I recently marked my first anniversary as CEO of Vodafone Business and it’s been a real rollercoaster of a year. But one thing that impressed me from the outset is our teams and the level of engagement they have with our customers.
Our customers come first. Every conversation begins with business outcomes, the challenges the customer is facing and the opportunities they are pursuing. Then we discuss how technology can help and if we can be a partner in that journey.
This is how it should be and, as consumer power and influence begins to grow, this is becoming more important than ever to business strategies and future resiliency.
Customers have always wanted a friendly, reliable and efficient service, but as technology develops and expands, so do their expectations.
The digital world of commerce is making it easier than ever to compare products, services, prices and reviews. And not just from down the road, but from the other side of the world too.
This means power has shifted decisively towards consumers. In the Vodafone Business Future Ready Report, we found that almost two-thirds (64%) of businesses identified ‘customers’ as becoming more powerful and influential – more than any other group.
And it isn’t just about speed of delivery or quality of the products.
These demands can vary country to country. For example, in Spain 59% of businesses acknowledge this increase in ethical demands compared with just 45% of respondents in the US.
And the differences span across generations too.
When asked about their viewpoints on different generations, only 18% of businesses see Generation Z as having high brand loyalty, compared to 40% for the over-60s and only 13% of businesses see over-60s as being ‘digital natives’. For Gen Z, that number jumps way up to 56%.
In order to meet these new demands, many are turning to technology (57%), alongside other methods such as increasing marketing (36%) and creating new products (44%).
The ‘future ready’, so those companies most confident and well-prepared for emerging trends, challenges and possibilities, are likely to seek the use of data-driven insights too. To enhance customer experiences, lower costs and to understand opinions of their brand and ethics.
Social responsibility is already at the top of most businesses to-do list. A drive coming directly from consumers.
The key is to bring this to the heart of the business. Going beyond traditional corporate social responsibility tactics such as fundraising for local communities and charities or investing in technologies to help lower carbon footprints.
Consumers want to see brands make a stand.
Take Nike, for example, who included American football player Colin Kaepernick in one of their ‘Just Do It’ ad campaigns despite the potential controversy.
Kaepernick was dropped by the NFL two years prior for taking the knee during the national anthem at a match in protest against police brutality – a gesture that has since been adopted by the Black Lives Matter movement.
The sportswear brand faced complaints and boycott threats in the advert’s wake, but also received praise and even won awards for its solidarity. And a jump in sales shows the move has resonated with their customers.
Talking about the advert, Nike founder Phil Knight said, “You can’t be afraid of offending people. You can’t try and go down the middle of the road. You have to take a stand on something, which is ultimately I think why the Kaepernick ad worked.”
For the latter, we created a free app called Bright Sky which lets victims connect. Offering support and advice, it can also log incidents without content being saved on the device. This means users have a secure digital record that can be used by the police to intervene and can help secure prosecutions.
While the way in which brands respond to social issues can vary, businesses need to horizon scan and think about what new areas could come under scrutiny.
Our research is clear that customers expect brands to act with purpose. And purpose needs to be at the core of an organisation and intrinsic in the values, driving behaviour and strategy. I truly believe that business has a critical role to play in creating a better future for society.
To learn more about the challenges facing businesses and how ‘future ready’ organisations are preparing, explore the full Vodafone Business Future Ready Report.
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