Customers will call the shots.
Pre-packaged services or even multiple-choice options won’t be enough down the road. Customers will expect and demand more personalized products, services and experiences from the brands they choose. Today, consumers play a more active role in shaping brands than ever, through social sharing, and reviews that appear everywhere from Yelp to YouTube. Brands themselves are engaging outside influencers on a regular basis as part of their media and content plans. It has become very clear just how much influence consumers already have, and that brands are beginning to rely on customers as a channel. Over the next few years, this trend will continue to gain momentum to the point where customers will be shaping and at times dictating the development of products and services themselves.
Brands will provide solutions to problems customers didn’t even know they had.
Customers will be more loyal to brands that actively look for ways to improve their service without even being asked. Research shows that certain moves like Apple allowing line-free checkout at retail locations, and banks providing Sunday hours, have not only had a dramatic positive impact on their current customer base, but they’re actually motivating customers to switch from competitors who don’t provide the same level of service. Soon this expectation will become table stakes, not just a nice add-on.
Self-service will be a necessity.
We already know that customers are more tech-savvy than ever before, and self-help has become a win-win for both companies and customers alike. Going forward, customers will look for more sophisticated tools to service themselves, on their terms, and will ask for assistance when they want it. As with Delta Airlines, and retailers like All Saints, the companies that continue to invest in technology that makes it easier for customers to self-direct, will come out on top.
The way forward is backwards–innovation will be linked to the fundamentals.
Brands in the service space will revisit what customer relationships (and all great relationships) are about: the feeling of being seen, heard and truly appreciated. Drone delivery, emoji campaigns and new technologies are great–but if they don’t impact what customers actually feel about you, they’ll want out of the relationship.
Customer service will go concierge.
Customers today have higher expectations of service than ever before, and those expectations will only get higher in the future. American Express and Bank of America have already moved to live video chat on their websites, and Crutchfield now enables their reps to have shared Internet sessions with callers to guide them to the best products and services possible, thus creating a whole new experience. Currently, customer service is largely resolution-focused, but tomorrow, innovations delivering more personalized and guided concierge-style service will be the new normal.
eCommerce will drop the “e.”
As more e-tailers like Amazon and Warby Parker open physical locations, and brick and mortars like J.Crew and Target become more sophisticated online, the dual world of on and offline sales will merge. The seeing, touching and feeling that has played a huge role in the physical shopping experience will combine with the cost-savings, efficiency and convenience of ordering online to create a single, seamless experience.
Good brands will stand behind their product; the best brands will stand next to their customers.
Good companies are experts at innovation, and most of these innovations serve to enhance their products. However, customers will expect more from brands that have staying power. For example, companies like T-Mobile have revived tired brands by doing something few brands do–listening to their customers. They look for ways to solve customers’ actual problems, with features like unlimited data, no contracts, and free texting on planes. Companies like Esurance have embraced this idea by offering accident appraisals via smartphone, which is not only convenient, it makes a stressful time much easier. Tomorrow’s consumer will look for brands to both advocate and innovate for them.
Brand and customer will combine.
Companies market to customers and then hope for “likes” or positive reviews. However, marketing engagement will soon become brand inclusion. Going forward, customers will take on a much more active role in helping marketers do the marketing. As customers’ voices become stronger, it will be even more critical to give them the tools to function as great ambassadors, and not only spread the word, but drive sales too. Red Bull has exemplified this by bringing customers in and tying the lifestyle of the brand with their customers, not just selling their product.
Getting customers to the right solution quickly will be more important than actually providing the assets.
One of the models of the future is asset-free service. Yes, the assets may be part of the equation, but if you can also provide a great solution, you will be more successful. More and more often, new service-based companies are proving that sometimes the best product is just a great solution, one which often leverages someone else’s assets. Companies like Uber and Airbnb have begun to prove this idea. Customer value will be derived from those who can quickly get them to the right “place.”
Instant gratification will prove crucial.
Now, now, now! There is an increasing need for instantaneous solutions to customer issues. Customer behavior is shifting based on how they search and order products today–at their fingertips, on their own terms, and FAST. “My system doesn’t let me…” “Wrong department…” “I need to get back to you…” “We are out of that…”–these are all ways of saying goodbye to the customer forever.