Introducing the Gig Nation

Ian McVey, UK Director, Qualtrics

Earlier this month, Engage Business Media and Qualtrics joined forces to survey 3000 customers across Europe. Our objective was to achieve a better understanding of shifting consumer attitudes and the rapidly changing European CX environment.

CX professionals’ task is to represent the voice of the customer at the highest levels of a company, with insights that give you the authority to do so. As you seek to convert management sceptics and ensure executive support however, readers will know that these insights can often involve a measure of disruption, as you advocate change across divisions and silos.

The research is important because it underlines the value of your work. Against a background of immense societal change, it helps you to prove to your colleagues just how crucial customer insight is. It shows how deeply modern customers care about how a company listens to its base and acts on the what it learns. Our findings make compelling reading for companies who take their customer engagement seriously, and serve as a stark warning to those that do not.

Before we look at some specifics, I wanted to focus on the finding that made the biggest impression of all. The emergence of the Gig Nation. We are well aware of the Gig Economy, in which people hop from one short term contract to another. In the Gig Nation, however, companies must learn to live with a generation for whom everything is a Gig. The research shows the extent to which people are moving towards temporary and short term engagements with companies as much as with employers.

In the Gig Nation, young people are constantly connected and socially active, guided as much by their peers as by their parents. Exposed to some 5000 marketing messages a day, they are encouraged continually to re-evaluate their decisions. They have far greater choices than were ever available to those only a few years older. As by-products of technology, they also take innovation for granted.

The research highlighted how 18-22 year olds are becoming as important for their spending power as for the influence they wield across society.  As their conversations are amplified by social media, they exercise a disproportionate amount of influence and are redefining everybody’s expectations of companies.

The research connected these young people’s lack of nostalgia for brands and providers with society’s hardening attitudes towards unresponsive companies. It underlined reports from Bacs and Ofgem that show increasing numbers of people ‘switching’. It proved that people equate value not just with price, but with responsiveness. Across the research, among all age groups, 18-22s were the most demanding of immediate response. 35% expect comeback within six hours of contacting a company.

Every day, the feedback I receive from CX professionals in every sector tells me they are wide awake to rapidly shifting consumer dynamics such as this – all too often to a greater degree than their bosses. You recognise these silent shoppers whose reflexes come as no surprise, who are as unpredictable and as hard to engage as those silent voters who drift away without signalling their intentions.

Even seasoned CX professionals, however, might be surprised at some of the interesting discrepancies spotlighted by the research. Firstly, 58% were happy to make the move to products or services offered exclusively online, but almost twice as many put security comes first with 97% of customers wanting to be able to trust providers with their data. Secondly, 40% would be happy to see AI in customer service, while only 5% of CX professionals said their organisations had introduced it. 98% wanted companies to put their contact numbers on their home pages or within one click, but less than 60% of CX professionals said their phone numbers were available on the homepage or within one click. 70% of all customers said they would consider leaving an unresponsive company, but 35% said they are unsure if companies are even listening to their views and acting on their feedback.

That is why the most effective CX programmes are run in real time. Against such rapidly shifting societal goal posts, guesswork and wishful thinking have no place in CX programmes. They must be as aligned with shifting attitudes in consumer behaviour as with the immediacy of social media. Over 25% of respondents said that social media has changed how they interact with organisations. Analysis must be run before and after each corporate action. As is becoming increasingly clear, strong probabilities are not certainties, and favourites do not always come first.

As the dust settles on Black Friday and Cyber Monday and we focus on Christmas and the January sales, we might ask ourselves if customers care more deeply about flash crash price drops, or meaningful responsiveness based on personalised insight. Steep price rises, branch closures, data theft, digital disruption and other corporate inevitabilities all have the potential to do more damage to the relationship than seasonal reductions can heal.  We need relationships that endure, not just transactions we take for granted.

The research went on to vindicate what readers already know. Customers demand feedback be addressed. They want their concerns sorted first time round. The longer the delay, the lower the resistance to seeking out competitors. They demand authenticity and sincerity, with an apology and an explanation when called for.

They also want online transactions, and are increasingly comfortable with AI, which points to an interesting irony. Technology, through social media gave us infinite choice and the echo chamber of judgment, while the rush to robotise is exacerbating the dehumanisation of interaction. As tech continues to systemise process and eliminate slower human interaction, how do we meet human needs in a dehumanised customer relationship?

Tech is the enabler, not an end in itself. We are in a rush to robotise the understanding of human nature, when what we need is to enable human intelligence with the data the artificial intelligence provides. Instead of outsourcing the customer relationship to tech, CX professionals who understand the data must encourage their colleagues to react accordingly.

Short termism, of course, is all around us, from the time it takes to outlive an iPhone to the number of years the average CEO stays in post. In this Gig Nation, however, the message to companies is clear – cultivate relationships that endure. Use tech to understand rapidly shifting human dynamics and help create products and services that capture the new mood, informed and designed by immediate insight and world class responsiveness.

Society is undergoing radical behavioural change, and so must we.

You can download the research report by clicking here.