Study: Giving consumers the “Right Stuff” more important than great customer service


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There’s a fascinating discussion in the LinkedIn group “Building the Customer-Centric Organization.” Over 100 comments were generated debating what “customer-centric” really means and what kind of relationship customers want. Some contend that consumers increasingly have the attitude “just give me my stuff and leave me alone.”

I disagree, but that’s just one more opinion. Only good research will answer a complicated question like this. With impeccable timing, Forrester Research provided me a complimentary copy of a new report Brand Engagement The Consumer Way, which provides a more nuanced answer.

In short, it depends!

Consumers engage to get deals, learn

In brand interactions, “More than half of US online consumers who interact with brands they like do so to get deals, discounts, and special promotions; four in 10 do so to get free samples.” Another 1/3 interact to learn more about the brand.

Joining an email list (60%) or a loyalty program (47%) were the two most popular methods of interaction.

Clearly, “leave me alone” is not the dominant attitude. Plenty of consumers do want to engage with sellers and welcome communications.

Consumers: “Impress me with quality and value”

Furthermore, the study found that more than 50% of “US online consumers say they are or may be willing to pay a higher price for a product or service from a brand that is able to impress
them with its customer interactions.”

What does it take to impress a consumer? The top 3 reasons to recommend a brand were:

  • Good quality of products and services (59%)
  • Good value of products and services (54%)
  • Good discounts, deals and promotions (51%)

To be sure, there are other factors, including customer service (more on that in a moment), but I think it’s obvious from this study that “give me good stuff and good value” is a common consumer attitude.

Customer service going digital? Not so fast

What about customer service? While not a top driver of advocacy behavior, roughly 30-40% of consumers who said they “frequently” or “sometimes” recommended a brand, product or service did so because of customer service/support that was “knowledgeable,” “fast or convenient,” or “friendly.”

Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov also explored what channels consumers used to solve a problem with a recent purchase. As you can see from the chart below, going to a physical location or making a phone call were the two most popular methods, except for online purchases where phone and email were the top choices.

Consumers used offline channels because they thought it was the fastest (35%) or easiest (23%) option. But these were the same factors driving online channel usage.

So if you want to drive more online service, just show your consumers it’s the fastest and easiest. Simple!

Do you know what really drives your customers’ behavior?

This report proves once again that driving consumer loyalty is not as simple as providing great service or even a great experience. Providing “the right stuff” at a fair price is still critical.

Furthermore, traditional service/support channels are not going away anytime soon. The shift to digital channels will happen when consumers are convinced these are more effective.

It’s time to move beyond debating opinions and learn that consumers don’t all want to engage, or get service, exactly the same way. Better yet, it’s time to do your own research with your own customers.

This is truly an outstanding report. If I had five hands I’d give it five “thumbs up.” More details about the report are available at Forrester.

Further reading: What Really Drives Customer Loyalty? It’s Not Just About the Experience!


  1. In observing my own customer loyalty behavior, it just dawned on me that I was willing to pay a small extra price for an expensive item (this place did not give discounts) because an excellent customer centric person gave me ‘insider’ product information – not available on the packaging or website. It was not the information per se, because I probably could have figured it out myself, but the implied relationship that was the value. It is the sense of having one’s needs truly understood, even the unexpressed ones.

    You can’t do that with a tweet, or a training program, or questions on a website. You also can’t do that with a disinterested salesperson.

  2. ….and customer experience in building ‘brand relationship’ (where brand passion and customer advocacy intersect), and we do here as well. I like both the report and your perspectives. It’s pretty easy to agree with your, and Forrester’s, conclusion about customer behavior drivers: “It depends.”

    Repeated, advanced brand relationship research tells us that brand equity perception and customer response is often very situation-specific. For a consumer, the customer experience in going to the movies is fairly basic: The customer expects good, safe parking, reasonable prices (and maybe some special price offers), an attractive, quiet and clean theatre, comfortable seating, good projection and sound with no breakdown, and enough food and beverage to see you through the show. Beyond that, customer service doesn’t usually come much into play. The same consumer, having purchased a name-brand electronic tablet or laptop, expects excellent, flexible, user-friendly performance during use and proactive, timely customer service in case there are any problems with his/her piece of high-tech equipment.

    So, yes, driving customer loyalty is rarely simple, irrespective of industry or use situation; and targeted brand and advocacy research can provide a lot of insight for helping optimize behavior and business outcomes; but, as you suggest, “good stuff and good value” is a very good place to start.

  3. Another example illustrating that every customer is different. And every business should look for unique ways to differentiate.

    Unfortunately, I think “great customer service” which some advocate as the only thing that matters is really just “service that doesn’t suck.”

    In another study we did a few years ago, we learned that the concept of “service” is fuzzy in consumer’s minds. Service/support after the sale when something is broken is of course critical. But consumers also value a sales representative providing service during the sale, like your example.

    But often times a consumer will use “service” to describe being served well, even during a sales experience.

  4. What prompted my post was the suggestion (by Dick Lee and few others) that most customers just want to be left alone. The Forrester research doesn’t support that “no engagement” = good relationship, quite the opposite for those that seek deals, for example.

    But the larger point is that broad brush conclusions don’t really help business leaders decide what to do. Every customer (or at least each segment of customers) is different. Situations are different. Industries are different. Brands have different strategies within an industry.

    And all this can change over time. What we consumers expect from a ‘phone’ is remarkably different from just a few short years ago. After being a loyal Blackberry user for many years, I’m now looking forward to using a ‘real’ smartphone soon.

    Another point to ponder… If “everyone” was getting “good stuff” at a fair price, why would consumers be so impressed by quality, value and discounts? What does this say about the state of business today when ‘basics’ still move the needle on loyalty.


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