This article first appeared in The Huffington Post on May 7, 2017
What do customers really want?
Plenty has been written on the subject. Companies do tons of research to find out what their customers want. They do market research, commission ethnographic studies, set up focus-groups, and much more. These are all important, of course. But if you zoom out away from specific product attributes and look at customer psychology, you will see that they actually need two things.
If an organisation takes note of these two points, it will help the customer as well as its own bottom-line.
Please note that the word ‘product’ here includes both a ‘physical product’ and a ‘service’. An example of a physical product is a car and ‘service’ refers to the way the car owner is treated when he goes to the car garage for a regular checkup and overhaul.
I am talking about two things:
Consistency is about fulfilling what has been promised to the customer every time. It is about delivering a product to the customer with the desired attributes every time. The attributes we are talking about are performance characteristics which the customer expects when he purchases a product. Consistency ensures customers experience the product or service in the same way every time. The two things which the customer abhors are ‘uncertainty’ and ‘unpleasant surprises’. And consistency ensures that both these concerns are addressed.
Consistency is about fulfilling what has been promised to the customer every time.
The concept of consistency is fairly universal and can be used in different contexts. What that means is that whatever performance attribute has been promised to customers, consistency is about ensuring that it gets delivered every time, in various ‘contexts’. ‘Context’ here refers to various distribution channels used to deliver a product to the customer. In the case of banking, among other things, these would be retail branches, mobile phones, ATMs, and contact centres.
A company can offer different types of ‘consistency’. These could change based on the product type and the market-segment it caters to.
Here are some kinds of ‘consistency’ that a company could provide the customer:
- Performance Consistency: This pertains to product attributes and refers to consistency at two levels. At one level, it is about the company providing the customer the promised standards or specifications. At another level, after the customer has bought the product, it is about ensuring that the product performs in a consistent manner during its promised product life. Say, you go to purchase a mobile phone with a 1 MP (megapixel) camera. So, when you purchase it, the first level of performance consistency is that the phone in your hand should have a camera with 1 MP resolution. At the second level, having purchased the phone, every time you click a picture, it should deliver images of the promised quality.
- Interaction Consistency: This refers to the way in which the staff interacts with customers. A company needs to ensure that all employees show the same positive emotions, pro-activeness, and empathy, irrespective of who the customer is and what he or she needs.
Whatever performance attribute has been promised to customers, consistency is about ensuring that it gets delivered every time, in various ‘contexts’.
- Omni-Channel Consistency: This refers to the seamless and effortless experience that customers experience across channels. The focus should be on ensuring that customers receive the same experience across each channel and don’t sense any difference.
- Communication Consistency: This refers to the messages that the organisation sends out to customers and how it lives it day to day. A consistent communication is about making sure that the brand promise and its values resonate across all customer touch points. For instance, if ‘transparency’ is one element of brand promise, the company should ensure that it is evident during the entire customer relationship.
- Reputational Consistency: This about ensuring that a company maintains it’s ‘reputational’ commitments. This includes commitments met to regulators, society, environment and others. For instance, a retailer might want to ensure that it does not source products from vendors who use child-labour. And, it will adhere to this commitment even if that means losing business.
- Experiential Consistency: This is about consistency in service at every touch point provided by an enterprise, and includes key elements of customer service beyond personal interaction. This includes things such as personalisation, convenience, ambience, access, and timeliness.
What customers want is that they have acquired a product that is worth the price.
Best Value for Money
The second thing that customers really care about is that the product they acquire should be available at a price they feel is right. This is essentially a perception of value in the eyes of the customer. What customers want is that they have acquired a product that is worth the price. What customers look for here is the utility of the product compared to the money they paid to buy it. There are many variables that can impact ‘value for money’ and it is a complicated subject. However, the common variables that impact value for money include novelty (how many competitors who provide similar product) , availability (how easy is it to acquire the product), economical life (the time when it is more economical to replace a product than have it), after-sales service, fitness for purpose (extent to which it meets the customer’s specific requirement), cost (this includes acquisition cost, maintenance cost, operating cost and more), brand perception, and so on. Clearly, if a company does not get the product’s perceived value right, it will lose customers despite having the best product.
‘Value for money’ does not always mean the cheapest product.
Companies should constantly work towards improving value for customers. One of the initiatives taken up by forward looking companies is ‘value improvement’ efforts. The focus here is to remove costs associated with producing poor quality goods. Of course, there are many other initiatives that need to be taken up around product development, branding and so on. One thing to note here is that ‘value for money’ does not always mean the cheapest product. Yes, in certain cases the lowest price is what matters to customers, such as in a Walmart store where the focus is to provide quality product at the lowest price. Hence, their constant focus is on supply chain efficiency and weeding out anything that could be wasteful. On the hand, in the case of an iPhone which is fairly expensive, customers don’t mind spending the money. Customers perceive that what Apple is offering in terms of features and service justifies the price.
So the next time you think about customers, remember the abbreviations ‘C & V’ which stands for ‘Consistency’ and ‘Value for Money’.