Hard times mean being even more customer-centric

Times are tough for consumers. With inflation driving up the price of everyday goods, household budgets are tightening everywhere. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics show the consumer price index has risen 7.1% over the past 12 months across all items, with food (10.6%) and energy (13.1%) being the hardest hit areas.

With prices significantly higher than a year ago, businesses have to find ways to show the value of their products when consumers have less to spend. Expecting a hit to revenue, many companies are already looking to cut costs, and we’ve recently seen giant corporations such as Amazon and Meta laying off thousands of employees.

Smaller operations must also find ways to save money while maintaining the quality of their products and services. Options might include reducing energy use, maximizing employee skills, finding a business bill pay service with lower fees, and incorporating new technologies to automate processes.

While these are all good options, the companies that survive will find ways to maintain existing customers and attract new business, and that requires them to become more customer-centric.

But what does that look like in practice? Below are five ways your company can prioritize customers, given the less than ideal economic outlook.

1. Listening to your customers

It might sound obvious, but the best way to improve customer experience is to listen and learn what they want. This includes post-purchase satisfaction surveys and questionnaires to try to discover the driving factors behind how customers feel about your company as well as any picking up on any feedback you receive during customer service interactions.

Always keep in mind that it is the customer that gets to judge the quality of your services. Often what we think works well is perceived very differently by the consumer, and you shouldn’t force your ideas onto an unreceptive audience.

Listening to your customers produces meaningful, actionable steps to improve your product and communication strategy.

2. Provide products with meaningful value

When times are hard, people will cut back, finding items they can go without, subscriptions they can cancel, or products with cheaper alternatives.

The only way to survive the cull is to provide something that brings real value to the customer. Great advertising can get people to try a product once, but no amount of marketing magic can keep customers coming back if the end result isn’t a value-adding product.

When people are spending less, it might be tempting to invest in marketing to chase a short-term sales boost. However, the longer-term play is to invest in the product, ensuring it is best-in-class and offers something your competitors can’t.

3. Search for inspiration in the data

Every company should track data on customer interactions and how their product is used. However, many companies go through the effort of collecting data and then keep it siloed across different departments (marketing, customer support, sales, etc.). When brought together, the value of each dataset increases, adding up to something more than the sum of its parts.

Taking the time to analyze all of your company data in a single place allows you to get a clearer, more holistic view of your value proposition. With data on your side, you can generate new ideas on how to enhance or market your product.

Perhaps there is a common customer support issue exacerbated by how the product is marketed and what the customer initially expects. Maybe you can take a deep dive into the sales and marketing figures to improve ROI figures for specific campaigns.

Whatever it is, integrating data into a single platform is always a good thing, producing additional insight that would have previously gone undiscovered.

4. Make it easy for your customers

Consumers have a lot to deal with right now, and you want to position your company as a solution, not another problem. That can mean introducing new policies which remove pain points and make it as easy as possible for customers to use your product and services.

Examples could be financial such as payment plans that help customers spread the cost of purchases, or service oriented. Examples of different companies becoming more customer-centric include:

  • Online brands removing lengthy online checkout processes.
  • Retail companies introducing more favorable return policies.
  • Implementing additional customer support channels so people can get in touch via a medium they are more comfortable with.

Often it comes down to putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and doing the problem-solving for them. So how can you make life easier for your customers?

5. Loyalty programs

A concrete policy you can introduce right now to become more customer-centric and keep people coming back is to reward long-term consumers. Rather than chasing new consumers, consider loyalty program ideas that show how much your repeat customers mean to you.

With rewards in place for regular purchases, you can increase the lifetime value of each customer and improve your margins without spending on new marketing campaigns. Additionally, there is power in building a community around your brand, and nothing makes people loyal like getting an exclusive deal.

This could be financial, but it could also be early access to new products or unique products only available to people with built-up loyalty.

Prioritizing the customer experience

While businesses should always strive to prioritize the customer experience, the consequences become starker when times are tough. Given that people are struggling to meet their monthly bills, you need to offer a compelling case for why your company should remain part of the budget.

The key to that case is focusing on customer-centric policies and finding ways to deliver a meaningful, valuable product.

Candice Cearley

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