There’s a new breed of shopper. They’re on the high street, at home, at work – in fact, they’re everywhere. But what makes them different is that they’re always connected.

Today’s consumer is armed with a mobile wherever they go, giving them instant access to everything – from the advice of family and friends to their favourite brands.

This not only describes a change in shopping habits, but what many claim to be the third great wave of computing – it’s the “internet of things” or the “internet of everything”.

Every person and device is connected to other people and other devices – and they’re connected all of the time. Behind every connection is a customer, and this is what Dave Thomson from saleforce.com describes as the “internet of connected customers”.

Who are the “connected customers”?

The “connected customer” describes anyone that has a smartphone – and uses it.

Today, this makes up most of the UK. According to Kantar Media, in 2014, 71% of UK consumers owned a smartphone – and this is predicted to rise to just over 80% in 2015. A large number of the “connected customers” fall into the millennial age bracket, but increasingly the older generation is not only using smartphones in their day-to-day life, but using them as part of an omni-channel shopping experience.

How has this changed the relationship between business and consumer?

It’s now more than possible that a customer has better technology than the organisation they’re dealing with – they might even have better information about the product they’re buying.

According to Accenture, in 2000, businesses spent twice as much on IT hardware per employee as consumers spent. But in 2008, the spend was equal for businesses and consumers, a shift which fundamentally changed the relationship between the two.

Customers are no longer in the dark, waiting for businesses to inform them. They can find out pretty much everything they need to know independently. They can switch to a competitor, compare deals and read reviews before companies have a chance to convince them otherwise.

The result of having all this information in their pocket is that consumers have become more autonomous.

So, does the customer have the advantage?

It may be a difficult idea for businesses to accept, but until they catch up with the trend, the consumer has the advantage. One reason why shoppers are ahead of the game is that their access to information is more coherent – everything they need to know is neatly packaged in their smartphone.

Businesses on the other hand are clunkier than that. They have silos, departments, HQ vs. regional, sales vs. marketing. With all this complexity and often a conflict of interests weighing them down, businesses can’t keep up with the agile consumer.

To provide a seamless service, employees need the same kind of interconnectedness as the shopper – and this means mobile working.

Also, to become more agile as a whole, businesses may have to break down the barriers between departments. For example, customer service and marketing could join forces to more effectively engage with the “connected shopper”.

The demands of the “connected customer”

Accenture research shows that 68% of millennials demand an integrated and seamless experience, regardless of channel.

And as millennials make up a huge portion of the “connected customers”, and influence the shopping habits of the older generations, this reflects what most customers demand now – and what even more will expect in the near future.

According to Deloitte, 86% of UK and German shoppers use their smartphone for checking stock availability, locating stores, checking for discounts, checking product details and accessing third party comparison sites. This highlights just a few of the ways the “connected customer” likes to shop.

But a seamless omni-channel experience isn’t just essential during this initial research stage – it’s also vital when it comes to customer communications. For instance, if a customer contacts a business via social media, then sends an email and then picks up the phone, companies need to be able to track this as one conversation.

As well as this, the “connected customer” demands instant gratification – and this means businesses need to increase the availability of their customer service team, and the channels they’re available on.

With shoppers accustomed to an instant stream of information on their mobile, they don’t like waiting around for brands to get in touch, or to be given only one or two communication channels to choose from.

From customer service to “customer experience”

Customer service is now top of the agenda for impressing the “connected customer”; only it’s not called that any more. People that referred to themselves as “customer service directors” are now calling themselves “customer experience directors”.

“Customer experience” incorporates service, but implies so much more. This shift demonstrates how the role of businesses is changing – from just sellers and informers to entertainers and experience-makers.

Customer experience goes beyond what happens in the call centre, it’s everyone’s job to provide a great customer experience – from browsing to buying to getting in touch.

Has the “connected customer” killed marketing?

Many claim that the rise of the always-connected customer has killed marketing – or at least marketing as we know it. Marketing relies on knowing the typical customer journey and being able to deliver the right messages at the right time. The connected customer has disrupted this predictability.

It’s no longer the case that customers make their way through a linear buying journey of “click this”, “read that”, and then “buy this”. Instead of your marketing team in the driving seat, your customers are in control – they decide what happens when and flit between sites and channels in an increasingly complex buying journey.

As just one example – an article in the Guardian showed how the buying process for cars is becoming more complex, but is surprisingly quicker.

Research published in our Whitepaper, Serving the Connected Customer showed a similar affect in the B2B market, with buyers’ increasingly autonomous and contacting brands later and later in the buying process. In 2014, most B2B buyers contacted the business when they were 69% through the decision process.

It’s therefore essential for brands to be responsive to the ever-changing customer journey and to be able to personalise communications.

The rise of the “connected customers” forces business to up their game. To survive in an increasingly connected world, companies need to put customer experience first and become more reactive to consumer trends.

What do you think are the implications of the “connected customer”? Share your thoughts below.

 

By Tim Pickard of NewVoiceMedia


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