Elevating Empathy to Support Your Customers

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Elevating Empathy to Support Your Customers

by Arturo Mendiola


Elevating empathy is a core value here at Horizontal Digital – a value that empowers us to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes and build experiences based on where they’re at. So as we’re coming out of a pandemic, now deeply entrenched in the conflict in Ukraine, along with rising inflation and gas prices, market analysts are somewhat split on if the economy is on the verge of a recession. Which begs the question…how are consumers reacting to these uncertain times? 

A recent article from Rueters (March, 2022) published a study from the University of Michigan indicating that the consumer sentiment index had fallen to 59.7 (the lowest reading since 2011). 

U.S. consumer sentiment fell more than expected in early March as gasoline prices surged to a record high in the aftermath of Russia's war against Ukraine, boosting one-year inflation expectations to the highest level since 1981. Support will also be coming from plentiful jobs and abundant available cash and credit for many. The volatility of income expectations may suggest consumers are struggling to understand how labor market tightness and inflation will impact their budgets.

 | Reuters
With consumer sentiment dropping, this typically leads to more conservative consumer spending. Naturally, consumers are adapting behaviors to accommodate rising prices of inflation by eating more at home, switching to products that are more cost-friendly and shopping at retailers that they perceive are doing better at managing prices.  

So how do brands support consumers as they change their spending habits?  

“People tend to have a rational response to gains but an emotional response to loss,” said Michael Finke, a professor of wealth management at The American College of Financial Services. (Forbes) 

What’s interesting about the human psyche based on Michael Finke’s point, is that while consumers will be fickle in daily spending like groceries and gas, they’ll still be willing to shell out for bigger ticket items – such as appliances or TVs that aren’t replaced as frequently - before the cost of those products increases. 

And as a result of this mindset shift, brands may once again find themselves needing to expand to meet consumer needs. It’s no secret that the pandemic materially altered how brands operate and do business – with many brands quickly amplifying and enhancing their digital experiences. This nearly overnight overhaul included everything from ensuring ecommerce seamlessly fulfilled customer demands as brick-and-mortar closed their doors to BOPIS (Buy-Online-Pickup-In-Store) opportunities to increasing delivery service logistics all powered through an app. But now the question is will these previous changes be enough or will brands once again be faced with trying to keep up with new customer behaviors.  

We’re not the only ones thinking about this. Salesforce’s State of Marketing 7th Edition polled industry professionals to understand the priorities and challenges they face: 

As you can see, innovation and real-time customer engagement made the top-five in both categories. And one interesting challenge that was a carry-over from the year prior is creating a cohesive customer journey across channels and devices.  

Which is why we place so much emphasis on helping our clients realize truly connected experiences. 

We know that competitors are just a “click away” for our clients who are in a mature, saturated landscape. Which means customer loyalty can erode if those customers find it difficult to engage with a brand at any point in their journey. So when customers traverse through the conversion funnel, it’s imperative their journey is seamless across touchpoints, channels, departments and devices. 

In order to do this, brands need to tie everything together. Starting with stitching individual customer data at each moment along the conversion continuum. Eliminating data siloes. Where each interaction is informed by the previous point of engagement. It’s also imperative to integrate the technology stack systems in a way that enable teams to collaborate in creating a frictionless customer journey, while having data flow unobstructed between platforms. All to anticipate customer needs, while proactively surpassing their expectations.  

That’s where the art of empathy comes into play. Brands that have illustrated their ability to adapt with the new demands of customers will continue to thrive with meaningful customer connections. And knowing that consumers will likely be more discerning with how they spend, brands will need to place a higher-level of empathy on supporting their customers through this period of economic instability.  

Let’s take a closer look at how brands can activate this level of empathetic intel. 

Unified Customer Data: Shining a Light on Where Consumers Place the Importance of Their Dollar 

If your organization has a means to aggregate and unify customer data, you’re well on your way to understanding how your customers may be shifting their behaviors.  

  • Identify patterns of past interactions and purchases. If you see shifts beginning, leverage personalization to surface cost-friendly options commensurate with new buying patterns. 

Analytics: Capitalize on Channel and Touchpoint Analytics to Optimize Content and Search 

Arguably, consumers may be doing more due diligence up front to research what products and/or services are being offered at the best price.  

  • Utilize analytics to understand where your customers are searching and discovering product pricing. If search engines are surfacing competitive offerings above yours, it’s critical to employ an SEM investment to combat it, while you boost your organic search to regain the top spot on SERPs. 
  • Content may be another key aspect of the digital marketing strategy to examine. If consumers are shifting what’s driving them – leverage analytics to find ways to meet them with the content that conveys affordability AND quality which all ladders up to perceived value. 

Journeys: Refactor Pathways to Conversion that Entice Loyalty 

Now is not the time to cut back on incentivizing your most valuable customers. The general rule of thumb is that the top 20 percent of your customers account for about 80 percent of your company revenue. Given the potential volatility of the market, customers tend to look elsewhere if it saves them money in the short-term. But the long-term is where brands survive and thrive in times like these. 

  • By knowing your customers and whether they’re in your top 20 percent base, you can now focus on ways to encourage driving them towards programs that keep them loyal. For instance, if your brand has an app that automatically identifies and applies discounts to products as they shop, create journeys that encourage downloads and usage (e.g. Target Circle). 
  • This not only rewards customers, but it also has a beneficially cyclical effect where you continue to capture rich data on customers to improve the experience and content for them.  

First-Party Data: Proactively Own Customer Intelligence 

Privacy regulations are changing the way brands collect customer intel in the new ‘‘cookieless world.’’  

  • Because first-party data is intel your customers have explicitly given you (with permission), every data point they provide is like casting a vote in favor of your brand to continually improve on the 1:1 personalized experience you create for them.
  • This is key for building a 360-degree view. Profile information and explicitly identified preferences combined with implicit behavioral data allows you to get a full understanding of who they are and what they need from your brand (especially now in a time where consumers are looking for help in their buying decisions).  

Customers are more than just your company’s basis of revenue. They’re people – like friends in your inner circle or members of your family. They’re human. And they deserve to be treated with experiences and moments that elevate empathy. By putting people at the center of everything you do, you’ll craft and create connected experiences that support them in the right ways, while driving greater lifetime value.  

Learn more about Horizontal’s approach to connected experiences. Drop us a line.

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