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The forces reshaping the world economy today are more numerous, more interwoven and combine to be more powerful than any other combination of economic and political change since the Industrial Revolution.
The customers of the 21st century will continue to present a vast array of challenges and opportunities. However, these challenges and opportunities are unlikely to be as apparent and as stationary as in the past. Understanding the customers of the future will definitely require hitting a moving target!
I see six key areas where customers are most likely to focus their value judgements in future.
1. Relevant features and functions and ability
to customise solutions
Obviously, these categories will not apply equally to all. Also, it can be anticipated that individual customers will use different value judgements for different product and service categories.
However, these six areas are likely to cause the most dramatic shifts in customer buying behaviour and habits. As a result, they are also likely to have the most dramatic impact on forward-looking organizations as these adapt their product offers and service delivery processes to meet these changing requirements.
Customer-centric organizations will use an understanding of these changing customer values to create the most successful and dynamic businesses of the future. These customer values will drive customer expectations in the future, and hence will determine which products and services succeed in the market place.
Let's take a look at these six core customer values for the 21st century.
Relevant Functions and Features and Ability to Customise Solutions
This strategy will no longer win you loyal customers, particularly with the astute customers of the 21st century.
Customers of the future will want to have more say in which features and functions are loaded onto their products. Dell Computers created an entire new business model by giving customers the opportunity to select which features and functions to be put into their computers.
Dell has changed the concept of these machines from personal computers to personalised computers, and changed the industry in doing so.
It won't be long until the same customised manufacturing process is applied to many other industries. I, for one, would like to be able to dictate which features my mobile phone has. The model I currently use has several features for which I have no current or anticipated use. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could eliminate some of these and either save money or have them replaced with features I truly desired? Yes, it would and the customer-centric mobile phone company of the future will figure out how to supply and satisfy this desire.
This is not to say that customers of the 21st century are not going to be price or cost conscious. Rather, I would project that the customers of the future will be extremely "value conscious," in that they will seek the best value-for-money option made available to them.
The benefit to marketers of this particular changing customer value criterion is, for those who get the manufacturing equation right, higher margins and higher profitability. After all, if you are delivering value, and above all personalised value, then you have the opportunity to be charging at value pricing rates.
Choices and Flexibility
We are seeing this trend already today, as an increasing number of products are marketed like Swatch watches in a multitude of styles, models, colours, and interchangeable options. Even the Apple iMac computer seems to have attracted buyers just as much for its fashionable designs and colour options as for its computer prowess and chip speeds.
Your customers are likely to expect a wide array of choices and variety in the products you market. However, many managers and marketers fail to understand that variety is not the same thing as customization. Offering a variety of options is one strategy. Providing customization is entirely different.
In terms of flexibility, customers of the future will place a high value on organizations that have flexible policies and procedures. One of the most hated phrases customers hear is "it's our policy." That simply tells the customer that you are not recognising him or her as an individual with individual needs. Rather, the organization is saying that the customer is no different from any other customer and hence must conform to the organization's stated policy.
Companies that can train and empower their people, particularly their front-line people, in interpreting and applying corporate policies as guidelines will in turn generate higher levels of loyalty and repeat business from customers.
Trust and Loyalty
Admittedly, the answer is yes.
The combined effect of product-tampering problems, toxic-shock syndrome, the Perrier recall, mad cow disease, hepatitis-infected fruit given to school children, the health scare in Belgium when children got sick from drinking Coca-Cola and numerous other safety scares has left consumes in a quandary about who and what to trust.
Will the customers of the future reward trust with loyalty? I believe they will.
Loyalty, however, cannot be bought. It has to be won. It has to be earned. True loyalty will not result from reward schemes and customer loyalty point schemes.
Loyal customers are created through consistent product quality, brand characteristics, and service excellence received each time a purchase is made and each time a product is used or consumed.
Consistent delivery of these three attributes builds trust. Consistent receipt of these three attributes will lead to repeat purchases, which in turn lead to brand, product, and corporate loyalty. Customers of the future, like customers today, will place a higher value on the brands and companies they trust.
Why will trust will be rewarded with loyalty? Because it's usually
in the customer's best interest! After all, for the customer, trust::
In other words, trust not only simplifies the buying decision process, it also saves the customer time and mental aggravation over having to make a decision. And the one thing we all say we
Steven Howard is Asia's leading marketing consultant and positioning specialist, with over 22 years experience. The author of two books and numerous articles, you may reach him at www.howard-marketing.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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