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According to a January report from SAP, public trust in companies is at an all-time low – but not enough businesses are acknowledging it. In fact, while 80% of CEOs believe that their company offers a “superior” experience, a mere 8% of customers feel the same way.

This is perhaps not too surprising for some people, especially those on the customer side of the equation who have personally encountered an imbalance between the service expected and the one they actually received. However, it is true that the experience gap has widened significantly in more recent years.

In 2018, New Voice Media released a report stating that more than two-thirds of US consumers are “serial switchers” that flip from brand to brand because of what they have deemed to be a poor customer experience. Just two years earlier, though, only 30% of customers admitted to having such little brand loyalty. So what’s changed in that time?

A great deal of this increase in customer dissatisfaction has to do with not just the product or service they are buying into, but the provider company’s wider beliefs and values. SAP’s January report unveiled the true extent of this when it revealed that 90% of customers would purchase a product if the provider’s values aligned with their own, meanwhile 80% would boycott a brand if their values were contradictory. These statistics, coupled with the majority of CEOs misguidedly believing they are already delivering what their customers expect, is what’s allowing the experience gap to grow.

“How well companies perform in the experience economy depends on how well companies know their customers and how connected that is to their business,” said Mala Anand, President of Intelligent Enterprise Solutions and Industries at SAP. “Not how well they think they know their customers, but how well they actually know their customers across every possible touchpoint. There is an immense difference between an assumption and real insight that allows you to anticipate and to act.”

In order to help companies know their clients and make steps towards closing customer experience gaps, SAP has identified five key areas for improvement.

Create meaningful experiences

“Companies must still fulfil the old customer expectations – quality products and services, delivered with efficiency and good customer service – but they must now also focus on what customers wish their lives to be,” SAP reports.

The four categories of ‘meaningful experiences’ have been identified as entertainment, connection, learning, and aspiration, and SAP advises that, if a business doesn’t already have a clear idea of what their customers find meaningful, they need to work it out.

Embrace AI technology

“With AI systems capable of gathering, indexing, and analyzing mountains of data, customers feel increasingly comfortable that AI bots can interpret their personal preferences and make choices on their behalf,” SAP explains.

Whether customers realise it or not, they are already heavily influenced in their consumer decisions by AI. SAP’s report details that 35% of Amazon purchases and 75% of Netflix selections are driven by machine learning recommendations, and, given the success of those corporations, it’s clear that customers have a good user experience on the platforms.

Acknowledge customers as contributors

“Customers are no longer content to be merely recipients of goods and services; they have become embedded in the business model itself,” the report says.

It continues: “Customers’ participation can be active, in which they contribute to design, production, marketing, and ways of using products and services. Their participation can also be passive, with them agreeing to let companies use their data to formulate and deliver products and services for them.”

Customers should be treated not just as users, but also as creators, producers, and sustainers.

Be wary of mobs

“Technology is making it ever easier for customers to discover one another and to organize into infinite numbers of demanding, sometimes mutinous, digital tribes,” SAP explains. “These tribes often form at a moment’s notice and grow exponentially at near-zero cost. We see it in the way individual stories go viral and in how companies can face, almost overnight, mobs that take action in ways that cannot easily be managed.”

‘Mobs’ might be something of a loaded term, but it is true that consumers – thanks to the likes of social media and global interconnection – act as hiveminds. When treated well and respected, they can become fiercely loyal consumers. When even a fraction of them become disillusioned, however, it could spell a huge decline in customer experience.

Align values

As mentioned earlier, “Customers used to make decisions based on attributes such as quality and value. Increasingly, they now make decisions based on whether businesses think and act like them.”

In the past, identifying customers’ values might have been a difficult task. Now, however, with social media and access to big data, conducting market research has never been easier.

The experience gap may have widened recently, but, with SAP’s approach, it should start to close again.

For more News, Updates and Insights from the SAP market read the Ignite SAP blog.