Instead of bringing businesses closer to their customers, Asia Pacific’s digital pivot last year has in fact widened the gap between what consumers expect of brands, and what businesses actually deliver. According to the new ‘Heart Matters’ study announced by SAP SE, consumers in Asia Pacific find that businesses fall short, by as much as 21%, when it comes to being customer-centric, with almost half (48%) of consumers stating that brands are still not able to resolve their issues even after three interactions.
Heart Matters’ study, which was conducted by Qualtrics for SAP Customer Experience, surveyed 5,900 consumers across APAC countries including Australia, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, India, Malaysia, and Thailand to understand their expectations and encounters with brands when it comes to customer experience, spending, and matters they truly care about. Key gaps identified from the study centred on the areas of customer centricity, personalised experiences, openness in privacy and data control, as well as sustainability and ethical behaviour.
The study also revealed that three in four consumers are now expecting brands to be purpose-driven, going beyond profits and transactional relationships, to demonstrate trustworthiness, empathy, shared values and care for society.
APAC consumers surveyed indicated a gap between their expectations and actual experiences on this front, in areas such as brands respecting the rights and welfare of their workers (77% vs 55%), treating suppliers ethically (72% vs 48%), actively work to reduce gender and racial inequality (68% vs 47%), and not engage in anti-competitive behaviour (63% vs 42%).
Basics matter in winning customer confidence
Fundamental to any business, customer centricity is vital to creating positive brand experiences, loyalty and a key differentiator in an increasingly competitive digital landscape.
Compared to APAC customers’ expectations and what they experienced in reality, areas that businesses were found to be lacking include responsiveness within 24 hours to customer queries (73% vs 48%), acting on customers’ feedback to improve products and services (72% vs 48%), resolving issues in less than three interactions (73% vs 48%), offering self-help resources to solve fast-emerging issues (73% vs 49%), and offering innovative or better ways to serve customers during COVID-19 (72% vs 53%).
Across the countries surveyed, Australian consumers were the most likely to cite a gap between their expectations and actual experiences of customer centricity overall (31% shortfall), followed by Malaysia (26%), Singapore (22%), Japan (22%), and South Korea (14%). Consumers in India and Thailand had the best customer experiences with expectation gaps at only 4% and 8% respectively.
“While it’s positive that brands have adapted quickly to the pandemic by tapping on digital tools and turning to e-commerce, customers still expect brands to deliver on the basics – this means providing them with positive experiences and swift resolution of issues. It is sobering to know that despite all the efforts businesses have put into digitalisation over the past year, fundamentals around customer centricity are still not being met. There is clearly an urgent need for brands to humanise the gap between digital actions and the heartstrings of consumers,” said Peggy Renders, General Manager & Senior Vice President, SAP Customer Experience, Asia Pacific & Japan, who was recently appointed to her current role in January 2021.
“The pandemic has laid bare the criticality of the customer experience in our hyperconnected world today. The key to sustainable growth in a post-COVID world lies in the right solutions and leadership that transform the customer experience, so brands can continue giving customers exactly what they want, and when they want it, in a future that is entirely digital.”
Diverse options, personalised touch
With digital-savvy consumers turning to e-commerce to fulfill their shopping needs, they are also expecting brands to offer a diversified range of shopping experiences, with personalised options that cater to the unique needs of each customer.
Delivery, the last-mile of the shopping experience, was among the most dissatisfied areas for those surveyed, with three in four APAC consumers (75%), expecting brands to provide timely and accurate delivery options they could trust, but with just over half (53%) saying this was met in reality. This gap was most prominent for the telco industry in Australia (36% gap), Malaysia (32% gap), Japan (23% gap), and supermarket players in Australia (31% gap) and Singapore (25% gap).
Proactiveness in engaging customers was another area cited as an area of improvement, with just around half of APAC customers who found that brands are actively updating them on relevant specials and new products (51%), providing tailored suggestions based on their purchase history and preferences (45%), and is proactive in anticipating their needs and wants (50%).
APAC customers also want brands to provide omnichannel experiences that enable their lifestyles, with 72% expecting brands to provide them with a network of physical and online stores, and 74% expecting brands to have easy to transact options across multiple channels.
Not taking trust for granted
Having transparency and control over their data and orders is also a key area brands are falling short on, with APAC consumers highlighting shortfalls in the areas that include having full transparency over how their personal data is being used (32% gap), security of private data and not sharing it with third parties (31% gap), obtaining private data from customers to serve them better (25% gap), and making it easy to track their orders and queries (25% gap).
People, planet and prosperity above profits
With APAC consumers placing greater expectations on brands to go beyond transactional customer interactions, brand purpose must now take centre stage to show how businesses are actively demonstrating their care and concern for the environment, their workers, and broader community and society.
With global warming and climate change rising to the forefront of agendas, APAC consumers also cited shortfalls in brands in looking for new ways to recycle and reuse products, packaging materials and materials (18% gap), having specific policies to reduce and report carbon emissions (14% gap), and having a strong focus on sustainability and ethics in sourcing and selling their products (10% gap).