Generation N: The pandemic-born connected customer
Meet Generation-N: The Pandemic-Influenced, Connected Customers Driving The New Digital Imperative
If it’s one thing that this pandemic is teaching us, it’s not just to be digital, but to also be resilient. But that’s not all. The pandemic is also teaching us to be more open-minded and empathetic to how people were also disrupted. Employees, customers, friends and family, colleagues, too, saw their lives upended practically overnight. The underlying lesson in all of this, as it continues to unfold, is to not only react to crisis with the intent to survive, but also explore opportunities to learn, improve, and innovate to thrive, beyond disruption. The most direct way to do so is to get back to basics and remember why we do what we do, and recenter our next steps and investments around who and what matters most to us.
Humanizing disruption, making sense of how people are also responding to the crisis, and how we can align our purpose with customer needs and values is how we become resilient and relevant. It focuses our work around people and our efforts in discovery and transformation around who our customers are…becoming
Where do we start? Start with the connected customer.
A new customer is rapidly developing in broad daylight, behind their screens.
In the first 90 days of the pandemic, customers were asked to shelter-in-place. Suddenly their everyday routines, including shopping and socializing, were upended. Customers had no choice but to become digital-first.
In McKinsey’s “Quickening” research, it was found that, as a result, e-commerce penetration accelerated by 10 years in just three months. This quickening isn’t temporary either. Digital permanence is upon us. Until after a vaccine is in play, people, for the most part, will practice safety and stay in place when they can. They’ll shop and dine where it’s safe to do so and when it’s better or more efficient than digital options. But the conveniences they’re experiencing with digital, such as delivery, curbside pickup, buy online and pickup in store (BOPIS), click-and-collect, and contactless transactions are introducing benefits that customers are quickly learning to enjoy and now, expect. If their expectations aren’t met, they’ll experiment.
A new generation of customers is taking shape and with it, new standards for experiences and loyalty emerge.
Brand loyalty is now up for grabs at unprecedented levels. McKinsey’s research illustrates this point quite dramatically. Consumers are already reconsidering brand loyalties and where they shop. In fact, 75 percent of consumers have tried different stores, websites, or brands since shutdowns. And, 60 percent of those consumers expect to adopt new brands and stores into their post-pandemic lives and routines.
I refer to this disruptive consumer segment as Generation-N (Novel). This “new and unusual” customer segment is not defined by traditional demographics and is instead cross-generational, bound by similar digital behaviors, evolving preferences and expectations, and desired experiences and outcomes. Furthermore, their bound by the somatic marker that is Covid-19, an emotional and psychological bookmark that changes their values and aspirations and affects decision-making.
Due to a combination of staying at home, whether mandated or for self-protection, and the percolating elixir of fear of getting sick, the anxiety of isolation, and the confusion and frustration resulting from the pandemic and associated politics, means that this pandemic-born customer segment will only continue to grow in size and influence.
To give us a better view into new digital behaviors, Salesforce just published its fourth annual “State of the Connected Customer” research. It features insights from 15,000 global consumers and business buyers. The findings corroborate both the grave importance of understanding and prioritizing Gen-N in B2B and B2C markets, and the urgency for rapid, human-centered digital transformation and innovation.
In its research, 88 percent of business customers and consumers stated that they expect companies to accelerate digital initiatives. More so, 80 percent of say that the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services. This means that digital experiences must be engineered for the expectations of connected customers rather than as adjuncts to traditional processes. You simply cannot place old thinking and standards upon new technologies and expect innovation and different outcomes. The connected customer demands more.
Almost 70 percent expect, according to Salesforce, new ways to get existing products and services, e.g. digital versions of traditionally in-person experiences. Fifty-four percent want expanded engagement methods and also modern types of products and services.
Gen-N Seeks Brands Renovation and Innovation
Digital engagement though is just one part of the formula for appealing to Gen-N. Customer connections are essential. As such, businesses have to remember that in this pandemic, customers are quickly becoming more and more digitally-literate and versed. They’ve also been awakened to the importance of relationship dynamics beyond price and transactions.
Companies are now being held to a higher standard.
Salesforce learned that 86 percent of customers say that the societal role of companies is changing. Seventy-eight percent say that this crisis should catalyze business improvement. And, 71 percent said they are paying more attention to companies’ values than they did a year ago.
At the top of the list for improvement is trust. Customers reveal that now more than ever, trust is the most important core business value. Ninety percent say that companies must improve their trustworthiness. As they say, actions speak louder than words. Ninety percent of customers believe that how a company acts during a crisis shapes its trustworthiness. Just this year alone, 31 percent admitted that they trust a company less because of its response to this year’s crises.
Customers aren’t just placing a greater emphasis on the importance of trust in their brand relationships, they’re raising the bar for earning their trust.
This moment is the time for businesses to update and upgrade how they operate, engage, and contribute to society across a variety of fronts.
A Blueprint for the Digital Imperative
This research makes an urgent case for businesses to digitally and culturally transform for a new customer that’s still continuing to evolve. With customers now turning to an average of nine digital channels to make decisions, competing online, at levels more sophisticated customers require, digital isn’t just an imperative, it’s a matter of survival and ultimately, growth.
But, disruption isn’t a one-time event. Resilience is now table stakes. Generation-N demands an archetype for a new era of digital-first businesses and customer experiences. As counterintuitive as it may seem, the most efficient and effective way forward is to disrupt yourself.
The research shared by McKinsey and Salesforce highlights the need for a paradigm shift in business operations and business models. Add to this the psychology of change, where new behaviors can become automatic, on average, in 66 days. Companies have no choice but to place customers and who they’re becoming at the center of every decision now and always. Doing so gives purpose and direction to digital transformation. More so, it unifies stakeholders and customers together around a mutually-beneficial digital imperative.
CEOs: Your markets have shifted away from your previous trajectory and the ability to fully capitalize on shifting market dynamics. Center the organization on Gen-N and digital trends as they emerge and evolve in real-time. Optimize internal decision-making to be more informed, responsive, agile, and resilient. Empower a cross-functional group of leaders, and the organization at large, to experiment, invent, and introduce new measures that chart transformation, innovation, and growth.
CMOs, Chief Customer Officers, Chief Experience Officers: Your customer isn’t the customer you used to know. Standards for engagement, touchpoints, communications, and the brand itself, should be reimagined for a digital-first world, digital-first expectations and standards, and more so, personalization and humanization across the customer journey and lifecycle. Speaking of brand, new pillars must reflect customer safety, values, trustworthiness, empathy, and the role you’ll play in a society in motion.
CIOs: You are a business partner in change. Before the pandemic, digital took a front seat in your work. Now however, relationships and customer experiences have to precede the digital in digital transformation, giving change and innovation a human-centered purpose tied business goals and outcomes. Executives need an expert advisor on strategies and technologies to digitize and optimize operations and digital business models for a new generation of connected and acutely informed customers (and employees!)
Agency Leads: Help your clients develop new personae within Gen-N to understand the broader swath of new consumerism, trends, and also the micro-segments defining important engagement and growth opportunities.
This pandemic has disrupted the trajectory of businesses and lives everywhere. At the same time, it accelerated digital trends over 20 years in the making. What matters most, and what you should let inspire and guide you, is that people are changing, they desire digital and human experiences, and their values and demands for trust and purpose are front and center in decision-making.
Gen-N represents both the 1’s and 0’s of digital transformation and the heartbeat of next-generation, relevant, societally-aware experiences and brands.