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January 22, 2014
It Pays to Meet Customer Expectations
 
At the dawn of a new year there’s lots of talk about new devices, new technologies, new tactics and new trends. But there’s not much talk about evolving customer expectations, which, to a large degree, determine how all these new things are perceived or received.
 
Consumers hold fundamental attitudes about brands that don’t change much over time, even while the channels they use to interact evolve. Consumers have existing brand relationships and are generally willing to trade data for convenience, utility, or deals. They expect the brands they care about to care back. Brand loyalists insist that the relationship must be two-way, respectful, and interactive.
 
Consumers have a point of view and expect to be heard — explicitly when they choose to act and implicitly when they call, click, visit, or buy. To meet and capitalize on these baseline expectations, focus on these three fundamental expectations.
 
Always be Available. Sam Walton was right. Brands need to be there whenever and however customers want to buy. This means having a 24/7 presence in the channels or on the devices your customers use most. And while not every channel or medium makes sense for every brand, being available, offering several contact options, making it easy to click, download, print, chat, or buy are table stakes. Understanding what each segment needs and providing an 800# or other retro, but highly effective tools, is part and parcel of this expectation.
 
Enable Preference Setting. Customers want it their way. A nation of gamers is used to setting the level and choosing from an array of options. Brands need to abandon the one-size-fits-all super-cost-efficient model in favor of giving customers the option to specify the content they want, the format they want it in, and the delivery channel and frequency they prefer. All the research shows that brands that deliver against variable customer preferences drive significant spikes in customer satisfaction, incremental sales, and brand loyalty. 
 
Once set, customers expect brands to adhere to preferences and use them to personalize relevant messages. Your best customers, like your best friends, assume that the relationship is dynamic and cumulative over time. They expect brands to pay attention and to use cues from the conversation or their actions to advance intimacy. They expect that purchase and activity history will inform branded communications and become filters to curate the messages and offers they receive. This assumption makes re-targeting tolerable and even appreciated. But the flipside is equally true. Sending irrelevant, untimely or out-of-context messages will sour things quickly.
 
Listen and Respond. Loyal customers pay attention to and care about favorite brands the way family members care about each other. They have opinions about brand posture, products, services, prices, competitors, and people. And they aren’t bashful about expressing them to the brand directly and by broadcasting them in social media.
 
Consumers expect brands to celebrate and shout out positive feedback and to jump on complaints and customer service issues quickly and efficiently. Everyone is a critic or a consumer advocate in two clicks. Understanding consumers’ need to have a say is as important as providing them with the best possible product set.
 
So, before you get carried away with the latest social or mobile trend or ad unit, recalibrate your marketing plan to align with these fundamental expectations. The investment will pay off in spades.

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Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.
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