Brands today are equipped with a bevy of digital tools and data to get an intimate look into consumers’ purchasing habits. But at a time when, unlike any other, we have a population that spans four generations — each with a distinctive relationship with brands, social media and technology — customer expectations are more unpredictable than ever.
A recent study conducted by Oracle and the founder of Customer Bliss, Jeanne Bliss, shows the majority of consumers have had an experience with a brand that's been disappointing or upsetting, and more than one-third of consumers said they would never shop with a company again after just one bad experience. Despite the tools and resources at hand, brands aren’t always passing muster. Here are a few ways companies can better understand their customers’ preferences and behaviors.
When it Comes to Brand Recommendations, Man Trumps Machine
Word-of-mouth still reigns among the ways in which consumers share and glean opinions about brands. While all consumers tend to share positive experiences with their friends, family and colleagues, the youngest generation surveyed, Gen Zers, are the most vibrant. Eight out of 10 share their positive experiences with brands. And that word-of-mouth is imperative to a company’s success, as consumers across all generations are twice as likely to trust family members and friends over other sources, such as influencers, bloggers, celebrities, politicians and other strangers. While reviews from consumers and suggestions from store clerks are still part of consumer shopping experiences, people first look to their immediate social circles for brand recommendations.
And when we look at alternative and emerging sources of information — like social media, mobile phones, smart appliances, and voice-activated devices — consumer trust is shaky at best. In fact, 80 percent of baby boomers say that they wouldn’t trust shopping recommendations from digital platforms.
Customer Support Isn’t Universal Across Generations
When it comes to customer service, there’s a significant gap between how millennials, Gen X and baby boomers solve for their product or service issues compared to Gen Z. Just over half of baby boomers are inclined to go straight to the source and call a company directly when they have an issue — a trend that also resonates among millennials and Gen X. Alternately, Gen Zers are growing up in the tech-driven era of do it yourself, which lends them to take to Google or other search engines to solve problems themselves before calling a company.
And when they do get in touch with customer service teams, these generations have inverse attitudes toward their interactions. Forty-four percent of Gen Zers say the experience is like “getting expert advice” or “the feeling you get after solving a tough problem,” expressing a deep sense of reward after finally picking up the phone. On the flip side, one-third of baby boomers liken calling customer service to “stubbing their toe” or “going to the dentist.” Yet, one thing rings true with all generations when they engage with customer support: most (60 percent) expect to the ability to talk with a human. In an age when companies are pushing to automate many of their experiences, the human connection prevails.
The future of a brand’s relationship with all customers hangs in the balance of either falling short or exceeding expectations for things like quality customer support, frictionless commerce, and flexibility in how they consume products or services. Consumers are dictating the buying experience, but retailers can take the helm by leveraging a combination of trust, technology and creativity. These tools, along with a heavy dose of human connection, can help positively shape brand interactions for current and future generations.
Rob Tarkoff is executive vice president and general manager of Oracle Customer Experience (CX) Cloud, a customer experience solution.
Rob Tarkoff is executive vice president and general manager of Oracle Customer Experience (CX) Cloud, a customer experience solution. He joined Oracle in 2018 to lead Oracle CX Cloud product and strategy across marketing, sales, commerce, and service. His goal is to build products that help companies succeed in the Experience Economy.
Tarkoff spent the last 15 years focused on the customer experience, developing products for both large and early-stage companies. Most recently, as president and CEO of Lithium Technologies, he created the leading software in online communities. Prior to that, Tarkoff ran the Digital Enterprise business for Adobe.
Tarkoff holds a BA in political economy from Amherst College and a JD from Harvard Law School.