Throughout the world we’re seeing established and long-standing institutions under scrutiny for unethical practice or for abusing their power of authority. Take Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, for example, speaking out against the long-established British monarchy. That would previously have been thought to be inconceivable. The #MeToo global movement took on people in powerful positions and exposed them as abusers, while individuals are taking on governments, religions and corporates around the world. The everyday consumer is no exception.
Traditionally, the interaction between customers and businesses was more about value exchange and less about establishing and retaining a long-term relationship. But, for the first time in our recent history, Covid-19 has forced corporates to shift their attention from the bottom line to retaining customers. Without a customer who trusts you, as many companies discovered, you no longer exist. As the world crashed to a halt with the pandemic, leading conglomerates suddenly found themselves competing for spend from a far more digitally savvy, conscious and selective consumer, often with uncertain and restricted resources.
The consumer shift
Governed by solidarity and sharing a common human affliction, the consumer shift has been towards buying into what companies stand for, rather than simply buying from them. Brand, purpose and reputation has taken on new impetus and carried equal weight to safety, security and convenience.
Probably for the first time during the pandemic, customers have felt companies favoured them and their employee well-being above bottom-line profit. Companies that act with empathy and compassion gain more trust and consumers, through networks and digital access, hold more power in dictating the shape of products and services than ever before.
The Trust Conundrum
But, here’s the conundrum. How do businesses retain the trust of customers who’ve bought into their ethos? One thing which is becoming increasingly clear is that “tried” and “trusted” boardroom tactics no longer hold water with this new type of consumer. The dynamics of experience delivery has been challenged. My advice to clients grappling with this is to ditch the sales pitch and ramp up other ways of cementing trust. Try public relations with authentic content that your customer can create a connection with, think “thought leadership pieces” and shared discussion platforms. These are all ways to encourage your customer to reach out to you and seek advice from you.
People in power are often threatened by people with new ideas and the trick is to sell to them without selling. Allow them to react to you when they are relaxed, going through a newspaper, watching an interview, scrolling through LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram or reading a magazine. When they’re at ease and you’re talking to them about the new wave and the new way the world markets are going, you become more of a voice of reason and a voice of the future. That way you shift the dynamic of being a push salesman to being in a position of pull.
When you create a pull and your customer reaches out to you, then you’re in a position of gaining trust and expediting long-term sales or services. This takes longer than usual, but it’s worth it in the long run. Most people don’t want to be sold to, they want to be advised, and they don’t want to be sought out, they want to seek out the people who can help them.
Applying the same culture of compassion to the customer and the employee
That’s the first step, the second is that the customer has become more digitally savvy, expecting effortless interactions. Customers of all ages have made behavioural changes by harnessing the internet to make their daily lives easier. Not only that, but they have a voice which they can use to share their experiences across vast networks.
It’s much easier to shop around and a recent KPMG report indicates that 41% of customers say it’s important for them to be assured that a company’s employees are treated well in their jobs. This means leaders have to recognise they require a similar approach of empathy and understanding towards their customers, clients and their employees.
As the reliance on brick-and-mortar stores reinvents itself by shifting to digital we now herald in the era of dispersive customer interaction. This means customers want an experience tailor-made to their needs. A coffee shop or photocopy shop may be on a dying trajectory but if you focus on bringing coffee to the home office or providing an online photocopy delivery service, you’ll be providing the customer with a more valuable and personalised service.
With the world, and business, racing towards adaptive business tactics, the consumer has become empowered with networks and devices, demanding a more personalised service.
Engage with your consumer in an open and transparent way and this gap between traditional business strategy and consumer expectation will narrow over time.