song, uploaded it to YouTube and it went viral. The video has since amassed over 17.5 million views. It was widely reported that within four weeks of it being posted online, the airline’s stock price fell 10 percent – costing stockholders about $180 million in value.

Adapt or die: how tomorrow's brands will meet consumers’ needs

Marcus Ruebsam, SVP, Strategy and Solutions Management, SAP Hybris.

It’s fair to assume that Dave hasn’t boarded, or never will fly with that airline again. While this may be an extreme case of poor customer service, there’s clearly a price to pay – both financial and reputational. Consumers will abandon a brand and take their money elsewhere if they continuously encounter a poor, impersonal or frustrating customer experience.

According to recent research from the CMO Council and SAP Hybris, the price brands pay for frustrating consumers is high – with nearly half (47 percent) saying they will stop doing business with them altogether. While nearly a third of consumers (32 percent) would email the company to complain and 29 percent would tell all family and friends, the overwhelming reaction was to abandon the brand and spend their money elsewhere.


The age of the individual

Consumer expectations have evolved and brands are having to adjust their strategies to keep pace. Add to the mix the fact that the rise in digital has led to the majority of a buyer journey being complete before a customer even reaches out to a brand. To capitalise on the window of opportunity when a customer does make contact, brands must collect and centralise customer data and then use it to deliver a valuable and consistent experience across every channel.

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We’re in the age of the individual and it’s vital to provide personalised engagement and interaction, making every offer relevant to the individual consumer.

One brand that does this particularly well is Under Armour, which makes relevant, time-based recommendations to customers through the MapMyRun app, an open platform that integrates with fitness tracking devices, sensors and wearables. By pinpointing the location of runners, Under Armour is able to make products available that are relevant to the consumer’s individual fitness journey, which builds trust and a sense that the brand genuinely fits their needs. By transforming interactions into a two-way relationship, brands can foster loyalty and create a new revenue opportunity.


The consumer of 2027

Today’s consumers are technologically savvy and have different demands to previous generations. In 10 years’ time, they will expect brands to interact with them more intelligently than ever before. These expectations will be fuelled by machine learning and artificial intelligence being engrained within most organisations’ marketing systems – resulting in consumers becoming accustomed to a certain standard of customer experience.

The main difference will be brands being able to understand the underlying emotional context of consumer interactions. Individuals make emotional decisions and, by interpreting these implicit signals from behavioural cues, brands will start engaging with the consumer in a whole new way.

Adapt or die: how tomorrow's brands will meet consumers’ needs

To that end, consumers will also become accustomed to interacting with intelligent software systems, such as robots, in their daily lives. By 2027, robots will be able to understand human emotion, leverage real-time data to create tailored experiences and develop ‘humanising’ linguists, all of which will result in consumers building trusting relationships with these artificially intelligent machines.

This will see consumers expect brands to interact with them on a whole new level and will disregard brands that are not able to do so. They will expect brands to have a record of every single touchpoint they have had – across sales, marketing and customer experience applications – and use that data to build a full picture of their purchase history.

As we look towards the future, brands should learn from the failures of the past. The airline fiasco may be an isolated example, but it paints a damning picture of what not to do. Today’s consumers are just as unforgiving, if not more, and won’t hesitate to take their custom elsewhere. In an increasingly commoditised market, the outlook is bleak for businesses that fail to provide excellent custom service and experience across all touchpoints. The brands that will succeed in the future will be those that can deliver in-the-moment, contextually relevant customer experiences that drive meaningful engagement across channels.

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