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Research

Why Customer Engagement Will Never Be the Same, According To 15,600 of Them

Eighty-two percent of customers agree a company’s trustworthiness matters more than it did a year ago. (And other research findings.)

Package delivery in pandemic era

To say this year has been different would be a huge understatement. Storefronts went digital, kitchen tables turned into conference rooms, and how we live, work, and shop have been generally turned upside down. What hasn’t changed for businesses, however, is the importance of providing an outstanding customer experience. In fact, 80% of consumers and business buyers say experience remains as important as products.

Of course, how to deliver those differentiated experiences transformed as life moved online and economic uncertainty moved in. Our fourth State of the Connected Customer report, based on a global survey of over 15,000 consumers and business buyers, details how, and provides invaluable insights for business leaders navigating their paths back to growth.

The report details key elements of customer engagement in our radically changing times, including: 

78% of customers say this year’s crises should catalyze business improvement

Fourth Edition, State of the Connected Customer

Earning trust pays dividends

People want to do business with brands they can depend on. While that was true before 2020, it’s an undeniable fact in a world taken by pandemic, social justice movements, and environmental crises, among other issues. Eighty-two percent of customers agree a company’s trustworthiness matters more than it did a year ago.

Like most relationships, gaining trust doesn’t happen overnight. Businesses must earn trust through their actions over time, and it’s not getting any easier to accomplish. Sixty-one percent of customers say it’s difficult for a company to earn their trust – 7 percentage points higher than the previous year.

Evolving customer expectations present an opportunity for businesses to get closer to the audiences they serve through their actions. How are they showing up and what are they saying on issues beyond their particular industry? Ninety percent of customers say how a company acts during a crisis reveals its trustworthiness. And, this year, 56% of customers say they’ve reevaluated the societal role of companies. Customers want to see brands prove they’re interested in more than simply surviving through the pandemic and other crises. They want to see good corporate citizens making a difference in the communities they serve.

A company’s ability to build trust is inherently linked to its values. Customers expect brands to share their values and communicate honestly and openly. Brands that turn their back on doing the right thing risk taking a hit to their bottom line. Consumers will take their business elsewhere. The majority (62%) of customers say they have stopped buying from a company whose values didn’t align with theirs.

71% of customers pay more attention to corporate values than they did a year ago

Fourth Edition, State of the Connected Customer

Empathetic, unified teams build differentiated engagement

Whether customers shop for themselves or on behalf of their companies, they expect interactions with brands to not only be convenient and digital first, but also infused with empathy and understanding. To no surprise, our survey results show customers want organizations to relate to their specific needs and expectations at every touch point. And they are making purchasing decisions based on personalized experiences.

76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments. However, 54% say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don’t share information.

There’s never been a more critical moment for companies to know their audience and relate to what they’re experiencing. Brands that get this – and actually invest in appreciating their customers’ varied perspectives – can gain a competitive advantage by delivering connected and contextualized engagement. While 66% of customers expect companies to understand their personal needs and expectations, only 34% say they usually do so. Moreover, more than half (52%) of customers expect offers to always be personalized.

So, how can companies get it right? One important way is for brands to ensure everyone under their roof has real-time information. When customers engage with a company, they shouldn’t have to worry about reaching the right person. Our research shows 76% of customers expect consistent interactions across departments. However, 54% say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don’t share information.

“Disconnected experiences used to inconvenience customers,” noted Tiffani Bova, Growth and Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. “They still do, but they cause so much more damage in our current environment because they signal insensitivity.”

Prior to 2020, customers were well on their way to becoming more digitally dependent in their interactions with brands. From Amazon to Hulu, more and more customers grew accustomed to having their wishes granted at the push of a button. In a socially distanced environment, those same customers – and many new converts – have come to view digital engagement as not only a convenience, but a necessity. Brands, in turn, have had to accelerate their digital transformations.

Online interactions grew from 42% of customer engagements in 2019 to 60% in 2020.

In just one year, online customer interactions grew from 42% (2019) to 60% (2020). While the sharp increase is, in part, a reflection of our overnight transition to a socially distanced society, the upward trend shouldn’t come as a surprise. Most brands were already in the midst of transforming their digital capabilities to cater to customers. COVID-19 just gave those plans a push. Customers agree, with 88% saying they expect companies to accelerate their digital initiatives because of the pandemic. Furthermore, 68% of customers agree that COVID-19 has elevated their expectations of brands’ digital capabilities.

In 2020, people are living and working much of their lives online. In fact, the vast majority (68%) of consumers say they’re online more often than not. As a result, they’re looking for companies to provide more digital options. Fifty-four percent would like companies to introduce new products or services in response to the pandemic. 

88% of customers expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives due to this year’s events

Fourth Edition, State of the Connected Customer

“To me, this really drives home the point that, yes, digital transformation is essential, but we need to think about it as part of something bigger,” observed Brian Solis, Global Innovation Evangelist at Salesforce. “The companies that use this moment to understand not just how to digitize their existing businesses, but how technology can drive new, innovative experiences that set them apart will prove more resilient as we move into the next normal.”

More insights to explore

The findings uncovered by our research reveal a customer base that craves personalized, digital-first experiences from brands they can trust. As our world continues to adapt and shift day by day, business leaders have an opportunity to use this knowledge to revamp how they engage their customers.In addition to the broad trends covered above, this research offers insights across demographic subsets and geographic boundaries. To further dig into this data, check out our interactive Tableau dashboards.

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