As technology has become smarter and more efficient, its value has begun to change how consumers behaveraising the bar for businesses that wish to stay relevant and connected to their customers. Increasingly, consumers expect businesses to take advantage of advances in technology to create a better experience for them. Those that do so tend to reap the benefits of customer loyalty and engagement–those that do not risk being left behind.

Early this year, First Data conducted global research to identify insights into evolving consumer awareness, usage and behaviors in the areas of shopping, payments, banking and financial management. The resulting First Data Global Universal Commerce Consumer Tracker provides a snapshot of consumers’ attitudes toward payments technology and shopping. 

As revealed by the study, evolving consumer expectations are essentially a demand for higher levels of service combined with an increased desire for simplicity. These shifts and expectations push us to transform commerce from fragmented to seamless processes and from anonymous transactions to personalized experiences.

Technology is allowing consumers to do things they would previously never have thought possible. As they become accustomed to that reality, they’re becoming increasingly comfortable with bridging their online and offline experiences. Three key themes were revealed that underlie shifts in consumer behavior and associated changes they seek in the commercial landscape:

1. Consumers demand omni-channel seamlessness. 

As the boundaries between traditional and non-traditional forms of shopping experiences are increasingly blurred, consumers expect to move effortlessly between phones, tablets, computers and brick-and-mortar without disruptions or inconsistencies in user experience. The study found that, on average, more than half of global respondents expressed a desire for a seamless experience.

2. Consumers want more than a transaction—they expect an easy experience. 

Consumers want businesses to meet their needs efficiently and effectively. They want personalized services, recognition for their loyalty, tailored offers and communications and favorable deals. While technology today allows for many of these actions to happen, the study found that nearly half of respondents will stop using a technology right away if it is not intuitive.

3. Consumers drive today’s conversation. 

Social media and user-generated online content have substantially increased consumers’ span of influence. If a consumer has a good experience–or especially a bad experience—he or she can now tell people across an entire range of acquaintances and beyond through Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, review websites, retailer websites, forums, blogs and more. The study found that, on average, half of global respondents post reviews online.

So what does all of this mean for transactional documents and high-volume customer communications? Even transaction document production and distribution are evolving, requiring businesses to adapt to consumer demands on their terms–making communications more timely, relevant and customized.

Target, target, target. 

Statement inserts have been around for more than 30 years as a sort of “spray-and-pray” approach. However, consumer expectations for seamlessness and a tailored experience require specialized targeting to compete in today’s market. Companies have to target very specifically, down to the individual consumer. The right offer, made at the right time via the right channels, can dramatically improve response rates.

The opening of a new store, for example, is a common way to reach consumers in a particular segment, such as ZIP code. Perhaps you insert a map with your store card statement that shows the customer the new store’s location, along with a coupon.

Integrate your customer experience. 

While print remains a part of the overall document strategy for many companies, using it in conjunction with electronic communication can be quite effective. Quick Response (QR) codes, for example, are one way that print and electronic can intersect. Consumers can now use their smartphones to scan a QR code that brings up a website or coupon stored on the device.

Think about ways you can go above and beyond your regular print communications, or other regular ways of interacting with your customers. Take advantage of next-generation technology that provides personalized customer engagement through the use of color or other eye-catching graphics anytime, anywhere, on any device. Globally, about 80% of Millennials–respondents 18- to 34-years-old–use a smartphone today, and the fastest growth in adoption is now with consumers 55 and older (a jump from 34% to 51% in the last year).

Anticipate customer needs through integration with customer relationship management systems, and create a consistent, integrated customer experience that combines inbound and outbound interactive voice response (IVR) with text messaging, email, instant messaging, video, mobile and web solutions.

Give them control. 

Consumers have made it clear that they expect to be met on their terms. Accommodating their preferences is a great way to strengthen your relationship. Enable consumers to select conditions for which they would like to receive SMS, email alerts, fraud notifications or other important communications. What channel would they prefer you to use to communicate with them? Do consumers want you to find them and try multiple devices or leave messages to reach them? Consider inviting consumers to join your social networks and encourage conversation. Allow consumers to select their choice of channels, and realize that the market will continue to evolve with communication channels that may not exist today.

The most important part of any go-forward strategy is placing the consumer at the center of the thought process. Consider your segmentation from their point of view. Review your document designs and processes, end-to-end, to determine how you can use these regular interactions with them to demonstrate that you truly know them and you’re attentive to their needs. Stand in their shoes and find ways to reduce complexity and points of frustration. The most successful companies in this technology-driven environment have removed barriers completely.

BARRY MCCARTHY serves as president of First Data’s U.S. Financial Services segment. In his role, he has responsibility for segment sales, product, development and operations, leading the team that supports more than 4,000 financial institution customers as well as their respective 700 million credit/debit card consumers and 3 million card-accepting merchant locations. He also has responsibility for the STAR debit network and First Data’s Government unit, which processes more than $2 trillion annually in tax payments for its various government customers. Prior to joining First Data, he played an instrumental role at VeriSign (NASDQ:VRSN), reviving its payments business now owned by eBay/PayPal. He also co-founded MagnaCash, a Silicon Valley-based micropayments company now owned by Digital River (NASDQ: DRV).


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