Experience-Forward: Putting people at the center of everything you do
by Arturo Mendiola
At Horizontal, we embrace a mindset that puts people (consumers, clients, employees, and partners) at the absolute center of everything we do. This mindset helps us empathize with the needs of each individual and better understand what drives them.
We call it Experience-Forward.
Because when you focus on the experience you're creating FOR people, you take a mission-critical first step toward creating greater possibilities between brands and customers. After all, everyone deserves to be treated like a human.
Not only is a people-first approach the right thing to do — it’s also the best way to win over customers and boost your customer lifetime value (CLV).
For 84% of customers, being treated like a person — and not a number — is very important to win their business. (Salesforce, State of the Connected Customer 2018.)
Predicting post-pandemic customer behavior
Now, more than ever, having an Experience-Forward mindset is critical as we enter the post-pandemic era. COVID-19 has drastically shifted the way customers engage with brands (in-person and online) along with their buying habits. To continue meeting customer expectations, brands need to adapt and pivot in more nimble ways.
No one knows exactly how customer behavior will shift once the pandemic is officially over, but that’s not stopping industry analysts from sharing their forecasts. At Horizontal, we've analyzed multiple studies and published reports and articles to find the patterns, anomalies, and even conflicting predictions.
The seesaw of shopping online vs. in-store (or somewhere in-between)
It’s no surprise that lockdowns and quarantines around the world sparked a surge in digital shopping. But as we slowly come out of the pandemic, what consumer sentiment and trends are analysts seeing?
Digital shopping is here to stay
Many industry pros, like McKinsey's research study, noted "digital shopping is here to stay" indicating a consistent increase in online purchases across essentials, groceries, OTC, food, and even furnishings and appliances.
You can’t replace in-store “touch and feel” moments
At the same time, other experts are seeing trends that show consumers are ready to get back into the real world. These trends are driven by the notion that in-person shopping cannot be fully replaced. Forbes’ State of Consumer Behavior 2021 found "46% of respondents said they still prefer to shop in-person rather than online."
Most respondents say that an in-person brick-and-mortar experience allows for tactile (touch and feel) moments with products that can't be truly replicated in a digital environment. (Forbes, 2021)
Best of both worlds: “Phygital Reality”
If you want to stay relevant to your customer base, planning for both is your best bet. Elevating both digital shopping and in-person (in-store or sales) experiences allows you to serve the ever-changing dynamics of customer expectations. Research World cleverly coined it "Phygital Reality."
Phygital Reality is a hybrid of physical and virtual worlds where consumers can seamlessly live, work, shop and play both in-person and online. Digital tools allow consumers to stay connected while at home and re-enter the outside world safely as economies reopen. Businesses can integrate virtual processes into their physical spaces to give consumers who prefer to stay home the comfort to venture out instead. (Research World, 2021)
Loyalty hangs in the balance
One common theme analysts have found is loyalty — or more specifically — the erosion of it. A couple years ago, I wrote a piece about our belief at Horizontal that "brands are only as good as their worst customer experience." In that piece, I cited a stat from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:
67% of customers switch brands – not due to price or features – but due to customer experience or a perceived lack of attention, personalization, and engagement by the brand.
In today’s experience economy, earning and sustaining customer loyalty continues to be in great danger. Not only must brands provide a quality product and/or service offering (a bare minimum for success), they also have to deliver it in an end-to-end, connected experience that consumers love enough to choose you over your competition.
And to make things even tougher, brands now have to deal with a volatile economy where companies often have to shut down — which, according to McKinsey, isn’t instilling a ton of consumer confidence in the market:
- 75% of U.S. consumers have tried a new shopping behavior in response to economic pressures, store closings, and changing priorities.
- 36% of consumers have tried a new product brand.
- 73% of consumers who have tried a new brand plan to continue incorporating it into their routine.
Since the pandemic began, 48.7% of respondents said they had replaced products they purchased regularly at physical stores with competitors' online alternatives. (Forbes: State of Consumer Behavior 2021)
Anticipation is key
So what’s the solution to these trends? If you're an established brand, don’t rest on your laurels. Continue to invest in meeting — and more importantly — anticipating customer needs throughout their journey with you from awareness and consideration to conversion and post-purchase support.