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The consumer landscape is evolving, the way consumers shop for products and services has changed, and brands need to learn to reconnect and engage with their consumers. Customers no longer have to flock to the front door of your brick-and-mortar store to transact; the retail model is changing.

Due to Covid-19 and the associated behavioural shifts, customers have embraced various channels to access products and services, be it online, on an app or through a call centre. But the expectation for exceptional service remains the same. When the infection numbers stabilise and the government lifts lockdown, retail property owners are likely to need to rethink their strategies.

Pre-Covid-19 the revenue streams of property owners were already drying up as shopping malls battled with waning foot traffic, growing vacancies and rental arrears amid the so-called retail apocalypse. A large number of retail outlets have closed in recent times, but this has arguably been more to do with a tough economy and limited consumer spending than a large-scale move to online shopping.

While e-commerce has surged in other countries during the Covid-19 state of disaster, its growth has been slower in SA. The adoption of e-commerce has, however, accelerated, and businesses are scrambling to put the requisite logistics in place.

Research by Salesforce found that 76% of customers now report that it’s easier than before to take their business elsewhere — switching from brand to brand to find an experience that matches their expectations. The research shows that understanding customer needs and exceeding customer expectations are becoming “table stakes” for businesses to compete.

Salesforce Research surveyed more than 6,700 consumers and business buyers globally to understand how consumer expectations are changing, but retailers do not always know if they are meeting those customer needs. So, just how well do you understand your digitally connected customer?

Customer Care

Ensuring you are meeting customer needs starts with choosing the appropriate channels to engage the customer while also being agile enough to make rapid changes to achieve the desired results when expectations and realities change. For example, understanding your customers’ shopping habits allows you to rapidly adapt to meet them where they are. As we have observed, agility trumps being robust.

Data and analytics become an essential element in helping businesses to gain insights about their customers, and hyper-personalisation is to winning new business. By way of example, Vodacom introduced Just4You, a platform that uses sophisticated usage pattern analysis to understand individual customers lifestyle needs based on the customer profile and their usage patterns. It looks at the individual needs of the customer and creates competitive personalised offers.

Digitally connected customers do not think twice about choosing your competitor when faced with complicated customer journeys and painful price points. Marketers today must consider how best to personalise their propositions while asking themselves: “How do we ensure our products and services add absolute value to our customers, and solve their day-to-day challenges?” The edge lies in understanding what customers need, and building products according to their requirements.

You do not need to reinvent the wheel — quick wins are possible if you optimise existing channels. For example, Vodacom uses its blogs, e-mailers, SMS campaigns, My Vodacom App, USSD, Omni-channel retail and wholesale channels, TOBI chatbot (among others) to engage with our customers in their chosen channels at any given time. Small businesses can do the same, by optimising their existing channels and building for the future simultaneously.

Consumers are expecting to be rewarded for consuming products and for being loyal to a brand. Vodacom has introduced a new loyalty programme which aims to speak to this need. We understand that money is not in abundance, consumers are under pressure and we need to play our part in assisting. In addition, we have built-in behavioural analytics to reward customers on a personalised level even further.

More than ever, businesses need to focus on going beyond the minimum expected product or service and deliver a customer experience that truly differentiates. Staying relevant involves consistently asking how you can meet your customers wherever they are. Brands that can engage with their customers on an individual basis need to take advantage of this fully.

For those companies that are able to deliver this human touch, the rewards are considerable. We have found that delivering personalised experiences drives customer loyalty, with 70% of consumers saying a company’s understanding of their individual needs influences their loyalty.

• Jorge Mendes is chief consumer business officer at Vodacom SA.

This article first appeared on businesslive.co.za

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