Digital trust of UK consumers is critical for good brand experiences

31 January 2018

Digital trust is critical to giving UK consumers the brand experiences they crave, writes Rachel Barton, Managing Director at Accenture in the UK and Customer Strategy lead for Accenture Strategy in among others the UK and Europe. 

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning are set to dramatically change customer experience, but UK consumers won’t really feel the benefits until companies are able to unlock deeper insights into their world, and that comes down to trust. 

AI has gradually been entering consumers’ lives over the last few years. From chatbots that respond to customer queries in real-time, to tailored content recommendations that get served to film and music subscribers, companies have been using intelligent technologies to create new customer value.

The beauty of this technology is the more it’s used, the more it learns and evolves. It becomes intuitive, almost human-like. Its application and potential across all elements of customer services is limitless. Many consumers may not have previously been aware of their AI interactions, but things are changing. Some of the most in-demand and price-compared goods over the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend extravaganza were smart home technologies, such as Amazon Echo and Google Home, as well as Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats and lights from the likes of Hive and Philips Hue.

Some may consider these connected technologies as something of a novelty, but the impact on customer behaviour is huge. These intelligent technologies are offering customers a new level of convenience and personalisation which, in many cases, they’ve not experienced before. It’s like having a personal assistant on demand. And it sets a precedent.

 Customer experience

Hyper-relevant customer experiences

Raised customer expectations will force companies operating in consumer industries to rethink how they interact with, serve and sell to their customers who are craving smarter, relevant experiences. 

Connected technologies will instigate an era of ‘hyper-relevance’ where companies will use reams of customer data, collected from smart devices, to deliver uniquely tailored and highly customised experiences. As technologies such as AI, machine learning and digital assistants become more sophisticated and adopted, new touch points, offerings and services will emerge that intelligently anticipate and flex to their customers’ precise needs at any given time. This is when consumers will really feel the difference. 

Disrupting the Customer Experience

Some companies are already taking steps to achieving this reality. The online personal stylist, Stitch Fix, which promises a service that “evolves with your tastes, needs and lifestyle”, is already selecting fashion items for their customers based on a deep understanding of their personal preferences. Style choices evolve as customer tastes change. The Chapar offers a similar service.

It’s just a stepping stone for what’s to come. Today’s subscription services, that require customers to schedule regular orders of groceries or household goods, will become much more sophisticated. With deeper consumer insight, companies will remove the burden of customers needing to proactively order items altogether. Algorithms will not only select goods that customers may want and like, but also pre-empt when those items need replenishing and order them on their behalf. The entire shopping process will be technology-driven and totally effortless.

The trust imperative

Digital trust is critical to enabling hyper-relevant experiences. According to new research, UK consumers are actively craving more intuitive brand experiences. Nearly half would use ‘smart-reordering’ services where intelligent sensors in the home pre-empt when a product, such as laundry detergent, is running low and automatically re-orders it on their behalf. Nearly a third use digital assistants today. While the vast majority are satisfied with the experience, over two fifths say it can feel slightly creepy when technology starts to correctly interpret and anticipate their needs.

Quote Rachel Barton

This is the conundrum UK consumers are facing; they want better customer experiences, they get frustrated when they don’t receive them, but at the same time, they’re concerned about the privacy of their personal information. They’re don’t want companies knowing too much. 

Expectedly, the majority of UK consumers say that it is extremely important that companies protect the privacy of their personal information. Another 43% fear intelligent services will come to know too much about them and their family. Overall, 58% want companies to earn their trust by being more open and transparent with how their information is being used. 

Companies more than ever have to continuously earn the trust of their customers to make them feel confident that their personal information is safe and protected. Digital trust will become increasingly challenging for them to achieve as they look to capture new categories of customer data, such as biometric, geo-location and even genomic data, in their drive for greater relevance.

It’s likely concerns will inevitably rise, so it’s critical that companies have strong data security and privacy measures in place, they give customers full control over their data, and are transparent with how they use it. This is particularly pertinent as organisations prepare for the EU General Data Protection Regulation coming into force in May 2018. 

Only when customers feel truly satisfied that their personal information is safe will they start benefiting from more relevant, personalised, technology-driven brand experiences. They may even be willing to share more of it in order to reap the rewards. 

Related: Loyalty schemes increasingly mismatched to customer expectations.


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Branding the modern consultancy: why reputation hinges on it

03 April 2019

The reputation of firms and brand strength remain a key aspect of business in the management consulting industry. Karla Alexander, Brand Manager at Propero Partners, below reflects on the state of reputation management in the consulting industry.

In a time where public perception is enough to make or break a company, the wise are reminded that when it comes to brand and reputation, the strength of one does not necessarily equate with the quality of the other. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the impact a spate of recent issues has had on firms that form the backbone of the industry, including KPMG and Grant Thornton.

Such was the damage to KPMG’s reputation last year, that the Bank of England took the decision to investigate its viability following a string of high-profile corporate scandals. Whether or not the sum total of the firm’s track record is enough to restore its image remains to be seen.

This proves that brand and reputation are not only among the most valuable intangible assets – they are also among the most fragile. And their reach extends into the centre of any firm, regardless of its size or market share.

The lesson here for challenger firms and smaller consultancies is two-fold. As well as learning from the mistakes of their peers, it’s also important not to conflate brand with reputation. While they both share the same objective – to win the hearts, minds, and wallets of clients – brand provides the opportunity to differentiate, whereas reputation provides the opportunity to demonstrate credibility. Far from being the same thing, it’s this very difference that binds them together.

Branding the modern consultancy: why reputation hinges on it

Reputation is the driving force behind a person’s decision to award a firm their business, based on values that align with their own – be it honesty, transparency, integrity, accountability. However, none of these characteristics are particularly compelling or distinctive on their own. To carve out key points of difference, to stand out, and to become known, liked, and trusted among a sea of competitors offering similar services, companies should turn to their brands.

Brand is the culmination of culture, vision, values, and identity, which when used consistently and religiously, can create fresh opportunities for firms. People no longer buy services in isolation but look for a purpose or a lifestyle to buy into. Strong brands create an appetite for themselves and command a higher price tag because people will pay for them. The more pulling power and emotional resonance a brand has, the more successful the firm will be.

Protecting a brand

That’s why, regardless of abundant choice, there is still only one Deloitte, one PwC, one EY – and there’s a reason why the Big Four audit nearly 100% of UK’s top 100 corporations. This relentless focus on building and protecting their brands and reputations on the basis of being the best, has, over time, resulted in a market monopoly. However, problems arise when one is given more weight than the other. This point is particularly relevant in the case of KPMG, and in others where firms have flaunted their reputation for being untouchable in the face of the client.

Brand and reputation working together are directly attributable to significant business outcomes (such as financial performance, loyalty, awareness) and should be treated as such. Focus too much on brand and you risk alienating the people who value credibility, such as prospective and existing clients, shareholders, and the best talent. Focus too much on reputation and you risk stagnating in the market, with a service that no one knows or cares about.

In order to overcome these challenges, the first step for many firms will be to take a step back. Before any meaningful work can begin, consulting firms need to assess the current state of their brand and reputation, and establish key characteristics for both. For brand, this might be relevancy, consistency, positioning, identity, and appeal. For reputation, this might be staff turnover, service quality, growth rate, client relationships, leadership, and diversity and inclusion.

Regardless of the findings, there’s always room for improvement. An uptick in the performance of brand and reputation can be achieved by measuring the impact that one has on the other, integrating business and marketing strategies, and setting strict KPIs.

Guardianship and getting results from this activity isn’t the job of one person or one team. People at all levels of the firm should be thought of as brand ambassadors, and should be willing to do what it takes to protect the reputation of the business no matter the cost. After all, everyone benefits when good things are said about a firm when it’s not in the room.

Related: Why building trust and brand belief is key for consulting firms.