This entry was originally published on Retail Dive on March 24, 2015
What does the word “value” mean to you? In the world of buying and selling, it used to simply communicate a fair exchange. A retailer provided a product. A customer paid a reasonable price. The product worked as promised. Everybody won. But it’s not quite that simple anymore.
With the rise of instantaneous global communication and commerce, most products have made the transition to commodities. The world is a shopper’s market, with cheaper goods and more convenient access always just a click away.
Bigger Context. Bigger Meaning. Brands have identified “customer experience” as the new differentiator, the next “competitive battleground,” according to Gartner. And as retailers run to better understand how to deliver the kind of experience that will bond buyers to them and encourage larger basket size, value has come to mean something different. Something bigger.
In working with some of the world’s best retail brands, I hear “value” used in a new context. I’m told, and know first-hand, that today’s customers want to feel valued. Not just as a sale or a transaction, but as an individual. Omnichannel strategies and technologies are striving to know and engage with customers in more personal and relevant ways. But that alone won’t solve the “value” puzzle.
A Simple Question In the course of doing business, my company recently asked a group of brands and consumers what they think is most important when it comes to customer experience. We initially set out on this quest to identify both the common ground and the disconnects between the two groups. And we did. However, in the process, these consumers told us something that we didn’t even think to ask.
As a customer story junkie, I can’t get enough of the messages found in comment boxes at the end of surveys. Inside of those four walls, customers tell the best stories; it’s what’s most important to them. In this case they, unprompted, talked about the importance of feeling valued. One in three consumers explicitly included words and phrases like “valued,” “acknowledged,” “heard,” “appreciated,” and “respected” in describing how they want to be treated.
Dive Deeper to a Different Relationship Makes sense. But then they went deeper. Consumers don’t just want to be on the receiving end of value. They also want to give value in return. In comments mentioning the word “value,” nearly half of respondents used the word to express their desire to provide value back to the company. And when asked why they give feedback, four in five said it was because they enjoy “making a difference.”
Why is this important? Because it means that your customers want a fundamentally different kind of relationship with you. Yes, they’re empowered. But what they’re doing with that power is asking for something more authentic. They want a relationship that looks more like other human relationships. And while this can sound frightening—and difficult—it also opens up a myriad of new opportunities.
Opportunity with Expiration Dates The question for you is this: Will you take your customers seriously? Will you trust what they are offering? Or will you sit in a bunker, surrounded by sandbags full of reasons they’re wrong and reasons you just can’t change?
I’ve seen a few brands that are jumping into this brave new world. I see others who are waiting on the shore to see how the courageous ones fare. And then there are the ones who just keep tightening their blindfolds.
Most brands are spending time and resources asking questions. Customers are responding. Are you seeing and seizing the opportunities in their stories, or are you letting them expire with the loyalty of the customers who shared them?