Before COVID, a lot could be intuited about future consumer behavior by analyzing the past. If you gave me someone’s credit card statement, I could, with some confidence, lay out your marketing plan. But a year into the pandemic, one thing has become clear: the course of the customer journey has changed, in some very profound and permanent ways.
We now live in a world where, each week, there is a shift in how people feel about their personal safety, the economy, their job or finances. There has also been a seismic shift in how consumers interact with brands. McKinsey estimates that COVID pushed 10 years of e-commerce adoption into the span of 90 days (the first three months of the pandemic). And according to new research from our sister company Reach3 Insights, 36 per cent of Americans plan to stick to new brands and products they’ve tried recently.
COVID pushed 10 years of e-commerce adoption into the span of 90 days.
With loyalties up for grabs, brands are forced to invest in the digital transformation of their operations. According to a 2020 Salesforce report, 87 percent of service professionals said that customers were using digital channels more during COVID. The days of looking at customer service, marketing and research as distinct and separate business activities is over: that same survey found that 79 percent of service reps believed it “impossible to provide great service without full customer context.” That means that service metrics, objectives and technology has to be fully integrated with everything that’s happening down the hall.
COVID is leading toward the end of marketing silos.
Remember, that sort of cross-department integration was once heresy. If you said to a researcher in 1986, “Hey, that woman we talked to for the survey? We should also market to her”—well, that researcher would have hit you over the head and told you to get lost. “There’s no way! You’re biasing people!” Today, we know the importance of customer closeness, especially in an age of fractured loyalty. When you can facilitate an ongoing conversation and learn more about your customer, you can also communicate with them in a more effective way—and ultimately, give them more of what they want.
The days of looking at customer service, marketing and research as distinct and separate business activities is over.
As a brand, you’re only as good as your last customer interaction—whether that was an ad they saw while browsing Twitter, their online chat with your website’s virtual assistant, or the survey they just completed on Instagram. For certain brands—especially those that consumers interact with regularly—the need for constant engagement is critical. The mobile revolution provides the opportunity to speak to a more diverse group of your customers, including those outside of traditional access panels. But the only way to have that level of closeness is with an ongoing, two-way dialogue.
I was thinking about this the other day while on my Peloton bike. My thought: 25,000 people have taken this class, so how does a company like this go from a “one-to-many” relationship—which, via its digital classes, describes a lot of Peloton’s relationships—to more one-to-one connections? The fact is that, like most Peloton customers, I’m not going to shell out several thousands of dollars for another bike anytime soon.
Customer engagement ultimately is not about how good your product is—or how well you respond to complaints when it’s not—but how well you anticipate consumer needs. The past 12 months has forced brands to ditch the rearview mirror as their guidepost to consumer behavior—and rely on the (much bigger) windshield revealing the road ahead.
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A version of this article first appeared on Entrepreneur.com on May 6, 2021. Copyright 2021 by Entrepreneur Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
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