It’s no secret that customers are capricious. However, as we navigate an era of change, it’s easy to feel like this is the most volatile period in business history.
But that’s not necessarily true.
The reality is that customers have been evolving for as long as the idea of a “customer” has existed. In fact, you’ve probably let some of these changes guide your own business choices, even if you didn’t realize that’s what was happening.
Today, we’re taking a closer look at what that means, and how shifting purchase behaviors can be your guiding light.
Evolution is nothing new
Ask anyone for an example of big changes in the business world and they’re likely to point fingers at the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, they’re not wrong. COVID-19 changed the way we do just about everything—but it’s not the first time we’ve transformed in response to something new.
Consider the very first person to say “you can buy stuff on my website!” (If you’re curious, the New York Times reported on this event back in 1994: The purchased item was a CD of Sting’s “Ten Summoner’s Tales,” and it went for $12.48.) For a society that still viewed digitized purchases as a product of science fiction, this was unprecedented—a fad that was likely to blow over because it was so different from the way we’d always done things.
Of course, that’s not what happened.
Although this wasn’t the first time purchasing behaviors shifted, this event did start a chain reaction that led us to the present day, a time in which COVID-19 has taken over as the next big catalyst. Just as companies adapted to website sales back then, they’re adapted to pandemic-related changes.
For a concrete example, look no further than your pantry. In the early days of shutdowns and quarantine restrictions, ordering groceries online and having them delivered was a huge evolution for customers. Since then, grocery stores have changed their offerings to reflect these new habits. Instead of just putting their existing products online, they’ve refined their approach and added choices to the ordering process, creating an entirely new buying experience.
Let’s take a closer look at what that means for brands like yours.
How companies are keeping up
When the pandemic began, health was all we could think about—and for good reason. Businesses were responding to COVID-19-specific pressures by introducing hand-washing stations, contactless delivery options, and more.
But once it became clear that many impacts of COVID-19 were here to stay, companies got more comfortable shifting their focus to customers instead of events.
What’s the difference? Think about it like this:
- Events: When you focus on events like COVID-19 or any other catalyst for change, you’re essentially looking at worries, feelings, and what-ifs. These things are important, but it’s difficult to act on them exclusively because they’re insubstantial.
- Customers: Shift your attention to your customers, on the other hand, and you see something much clearer: behaviors. These behaviors are the concrete, actionable outcomes of thoughts and feelings; that means the substantial is being influenced by the insubstantial, and you’re free to be informed by both.
Now, this approach looks different for every organization, which means it can be tricky to visualize. Let’s use a hypothetical business as an example—Company A.
Company A is a movie theater. Because their offering (which is an entire experience, not just a product) can’t be offered through a simple website purchase, they had to think outside the box during the height of the pandemic.
- Catalyst: The COVID-19 pandemic struck, putting a temporary end to indoor gatherings.
- Thoughts and feelings: Customers were often scared, frustrated, and restless from being quarantined in their homes. COVID-19 didn’t change their desire for entertainment, but it did change their ability to access it.
- Behaviors: Unable to go to theaters, customers started relying more heavily on streaming services.
- Industry response: To rebuild and reshape the moviegoing experience, Company A started streaming brand-new films so viewers could enjoy entertainment from home. Company A also partnered with local restaurants to create “meal deals” for streaming customers, simulating the experience of snacking at the movies, down to the in-house-popped popcorn.
In this way, Company A shows us how companies can keep up with change: deliver new experiences, not just upgraded versions of old experiences.
Where do we go from here?
Here at Alida, we may not have a crystal ball, but we do know that customers will always be changing. In fact, the next big thing might be just around the corner.
The good news is that it isn’t your job to predict the events that will lead to evolution. You should take part in these events, giving customers the option to engage with new elements like crypto if they so desire—but don’t feel pressured to know everything. All you have to do is get close enough to your customers to understand how their behaviors are likely to change over time.
With that in mind, your work is cut out for you: it’s time to think through customer journeys that may never have existed up until now.
Here are a few ways to do just that:
- Be open to something new. Remember, the first person to offer products for sale on a website was probably laughed at. Change looks odd at first, but it’s the key to delivering experiences that are consistently ahead of the curve.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Customers change quickly, and it’s easy to get carried away when trying to guess their next move. Instead of analyzing events and situations, learn who your consumers really are so you’re making informed predictions about their future needs. Here are some suggestions to acquire that knowledge:
- Get regular feedback to learn how your customers have changed over time and how to better serve them.
- Work with customers to shape the experience you deliver.
- After gathering customer requirements, test ideas with key segments before going to market with new strategies.
- Hold video focus groups to get real-time feedback so you know if your new offering (or changes to the current strategy) are on the right track.
- Ask your customers if the change met their expectations.
- Start your own trends. You don’t have to wait for your audience to call the shots. Instead, think outside the box to offer new opportunities (like Company A’s meal deals) that could delight your customers in ways they didn’t even realize were possible.
Change with confidence
Change is scary—especially when it’s constant, unpredictable, and almost impossible to predict.
Luckily, you have a secret weapon when it comes to navigating change: your customers. If you know how to leverage audience insights, you’ll be the first to know when minds and behaviors are about to shift.
Check out Alida’s customer experience solutions to start changing with confidence.