Consumers asked for choice. They wanted options so they could select the products and services that serve their exact needs.
Brands gave them choice.
Now consumers need help.
We have watched the relationship between brands and consumers evolve, with a lot of change in the past few years due to Covid. The trend we are seeing is consumers – spanning many different product and service categories – struggling to narrow down all the options they have and make a decision in a timely manner.
Providing expert “advice” along with the products and services is the next frontier of customer expectations. While those expectations won’t be easy to meet, brands should see this trend as good news.
An Opportunity to Grow Relationships
In the past, a good “customer experience” was framed in terms of providing good “customer service.” Being friendly, polite, responsive, and empathetic. The consumer’s pain was that interacting with companies directly meant being hassled and treated rudely.
As customer experiences have improved, consumers’ needs have shifted. The pain from being overwhelmed with choice is real, and it won’t be enough just to be kind to the consumer when they have an issue. They want someone with more expertise to tell them what they should do. For example, we partnered with Synchrony on research around big-ticket purchases for the home (i.e., furniture, mattresses, flooring, appliances) and found that salespeople impacted consumer buying decisions 86% of the time.
This creates an opportunity for brands to stand out from their competition, and it opens the door to increase the amount a consumer spends with your brand.
Let’s use insurance as an example. It used to be that the brands with the friendliest service were the ones who stood out as being the “best.” That led to many insurance companies focusing on providing more friendly service. It doesn’t set them apart anymore.
Now, consumers want to find a brand who can provide them guidance on how to minimize their risk, save them money and reduce their headaches. They want to make a confident decision. If you are the brand who delivers that guidance, you have earned the chance to present the customer with a wider array of your products that can meet the needs they have and the needs they didn’t anticipate. It is like consultative selling on steroids, where the customer really wants to hear what you have to offer. In the past, they didn’t want to hear about all your products. Now they are inviting the pitch.
The Hard Part
The pitch has to be good, and they have to believe that the person serving them is an expert. In our experience at InnerView Group across many different consumer categories, customer-facing staff don’t feel comfortable in the advisor role. They are still embracing the friendly, attentive, and empathetic persona. The idea that customers are now more open to being sold seems foreign to them.
This will be the biggest struggle brands have. Building competence, and confidence, around delivering advice will be a challenge. It combines hiring the right people, giving them the proper training and helping them better understand the consumer’s mindset. Ask yourself how many of the people serving your customers could deliver this line convincingly – “Based on my expertise, I am confident the best thing for you is ______ because it is going to ensure that you ______________.” Some can, but many are afraid to be this prescriptive. The data we see through our InFront Studies with frontline teams shows this gap.
Brands need to commit to shifting their customer experience focus yet again and equip their teams to be “go to” resources for their industry. Anyone who talks to a customer should be clear on what expertise they have that the customer might value. And they need to be willing to share it at every opportunity.
Marketing and sales leaders have been waiting for the chance to do this. Now who is going to deliver?