In this accelerated digital era, businesses must remain agile to the needs of their customer base.

Brand loyalty is no longer enough, and companies must not only continue to optimise their customer experience (CX) but also exhibit strong ethical and environmental values to retain customers.

Salesforce's 5th State of Connected Customer Report shines a light on ways companies can interact and engage with customers in the best way.

For the fifth edition of the report, Salesforce Research surveyed 13 020 consumers and 3 916 business buyers across 29 countries. The research showed:
  • the evolution of trust and loyalty in customer-brand relationships
  • how customers balance their expectations for personalisation versus privacy, and
  • what digital-first customer experience looks like across the customer lifecycle.
The evolution of trust and loyalty in customer-brand relationships
Trust is the most important currency in today's business landscape. In a rapidly changing world, customers need full confidence that companies have the intent and capability to address their needs and expectations.

The latest Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that consumers are looking to businesses to lead in times of uncertainty. Companies that align with a customer's values can seal the deal against the competition. When values are misaligned, customers are not hesitant to change.

However, it's not just about value alignment businesses must ensure they practise what they preach when it comes to ethical and sustainable practices. Retaining trust is just as important as building it, and authenticity is crucial in maintaining an engaged customer base.

According to Salesforce research, 78% of customers say that environmental practices influence their decision to buy from a company. When it comes to brand loyalty, having good products is no longer enough, as 71% of consumers have switched brands at least once in the last year.

Ultimately, though trust is rising, there is room for improvement. Building a company that has strong values and can thrive in a trust-based economy is a crucial part of any long-term business strategy.

Meeting the challenges of personalisation
Amid accelerated digital transformation and purchase personalisation, an increasing number of customers expect companies to understand their unique needs when purchasing online.

However, this comes at a cost. The optimisation of new digital business models and scaling of personalised services both hinge on data; with increased data comes the need for reassurance around privacy.

Most customers are open to the use of data and AI to improve their experiences, but many also have concerns about AI when it's used unethically. According to Salesforce research, 84% of customers say AI can be a force for good or bad, depending on how it's used.

This presents a balancing act. On one hand, customer data is needed to build trust, since it underlies functionality that addresses customer needs. However, given the consequences of data misuse (security breaches and invasive marketing practices), customers understandably are cautious when it comes to trusting companies with their data.

In a world where consumers want both personalisation and privacy, companies must only collect the personal information that they actually need, driving transparency around data protection to ensure consumers feel like they are in safe hands.

According to the research report, 61% of consumers are comfortable with companies using relevant personal information transparently and beneficially.

Keeping customer connection flexible
When engaging with companies, customers seek out flexibility and ease, and so are leaning into digital channels and online experiences to ensure quick and efficient communication.

This isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. From service teams, for example, customers expect immediate responses from informed agents, but also self-service options for easily resolved queries. Many notably older, less tech-savvy generations still demand human-to-human business connections.

Getting CX right is important. In fact, customers say it builds trust when companies can proactively resolve issues without their involvement at all and a majority of customers say receiving quality customer service makes them more likely to purchase again.

In a hybrid world, companies must offer services that cater to their wide and diverse customer clientele. Only then will businesses continue to grow trust within their customer base — while also ensuring efficiency.

The benefits of balance
Companies can no longer rely on their products and experiences to ensure customer loyalty. Trust and convenience, as well as exhibiting value-driven leadership are imperative to ensure retention.

Ultimately, businesses must seek to find the right balance between trust, data, personalisation, loyalty and the customer experience. This is in order to enable fast growth and work towards a successful — and profitable — future.

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