What Every Marketer Should Know About Shifting Customer Expectations

Adobe Stock / lenets_tan

T-Mobile is the fastest-growing wireless carrier in the country. When asked about the secret behind its success in a 2016 interview, John Legere, T-Mobile’s chief executive officer, said, “… if you ask your customers what they want and you give it to them, you shouldn’t be shocked if they love it.”

That’s easier said than done, though. First, customers wanted the least expensive minutes, then unlimited minutes, unlimited talk and text, and now unlimited data on mobile phones — and they want to easily manage their mobile experiences without binding agreements with device companies. In a world of expensive and restrictive contracts, T-Mobile took action to set their customers free — free to determine their own experiences in an age where experience trumps all. Thus, the un-carrier movement was born, and it spread throughout the industry as customers came to expect the once novel and delightful to be standard practice.

As the representative of one of the experience era’s top devices, mobile phone companies know firsthand how rapidly customer expectations are changing. But, across industries, many brands haven’t established a clear sense of how this affects them. The issue is, once customers are delighted by a new product, service, or experience, they expect it to be standard practice. It sounds simple in theory, yet some marketers have trouble gaining customer-base insight. As such, it’s difficult for brands to discover what’s most valuable to customers and when changing expectations mean they must shift their strategies to compete.

New technologies, changing cultural expectations, and increasing competition put customers in the driver’s seat of today’s brand interactions. Brands that embrace consumer-oriented strategies, and provide compelling experiences have the competitive advantage in today’s world.

Customers crave seamless and relevant experiences across devices, but keeping up with a rapidly changing marketplace and an immensely diverse customer base is easier said than done. So where do you start?

Meet your customers where they are.

The rise in mobile tech — including unlimited data plans — has placed a smartphone in the hands of millions, and they demand that businesses have the capacity to provide service or entertainment value wherever they may be. An astonishing 90 percent of mobile usage occurs in mobile apps, yet most brands still don’t have a mobile app strategy in place. And when brands can’t reach customers on their favorite screens, those same customers will find someone who can.

Few brands know what customers demand on their mobile screens better than T-Mobile. Nick Drake, senior vice president of digital at T-Mobile, says it’s necessary to listen to customers anywhere they want to engage with your brand.

“We were primarily listening to our front-line teams and our customer care teams that were interfacing with customers all the time,” says Nick. “As we evolved through the un-carrier revolution, we realized that social media was going to be a really powerful tool to listen to customers as well. Now we’ve evolved to the point where we want to be able to communicate with our customers through any digital platform.”

To accomplish this, T-Mobile took a website that attracts about 600 million visitors each year and redesigned it with the help of an integrated content management solution for cross-device engagement. This gave T-Mobile the ability to evaluate customer feedback while optimizing in real-time, helping them publish more relevant content across all devices their customers used, and thereby simplifying and improving the customer experience.

Create content that cuts through the noise.

In a competitive marketplace, customers aren’t happy combing through an endless supply of stale marketing messages. Instead, they expect the best brands to resonate with them on a personal level. Consumers expect brands to know who they are — to have a relationship with them. Because today’s businesses have a plethora of content to compete with, making personalization a top priority is more important than ever before.

To stand out from the all the noise, brands need to gain customer intelligence — utilizing analytics to discover high-value customer segments — and identify important traits and behaviors that can inform content and ad optimization choices. The problem is that brands have so much data at their disposal that no human can process it all to provide insight in moments that matter. In response, brands are starting to turn to artificial intelligence and machine learning to detect shifting customer behaviors — and the shifting expectations they represent — to make customer experience engagement more predictable and more prescriptive.

For example, a brand may discover that revenue suddenly dropped. A virtual analyst toolset with integrated artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities allows brands to discover and get to the root of the shift. “ Anomaly detection gives you the ‘what’ and the contribution gives you the ‘why’,” says Nate Smith, senior product marketing manager for Adobe Analytics. Via anomaly detection, the brand is alerted when there is a change in revenue. Then, contribution analysis kicks in to reveal the reason behind such drops — identifying the contributing factors for the anomaly, and allowing the brand to adapt to customer expectations, thereby lifting revenue to align with their ROI goals once again.

For T-Mobile, determining the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind big data has helped them craft highly personalized messages that actually matter to their annual influx of digital visitors. Nick says, “If you make experience your metric, everything else falls into place. [So] our company has centered everything that it does around the customer experience. We’ve set up tools that allow us to understand what parts of our experience aren’t working, and then enable us to knock down those pain points in real time.” According to Nick, this has led site visitors to a better customer experience, as well as increased the likelihood that those customers will end up making purchases.

Track what customers actually do to understand what they want.

It’s not uncommon for customers to say one thing before doing another. While monitoring social media channels, conducting surveys, and gathering other qualitative data can give you valuable insights into what your customers say they want from your brand, paying attention to customer actions can lead to a deeper understanding of what they really want.

“In a survey, people will tell you why they did a certain thing,” says Nate. “It’s valuable and helpful, but I would argue that, ultimately, organizations should plan around what consumers actually do.”

Nate makes it clear that basing marketing decisions on customer actions doesn’t mean both qualitative and quantitative data sets shouldn’t be integrated during analysis. Rather, brands that are efficiently evolving alongside their customers are carefully comparing attitudinal data with how their customers behave to identity problems and work toward solutions.

Democratize your data.

The companies that are leading in experience-driven marketing span a wide array of industries, but they all share a few common traits — they have realized that the entire company is responsible for customer experience, and have refined the art of democratizing data so that internal people can start to make data-driven decisions to meet customer expectations. “When you have groups that hoard data or keep it in siloes . . . it limits your view of the customer,” says Nate. According to him, the key to data democratization is for organizations to look at marketing as everyone’s responsibility.

One brand that takes data democratization seriously is Progrexion. Progrexion has been at the forefront of providing online consumer credit services for nearly two decades. Once they realized their internal reporting tools provided only basic insights without integrating online and offline interactions, they knew it was time to act. “People who call in are the most likely to become and remain Progrexion customers,” says Kirk Nielson, assistant director, project management office at Progrexion. “We needed to better understand where to spend our time improving the cross-channel experience to increase calls, and ultimately sales, through our call center.”

Not only did the company see a significant opportunity to expand insights into cross-channel customer journeys and improve attribution, they also wanted to gain a more complete customer view by integrating data from third-party vendors. This, according to Nate, is the key to democratization. “When people can view integrated data sets from all available sources in one central location, they can develop high-resolution views of their customers, analyze more holistically for more precise customer insights, then make better decisions across the whole organization. The organizations that view marketing as strictly a marketing function are the ones that are lagging behind.”

With the help of the right marketing ecosystem, Progrexion democratized data by setting up an integrated platform that allows visibility across the organization into cross-channel interactions at lightning speed, leading to a 14 percent boost in conversions by delivering on customer insights.

Evolve with your customer.

Keeping up with evolving customer expectations requires marketers to be willing to take the journey with their customers, and meet them on their terms. It means being nimble and decisive, while continually gathering fresh insights to formulate a better strategy. It’s also crucial to develop a level of governance while democratizing data across the organization. By knowing what areas to look at, marketers can see changing customer expectations in action to help formulate highly personalized and relevant messages for future campaigns. And, because leading Experience Era brands like T-Mobile and Progrexion are raising the bar, your customers have come to expect this type of marketing.

Read more about how company leaders can prepare their brands to compete in the Experience Era, or read more in our #KnowYourCustomers series.