From growing expectations to a growing desire for simplicity, the challenges facing companies looking to build a connection with customers are climbing all of the time.
As Chief Executive of Ipsos MORI, Ben Page’s job is to follow global trends and collect and analyse polling data to predict what’s going to happen in the future. But even with all of this insight and all of his experience – Page has been polling the public for over 30 years – being able to predict a change and being able to predict what impact that change will have, are two different things.
“We thought in 1989, at the end of the Cold War, that everyone would live in a liberal democracy and we would all be happy together,” says Page by way of example. “And of course politics has shown us it’s got surprises in store. This move to a multipolar world rather than a single polar world around Washington is very disruptive. We don’t know how that will play out.”
The same is true of the global economy, climate change, globalisation and immigration, and the fact that in the developed world people are getting older.
“Europe will be the world’s oldest continent. In 2110 we calculate that 1 million people in Britain alone will be aged over 100,” explains Page, before asking: “What does that mean in terms of retention?”
In major western economies, unemployment spikes among the over 55s even though these people are able to work. But traditionally, when companies are forced to cut costs they look to their most experienced and therefore best remunerated employees to save money.
“We have got to do something different,” Page warns.
Yet against this backdrop of a geopolitical future in flux, one thing Page can detail with certainty is how consumer behaviour is changing and what it means to businesses that want to continue making the right connection with their customers.
“Before we might have compared a gas company to a gas company and a hotel company to a hotel company,” begins Page. “Increasingly we’re expecting everyone’s customer service to be as seamless as Apple’s or Amazon’s. If they can do it, why can’t you?”
Page dubs this phenomenon, derived from a global study of 18,000 consumers across 23 countries, “liquid expectations”. “And, it’s even more challenging than it might sound, because if a company wants to make certain it doesn’t disappoint, it has to be more than good.
Today a customer only considers customer experience (CX) good if it was better than they expected it to be. So if they expect it to be good and it’s good, they’re actually slightly disappointed.
“It’s all about understanding what your customers’ expectations are and managing them,” Page explains. “We’ve got this gulf between what the brand promise is and what we deliver and our competitive set is changing all the time. We can’t remain complacent. We have to find those things where you can make an emotional connection.”
As well as expecting service that exceeds expectations, thanks to the constant bombardment of information, notifications and alerts across myriad channels at all times of the day; two thirds of consumers across the world want life to be simpler.
“But if I’d done this survey in 1819 or 1719 or 1519 I would have gotten the same answer,” Page points out. “It’s a bit worrying this printing press. Too many books to read and it’s a bit overpowering.”
Still, this means there’s more reason for organisations to build simplicity into their businesses, removing friction from the customer journey and even removing some products.
“You shouldn’t offer people all the things under the sun. A carefully curated selection actually helps you sell more,” explains Page. “In one experiment in a supermarket they found that offering eight carefully chosen varieties of jam meant they sold more jam than if they offered 25 varieties. Because people just looked at the selection and couldn’t make a choice.”
The same Ipsos MORI research shows choosing when, where and how to act on the customer journey can turn any customer’s interaction with your brand into a positive and memorable experience.
“No matter what the experience, we don’t remember all of it,” Page elaborates. “Your brain isn’t designed for total recall. Your memory is designed to give you useful information that keeps you alive.”
Instead we remember the best or worst moment therefore, understanding the context of the interaction and timing an intervention can alter everything. “Getting the moments and interventions right changes how an experience is perceived,” continues Page. “When someone’s been on hold for three minutes, at what moment do you intervene? At what moment do you say ‘thank you’ so that someone remembers the experience positively?”
What people say about an organisation can have a huge impact.
“We have a whole economy built around experience sharing,” says Page. “We know of course in seconds a bad experience can be shared and go viral and life becomes very interesting.”
Businesses need to make sure it’s easy for customers to share good experiences by understanding the triggers that make people want to share, but just as important is to consider experience-sharing from the employee perspective.
“Understanding the motivations of the people who work for us is hugely important,” Page explains. “As human beings, we want to be part of something bigger. So how do we provide that?”
To find out, he studied poor, fair, good and high-performing companies around the world and randomly interviewed their employees to understand what separates the really good from the really bad.
And the answer isn’t higher pay or better working conditions, but having a say in how the business is run, being given opportunities to use initiative, receiving regular feedback and crucially understanding what’s going on.
“The big picture stuff really matters. At high-performing companies people understand the overall objectives of the organisation as well as their own or their team’s objectives,” says Page. “When I see a really successful business, I see absolute clarity about what should be happening and being done. That’s really important. If you have that, your people will give you good word of mouth. You become an experience worth sharing.”
Watch Page’s full keynote here.