What you need to know about the 2016 customer
Brands that prioritise customer experience will get the biggest slice of the consumer market pie this year
This year the growth of the millennial customer segment as well technological developments will be among the biggest contributors to the changing consumer market.
Dr Amelia Richards, account director at Ask Afrika, a South African market research company, says the millennial generation's influence lies in their increasing buying power and the impact they have on other generations.
The ways in which millennials are changing consumer behaviour is that unlike previous generations, they have different expectations, are more tech-savvy and interact with companies differently, says Richards.
"They have a lower tolerance level for slow response time and are open to newer and different forms of communication."
The role of tech
Technology cannot be ignored, says Richards. Increased access to the internet, social media and mobile services on the continent, have changed how people interact with brands and even how they shop.
For example, according to a study conducted by Ipsos, a global market research company, on behalf of PayPal and FNB, Africa’s e-commerce figures will continue to rise in years to come with around 80% of shoppers going international when purchasing goods online.
Access to information and social media has also given consumers, what was before, unprecedented access to the brands that they support.
This, together with greater access to information has changed customers' buying behaviour.
Customers are becoming smarter every day, says Richards, they are well aware of the difference between customer service and customer experience, and are increasingly quick to voice out their opinions and their dissatisfaction.
Consumer trends to watch out for
The trends that will dominate this year focus on consumer experience and building relationships, says Richards.
She adds that it is important that businesses be aware of their customers' changing needs as brands that are customer focused stand a better chance of succeeding than those that are just operations focused.
For example, the results of the 2015 Nielsen Global Corporate Sustainability Report revealed that 68% of South African consumers said they are willing to support and pay more for brands that are committed to what they cared about which was social and environmental change.
Here are 4 trends that will dominate 2016.
#1. Businesses will have to pay attention to emotional service excellence
Emotional service excellence will be a key driver of customer satisfaction in 2016, say Richards.
Net promotor score (NPS), a management tool used to measure the business customer relationships, shows emotional satisfaction is a far stronger influence or indicator of likelihood to recommend, says Richards.
"If we insist on using it, we need to back it up with areas for action … we need to ensure that our customers walk away with high levels of emotional satisfaction if we want to move this number," she says.
This means businesses this year and moving forward will need to work harder to gain consumer loyalty and those that don't make an effort to meet the needs and demands of their customers stand a greater chance of losing them, says Richards.
#2. Customer appreciation will grow in importance
Customers want and expect to be made to feel important and appreciated, says Richards. She says brands need to acknowledge that customers are the lifeblood of their business.
This can be done by reaching out to customers, via email or telephonically, and will help brands stand out from their competitors.
#3. Customers want more freedom
An increasing number of customers appreciate the speed and efficiency of finding answers to their questions online versus calling a company, waiting on hold and having to potentially repeat the question to more than one support representative, says Richards.
Giving customers the opportunity to solve their own problem, however, according to Richards, doesn’t mean that the business cares less about its customers.
#4. Social media engagement will be as important as ever
Consumers are using social media more than ever and this trend is set to continue, Richards says.
"We speak through devices," she says.
She adds that people are turning to Twitter, Facebook, and other online channels to share their thoughts with the world.
Businesses will need to continue to pay attention to their social media presence and monitor it, not only to look out for opportunities but also potential risks that may cause harm to the business, such as customer's complaints.