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Most companies are struggling to be relevant to their customers

By Haydn Townsend, Managing Director for Accenture Song in Africa

External economic, cultural, environmental and political issues affect individuals more than ever, complicating life and making purchasing decisions more complex. Technology has democratised access to information, with Web3 and the metaverse hinting at a creative and dynamic future. Still, many consumers say technology advancements have complicated their lives just as much as they have simplified things. As external forces exert more pressure, and the list of practical and ethical considerations keeps getting longer, people face more complex and frequent decisions than ever before.

According to a new Accenture report, The Human Paradox: From Customer Centricity to Life Centricity, the vast majority (88%) of executives believe that customers and workers are changing faster than they can transform their organisations, resulting in a “crisis of relevance”. We surveyed more than 25 000 consumers from 22 countries and identified the gap between what people expect businesses to provide and what companies believe their customers desire. According to the findings, two-thirds (67%) of respondents want firms to recognise and handle their shifting demands during times of disruption.

However, oversimplifying segmentation and underestimating the impact of external pressures on behaviour has resulted in this disparity between expectation and reality. To bridge the gap, businesses must see their consumers as they see themselves: multifaceted, complex and doing their best to adjust to unforeseen life situations; and then utilise that insight to fulfil the changing demands of their customers.

Human beings, not walking wallets

Consumers are showing they are comfortable being multi-dimensional, but many businesses continue to see them in just one way: as walking wallets. Companies are focused on finding simple ways to define consumers and predict their behaviours. But 61% of customers indicated their priorities are continually shifting due to external demands. As a result, businesses are often in many stages of crisis management, with paradoxical behaviours appearing, such as:

  • Customers prioritise themselves but want to effect change for others

Up to 66% of consumers say their needs drive their decision-making, and 72% feel they can personally impact the world and their communities through behaviours and buying choices. For example, a consumer will select a one-hour delivery for sustainable products.

  • Customers want to follow their values but not at the expense of financial value

More than half of consumers say the pandemic motivated them to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle, but up to 65% say price increases have led them to select lower-cost brands in recent purchases. For example, a consumer will seek to buy ethically farmed, sustainable beef but choose the cheaper option, particularly in this inflationary environment.

  • Customers want to be in control of their fate but also want to be guided to it

Though over 76% of customers feel empowered to make critical decisions in their life, nearly two-thirds (64%) of people wish that companies would respond faster with new offerings to meet their changing needs. For example, consumers want to feel like they are making their own decision on which product to buy but are also comfortable going with what’s recommended.

While paradoxical human acts are not new, what has changed is the increased regularity and comfort with which they are performed: Two-thirds of worldwide consumers who admit to acting inconsistently believe that paradoxical behaviour is both human and acceptable. Instead of viewing customers as a pair of hands that decide when to reach for the wallet, they should be considered as ever-changing, ever-evolving individuals deeply affected by various external influences. Only by knowing these settings will businesses be able to offer the most suitable solutions and contribute to growth.

From customer-centric to life-centric

Businesses have tried for years to come up with personas and profiles that sort their customers into tidy categories with predictable behaviours – and they’re coming up short. While nearly all businesses struggle to stay relevant, companies that embrace a life-centric approach are best positioned to thrive in the future. Customer-centric thinking has helped enterprises go a long way toward creating memorable experiences for individuals.

However, given the magnitude of upheaval people are experiencing in their lives, we believe organisations must innovate to remain relevant and valuable to customers. “Life-centric” firms perceive their clients differently; they grasp the external variables that affect them in making decisions and providing valuable solutions to their requirements simply and profoundly.

The way forward is to take a holistic, dynamic view of customers and what motivates their behaviours and treat them as more than just buyers. An essential requirement is to rethink their data. Data can reveal information about consumers and their behaviours in a revolutionary way, but numbers alone can’t paint the whole picture. Businesses need to rethink how they collect data, as privacy concerns and regulation impact collection and what they are looking for, as a greater need for finding the human side in the numbers emerges.

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