Corporate | 10 September 2019

Sandrine Heitz-Spahn: Human contact is still essential

Some of us are adept at buying online whilst others prefer to visit a physical shop. Some are susceptible to advertising yet others will only rely on the people around them. To understand the new consumption habits, the On’Air team spoke to Sandrine Heitz-Spahn. She is a professor at the University of Lorraine and a specialist in consumer behaviour. Here are her views on today’s customer and their desires. Interview.
by Thomas AUDEBERT

How would you define the modern customer?

It’s someone with several personalities rolled into one. At work, at home and  with friends, they adopt a variety of behaviours. Sometimes they can even want contradictory things. They are more conscious of the strings that advertisers can pull and so they are becoming more demanding. Today, a customer or potential consumer has several ways to learn about a product or a company. They don’t hesitate to do so, even if they risk being swamped with information. In a nutshell, they are aware and they are wary.

How do you explain this ambivalence?

We need to understand it in light of the emergence in recent years of the smartphone, and of its current ubiquity. Now everyone can be contacted and get information at any time. Sorting isn’t easy and companies must take this into account if they are to offer relevant content and attract consumers.

Quite, so what type of content is the modern consumer expecting?

There is no standard behaviour. The customer isn’t unchanging. At times, they might want “snack content”, in other words, short effective information. At other times, they’ll prefer “slow content”, which means something longer that requires reflection. They decide when they are available and whether they want to see easy information or more in-depth content. They might even want to see both types, which enriches their experience.

As for the company, it needs, above all, to develop content that people will want to read. You can no longer be happy just to talk product and company. If we take the example of the car, you need to broaden the scope. Talk about mobility, mix the topics, you might think about travel. Talk about topics that are attractive to the customer.

This bottle get our attention but is the water really better ?

And once we have got their attention?

It’s important to support them. For a few years now, we’ve seen the trend for extreme personalisation, for this desire to suggest specific products to the right target. But it requires care.

“You must give the customer a steer by offering to hide some options. Hence the importance of data that allow you to home in on a particular individual.”

Because the customer is king?

Yes, you must involve them, of course, but “too much choice is no choice at all”. Confronted with myriad options for a single product, the consumer panics and their ability to choose is hampered. This is the essence of information overload. So you must give the customer a steer by offering to hide some options. Hence the importance of data that allow you to home in on a particular individual. But the machine alone isn’t enough, the human presence is essential for making the important choices. That’s the principle behind the filters that you use when you do an internet search. Relevance is fundamental.

Do a brand’s ethos and values play a part in the modern customer’s journey?

More and more. I think it’s one of a company’s missions now to transmit its values. But it must be more than a marketing ploy, the brands must play their part and accept the effort required and the difficulties that they face. You need to educate people. Customers and consumers are more inclined to accept some failings if they are out in the open.

What do you think about paying extra for a more ethical product?

I’m in two minds about that. I don’t think that either the customer or the company can be expected to shoulder all of the burden. Take organic for example. You can accept certain extra costs, because they are inherent to the sector, but it might be useful to set an upper price limit for certain retail products to make them more accessible.

And where does the automotive sector stand? How is the behaviour of our customers changing?

There are two major trends. As I was explaining at the beginning, the growth of digital behaviours is  changing the way we consume and requires the development of services. Personally, I think that the concept of service is essential in the automotive sector and features are needed to make it easier to use the car. Lastly, although technology is important, human contact is still essential. So points of sale must continue to be welcoming. Nothing extravagant, but places where the customer can feel comfortable. Once that’s achieved, they’re more likely to keep coming back.

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10 September 2019
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Time for personalisation!

Time for personalisation!

10 September 2019
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