For example, today it is not uncommon to go to any store and pay with our debit card. Let’s say it has become a new standard, as we carry less and less cash with us. This change in our behavior could even lead us to stop buying in a store that does not accept debit, because it generates an extra complexity. Paying with debit is something that, as a customer, today I demand and it seems that it has been with us all our lives, however, in Uruguay it is something that became popular only six or seven years ago.
When did this change really happen in us, when was the moment when you stopped having less cash in your wallet or purse? The reality is that we change our behavior, but we don’t know exactly when; in general, it is something that happens, until one day, finally, we adopt it without realizing it.
As customers we get used to a certain type of communication, a certain type of service, and then we expect to receive that same standard everywhere. The innovators, the disruptors, are the ones who show the customer that there is something else, something better, and once the customer discovers it, he looks for it elsewhere as well. This ends up putting pressure on the rest of the companies, which must adapt to offer the same level of service or risk losing customers.
In the case of the debit card there was a catalyst, an impetus for change that was the Financial Inclusion Act and the associated VAT discounts. In the case of e-commerce, the pandemic led more companies to sell online and more customers to rely on online shopping.
In short; in all of our companies’ industries or markets changes are being generated at the moment. There are catalysts that can lead customers to change their behavior and that change can work for or against our interests. The question is: Are we aware of how my customer is changing? How is he or she interacting with my company or others?
When we talk about digitalization and customers, the issue is not always about what I do or have inside my company from a technological point of view; it is about what is happening outside. What is changing is the customer; he is changing his behavior and becoming a Digital Customer.
In the past, communication was one-way, from the company to the customer; but today, communication is omni-channel. Through social networks and the Internet, customers have a voice, and their comments make them more influential than the brands’ own television commercials. In other words, customers behave less and less as isolated and passive individuals, and it is necessary to start seeing them as a dynamic network, where their nodes are closely connected.
Today, customers influence each other and in some ways are the ones who end up shaping the reputation of businesses and brands. They are the ones who elevate a brand or bury a brand. Sometimes the consequence doesn’t even have to do with our products or our services, but with a social or moral issue, such as our company’s relationship with the environment. In mild cases it can ruin all our investment and advertising efforts and, in extreme cases, it can go as far as a brand boycott.
Digital tools are also changing the way customers discover our companies and our products. Today, customers discover products through an Internet search engine, a Marketplace, an advertisement on a social network or because a friend or family member forwarded them something they think they might be interested in.
He also evaluates products in a different way, he relies on stars and comments from others just like him. There is a different confidence when someone like me, a peer, gives a comment because we consider it genuine.
Finally, the way of buying is changing, to the point that the customer does not even need to come into contact with the product before purchasing it. The new normal is to buy whenever and wherever you want, and omnichannel is becoming a requirement for more and more companies.
In short, the challenge for companies is to learn how to take advantage of the potential offered by these customer networks. Rather than seeing customers only as a sales target, businesses have to start recognizing that this dynamic customer network can be the best focus group; it can be our best brand fan, our best promoter or our best partner to help us innovate. That means learning to interact, empower and co-create with customers. Those companies that manage to leverage this advantage are clearly going to do better on the road to digital transformation.
Not all companies have to address all aspects at the same time. It is not linear for all; for all industries, for all markets; but the concept of customer-centric business, of connected customers, of the importance of user experience and of constant change; yes, it will be present in all industries and in all sizes of companies.
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