Salesforce’s latest edition of its State of the Connected Customer Report offers important insights from nearly 17,000 B2C and B2B buyers on the evolving customer engagement landscape marketers face right now.
The Report focuses much attention on a few key marketing trends, including the evolution of trust in customer-brand relationships, customer experience as an increasingly digital-first proposition, the use of data for engagement, customer demands for increased data privacy, omnichannel engagement, and more.
But one thing is clear from the Report – however customers choose to engage with brands, they expect flexibility and a personal touch. They also demand increasing control over their personal data, with trust as their beacon. The Report shows that a whopping 88% of all customers believe that trust becomes more important in times of change, so brands need to build trust into everything they do.
Top 5 actions to build trust
Of course, trust is not easy to build, but it’s (alas) quite easy to lose. Even more challenging, customers want brands to drive increasingly personalized engagement via multiple channels, but they also expect you to fully respect their data privacy concerns.
With that said, customer trust in businesses has actually been growing. The Report notes that “52% of customers say they generally trust companies — up from 48% in 2020.” The Report even recommends five practical actions marketers can take to boost trust:
1. Communicate honestly and transparently: Customers expect you not to lie to them or mislead them. That erodes trust quickly. Instead, they want to hear the truth, even when it’s messy.
2. Use customer information responsibly: Brands must comply with relevant data privacy regulations (GDPR, etc.), but customers want brands to be reliable stewards of their data, using it responsibly and letting customers know what’s happening with their data.
3. Treat customers as people, not numbers: If you don’t know this one already, you’re in big trouble. Customers, especially B2B customers, want marketers/brands to understand their needs and address them in whatever they do, from developing brand offerings to marketing outreach and beyond.
Today’s customers know it’s possible for companies to deliver a personal touch across digital systems and are looking to purchase from organizations that understand and anticipate their needs. The majority of B2B customers, the Report says, “expect offers to always be personalized.” Continued exposure to great digital experiences has raised customer expectations even further, placing underperforming organizations under mounting pressure to drive digital transformation.
An eye-opening 88% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its product or services — up from 80% in 2020, according to the Report.
4. Resolve issues proactively: This tip is related to improved digital experiences – customers now demand that companies identify issues quickly and, once identified, move immediately to resolving them. If a customer needs to take time out of their day to resolve an issue they think the company should have resolved already, you may lose that customer.
5. Communicate proactively: Customers don’t just want you to solve problems, they want to be kept in the loop. Again, the explosion of Amazon-style, automated, and digital-first engagement has raised the bar for all customers and brands when it comes to communication.
Values matter, even in B2B
The Report makes it clear that, for many customers, it’s not enough for companies to deliver a great product or service; they must also stand for the values they believe in, not just with employees and suppliers, but also with customers. A massive “85% of customers say their purchase decisions are swayed by how companies treat employees, and over 75% watch for a company’s environmental practices, like protecting natural resources and achieving net zero emissions,” explains the Report.
Nearly 90% of customers expect companies to clearly state their values, “but only half feel this is common practice,” says the Report. With the growing impact of values on purchase decisions, standing on the sidelines or offering “vanilla press releases” is less safe for brands than it used to be. Two out of three customers have actually stopped buying from a company whose values don’t align with theirs.
The takeaway here is that customers, even in B2B, want to know who you are, what you value, and see you standing up for your beliefs.
Data privacy concerns grow
This may be the least surprising trend in the Report. Consumers are willing to give you their data, but only if they receive sufficient benefits from the brand in return. For instance, the Report notes that “46% of customers would share their style preferences to get tailored rewards.” Growing privacy regulations and bans on third-party browser cookies have accelerated the growth of consent-forward approaches to information gathering. Again, what’s at stake here is customer trust.
The vast majority of customers (74%) say that organizations gather more customer data than they actually need, and many customers feel that businesses aren’t being transparent enough about how they use data. If brands clearly explained how they intended to use customer data, 79% of customers said they’d be more likely to trust said brand with their information.
Demand for omnichannel engagement grows
Shifting customer communication preferences are a big part of the Report, as email lost its (long-held) spot as the number one preferred communication channel, with the phone replacing it. Meanwhile, in-person and online chat channels continue to grow in favor with customers.
Most preferred customer channels:
- Phone (59%, up from 54% in 2020)
- Email (57%, down from 65% in 2020)
- In-Person (46%)
- Online Chat (42%)
- Mobile Apps (28%)
One thing hasn’t changed: Customer engagement is as omni-channel as ever, with customers turning to an average of nine different channels to communicate with companies. Marketers clearly need to meet people where they are, and do so in a seamless, omnichannel way.
Want to stay connected with your customers in order to improve your performance and revenue? Reach out to us for help.