The way that we shop, bank and communicate is changing - and technology is accelerating the pace of that change. Online retailers are shaping shopper's expectations from setting the benchmark for service, to price transparency and availability of stock. Traditional retailers stand still at their peril in this climate - and many, like book, video and music stores, have failed to ride the tide of change.
We are now in an "omni-channel" world. Customers tend to move from one channel to another in a quest to get to their goal, bag a good bargain and get the right product for them. The challenge for organisations is that customers are now crisscrossing their way around a number of traditionally disconnected channels. They don't care who runs the physical store, website, mobile apps and contact centre, or how sales staff are incentivised by way of bonuses. They just want to get what they need without jumping through organisational disconnects and red tape. The challenge for businesses is to understand how customers are using each of these touch points and ensure that it is easy for them to move between channels seamlessly.
What organisations are witnessing here is the rise of the "autonomous customer" - who is highly mobile, Internet and technology-savvy, is loyal to no brand, and may well cut organisations out of the dialogue process completely when considering their next purchase.
A joint study by Avaya and BT Global Services titled "Meeting the demands of customers in the future" reveals that the autonomous customer frequently starts online, seeks advice using a search engine rather than an organisation's official website and will continually change their preferred contact channel depending on where they are and what they are doing (according to 65 percent of customers in the study). Although they say they are no longer loyal, 79 percent of autonomous customers say they will buy more from companies that make it easier for them to do business with.
There are two options organisations can employ in response to the autonomous customer: reduce customer effort and integrate service across multiple channels. The research offers some interesting insights into the evolving mind of the customer.
Seventy-nine percent of respondents say they will buy more from companies that make it easier for them to do so. This means that satisfaction is no longer sufficient to gain the loyalty of an autonomous customer and organisations need to make it easier for customers to do business with them, whichever channel they happen to choose.
Forty-two percent of customers recognise that use of automated voice and Web self-service is a way for companies to keep service costs down. However, these must be well-designed and easy for customers to navigate - otherwise they will go to higher cost channels or simply go elsewhere. When things get complex and emotive, they expect online support services such as Web chat and phone to be available and easy to access (52 percent).
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