Tackling unpredictability: why businesses need to put power back into customers’ hands

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Customers are enjoying more and more digital experiences - touching everything from banking, shopping, subscription services and entertainment, the list goes on.

Research shows that on average, a smartphone is installed with 80+ apps, and those households using subscription services are averaging about seven contracts each. Every interaction with a brand has the potential to expose customers to a whole host of new ways of doing things - and they may just discover that they prefer their experience with a competitor, than with you. There’s a reason new, disruptive services feel disruptive; their overarching brand experience and how they serve their customers is perceived as superior to the long-standing players.

The increased preference for digital interactions may have been accelerated by the pandemic, but this way of engaging with brands has undoubtedly been a key part of the customer experience for some time - almost three quarters of adults in the UK were already using online banking services in 2019, for example. This breadth of digital interaction means that customers are learning more quickly, their choices are informed by new interactions, and as a result, their preferences are changing more often. 

What happens when consumers’ preferences shift so frequently? 

They become hard to predict. The good news is that an unpredictable customer is not an unapproachable one - the key to brand success however, is in empowering customers and investing in initiatives that decrease a company’s reliance on predictions. 

Putting power back into customer hands

There is a real opportunity to be had in integrating the customer - and their preferences, needs and desires - into every part of the business. This applies to your overall brand experience, your products and services, and across communication channels. 

Similarly, the best investment a business can now make is in initiatives that lessen the importance of predictions when it comes to customers’ behaviours, preferences and needs. Rather than relying on an oracle-like ability to anticipate these, businesses should be developing innovative brand experiences that evolve, develop and grow along with their audiences.

So what do we mean by ‘putting power back into the hands of the customer?’ How can brands do this? This concept can be further explored by focusing on the following three actions:

Collect feedback

This could be through a direct approach such as an in-app customer experience survey, customer interviews or user testing programmes. Alternatively, this can be done in a more subtle and unobtrusive way by collecting data through your digital product or service - much in the same way that Netflix does. The most important thing is to seek and collect this feedback continuously. Take for example, the statistic that 61% of customers would stop purchasing from a retailer if that particular brand’s website has poor functionality. ‘Poor’ functionality is of course subjective - but it remains crucial that businesses have a full view of how customers engage with, and feel about, their products or services (websites, apps, user journeys, or features) in order to continually improve them. 

Personalise the experience

Personalisation has the power to tailor each user’s experience, but is reliant on the data available and your overall strategy. Personalisation has the potential to vastly improve users’ experiences, but you cannot personalise an experience and expect the customer to whom the experience has been tailored to remain the same forever. So the rule is, personalise, but establish a framework for testing and diversifying your personalisation strategy as often as required. 

Give users options

While personalisation has the power to tailor an experience on the customer's behalf, customisation puts the control in the hands of the customer. While some users will not want to make the effort to use these features, for others it will be highly valued. The key is to provide a level of choice that is helpful, but not restrictive or overwhelming. Giving power back to the customer can include simple features such as accessibility options and communication preferences, but also allow the customer to choose the content they want to see most. In relation to websites or apps - what does each customer most want to see first? The options you could provide will depend on your brand, your audiences and the products and services on offer. It could be detailed product information, long form content, inspirational imagery & videos or a configuration tool. 

If a brand allows a customer to choose from a variety of options - and empowers them to also constantly review and change that selection - then this eradicates the need to predict what that user will want in three or six months' time. Good examples of brands getting this right include Headspace, the mindfulness app that offers advanced accessibility options, or fashion retailer Zalando with its content, email and notification preferences. These examples allow the consumer to make their own choices about how they wish to interact with the business, rather than predicting or making assumptions about their preferences.

Managing Expectations

This agile approach to customer experience initiatives will also, ultimately, decrease the businesses’ reliance on predictions. Teams can implement a practice of revisiting decisions to allow for course correction - informed by customer feedback - if needed. Metrics and market insight can provide triggers to revisit a past decision, but in some cases it’s wise to revisit choices at regular intervals in time. Establishing this culture of reviewing decisions also encourages a positive approach towards uncertainty; in which change is not only expected, but welcomed, and teams are prepared to act quickly.

Customers are exposed - like never before - to a plethora of digital experiences that every day are helping them to better understand what they want (and what they don’t want) from the brands they interact with. Your customers may be more unpredictable now than they once were. Because of this, brands need to get the experience right for their audience - providing choice where they need it, tailoring according to need, and continually iterating, innovating and reviewing how customers feel about the experience you offer. Agility is the only real competitive advantage in today’s market: so make sure that your business is able to move as quickly as your customers do.

Sophia Charters is part of the Client Services Management team at Freestyle.


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