The Future is Not a Linear Progression of the Past: Why Customers are the New Stakeholders
By Camille Nicita, President & CEO, Gongos, Inc.
In light of the current economic landscape and unparalleled uncertainty over what the future holds, we are en route to experience a business revolution that has never been seen before. During this time, brands that prioritize their customers will thrive, and those that buckle and lock eyes solely on profitability and marketplace advantage will likely fall flat.
The future is not a linear progression of the past and brands that invest in deeply understanding the changes in consumer behavior as well as their mindsets, needs, and attitudes will be able to differentiate and create lasting lifetime value. But how are those mindsets and needs changing?
According to our own research, 56% of consumers are feeling anxious, 46% are feeling fearful, and 15% are feeling hopeless. And amid this, brands such as Nike and New Balance are offering to make protective gear, Johnson and Johnson is working on a vaccine, and the Big 3 auto companies are offering deferred payments. But besides marketing, pricing options and media messages, what can brands do to stay closer to consumers?
Instead of defining customer lifetime value (CLV) as a measure of value a company can extract from any given consumer over his or her lifetime, companies must find ways to deliver the greatest amount of value to customers over his or her lifetime. This is a fundamental shift in how we view customer centricity, and one we think will enable companies to thrive in any climate.
But this is not any climate.
The Future is Now
When it comes to buying habits, we will undoubtedly see large-scale shifts in behaviors, attitudes, perceptions, and usage, as COVID-19 isn’t a simple blip on our world’s radar. We are entering a new norm in which people and businesses will need to seek renewed understanding, adapt, and change to new market dynamics in order to succeed. Below are a few key areas companies should consider as they adjust strategies for future success:
- Customer Faith: In these uncertain times, the one thing all businesses need is a consumer base that believes in them. If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. Businesses that do well take this mantra to heart and realize there’s no time like the present to enlist customers as key stakeholders of the business. This can be achieved by gaining true customer understanding, creating systems to internalize customer needs, and cultivating organizational readiness for a culture of customer centricity.
- Primary Research and Data: Pre-crisis organizations took stock in the information they had. As a consultative agency, that was always our first step in any engagement. In the current landscape, companies should be leery to rely on that information, as it is no longer an accurate reflection of reality and is changing rapidly. Moving forward, there will be a newfound importance of primary consumer research and newly created data related to attitudes, perceptions, and preferences. Of course, organizations will have a multitude of behavioral data available—but layering on real human insights to get to the “why” behind that data is going to be key, as the rationale will be different and changing over the months to come. Foundational tools such as customer segmentation and journey mapping will also be reshaped as a result of shifting consumer behavior.
- Online Consumer Communities: An online customer community is a digital gathering place for customers, partners, and others to engage in discussions related to a company or category’s products, services, and brands. These forums may be one of the best ways to stay on top of how customers are adapting to the new day-to-day normal they are facing. These virtual communities enable and empower brands and customers to walk hand in hand on the customer journey. They also have the ability to instill positive brand affinity, positioning organizations as purpose-driven, caring connectors who give people a voice and find a way forward together.
And, customers are ready and willing to provide feedback now more than ever. In fact, since early March, we have seen 20-percent higher participation rates, as many who are at home and feeling less connected are craving ways to be heard. From an internal survey of over 600 online community participants, we found when it comes to customer appetites for providing feedback to brands and companies for navigating this newfound reality, surveys are the preferred modality of input (85 percent), followed by online focus groups (56 percent) and online discussion boards (55 percent). Organizations have a huge opportunity to make a positive difference in consumers’ lives as businesses often have more latitude to affect change than more traditional institutions.
- Human-Centered Design: Human-centered design is rooted in the notion of empathy. It puts human understanding at the forefront of problem solving and innovation and re-inserts the end user’s voice in all steps of the problem-solving process. Human-Centered Design can be applied throughout the entire product and service development process, from the fuzzy front end of problem definition all the way through to brand development, product positioning, and marketplace launch. The adage “if you build it, they will come” is an outdated notion and should be replaced with the idea of careful consideration for customer needs throughout the entire product or service experience, so that an organization stands the greatest chance of delivering on those needs better than anyone else.
In this period of social distancing and physical isolation, people are looking for ways to connect, which gives brands a unique opportunity to be that connector. Brands focused on enlisting customers as core stakeholders, going beyond selling products and services and truly forming a reciprocal human connection, will win. The impressions made now, amid these uncertain times, will have a lasting impact and could be the foundation to create value over the lifetime of your customers.
As published in Forbes.