There are some fundamental questions facing the consumer care discipline that are not broadly understood from the consumer perspective. Most brand market research is not shareable beyond one company and is designed to support media, merchandising, and other functions rather than consumer relations decisions.
In 2017, Wilke and C3i Solutions conducted a joint consumer research project through the lens of consumer care. Surveying hundreds of U.S. consumers, we set out to better understand two fundamental questions:
- How do consumers research fast-moving consumer goods?
- How would consumers prefer to contact brands when they have questions or complaints?
Here’s what we learned.
#1 Your Consumer Affairs Department Has Competition
When we asked consumers how they seek answers to questions they have about consumer products, we saw clear evidence of the trend towards digital.
|Research Method||Consumer Preference|
|Use a search engine (e.g. Google, Bing)||41%|
|Ask someone at a store||32%|
|Visit the brand website||19%|
|Ask a friend / neighbor / family member||18%|
|Contact the brand / manufacturer||8%|
|Check on an ecommerce site (e.g. Amazon)||7%|
The sum of preferences is greater than 100% — respondents were asked to select all applicable options.
It’s interesting the four most popular responses alternated between online communication (i.e. Google + websites) and traditional methods like telephone and face-to-face. The relatively low preference for engaging a brand directly is sobering.
#2 Consumer Research Preferences Vary Mainly by Age
We found clear differences in how our respondents prefer to research. Gender is not a strong predictor – preferences were similar for men and women with one big exception: men were three times more likely to find answers directly on a brand website.
The real differences showed themselves when we looked at responses by age group:
- Consumers under 25 are most likely to use a brand website
- Word of mouth plays best at the ends of the age spectrum. Consumers under 25 and over 65 are most likely to ask someone they know if they have questions about consumer goods (22%) while those 26-64 are considerably less likely (12%)
- Consumers under 25 are by far the least likely to contact a brand (only 3% of respondents 18-24). Those aged 35-44 are most likely to contact brands directly (12%)
#3 Phone and Email/Web Form are the Channels of Choice
There were some real surprises in consumers’ preferences for how they like to contact brands.
|Contact Channel||Consumer Preference|
|Toll-free number (e.g. 800#)||39%|
|Email or website ‘Contact Us’||37%|
|Chat / IM on website||14%|
|Write a letter||11%|
|SMS / Text||10%|
|Facebook or Twitter||8%|
The phone clearly continues to be the contact channel of choice for consumers, and generally delivers the highest level of customer satisfaction. It’s somewhat surprising that email/“contact us” is the second most preferred channel, but its convenience and availability make it appealing. The relatively equal preference for the next four channels is the study’s biggest surprise. Brands have traditionally been very deliberate in adding new channels, but we’re seeing an unprecedented acceleration in clients adding chat, social media and SMS support.
As with consumer preferences on researching products, there was little difference in the responses of men and women when it comes to contact channels. Again, there were material differences based on age, except for phone and email, which were similar across age groups.
- Only 7% of consumers 25+ include social media in their preferences, compared to 16% of consumers 18-24
- SMS/Texting is preferred by 18% of consumers 44 and under, but only by 7% of those 45+
- Letters are (unsurprisingly) a channel choice for those 65 and older (16%) but only by 7% of consumers 64 and under
So What? Implications for Consumer Care
We think that these questions are very important for consumer affairs leaders as they consider the future. The fact that only 8% of consumers expressed a preference to contact a brand is incredibly meaningful. When you consider that this drops to only 3% with those under 25, it suggests an opportunity to ensure consumer affairs remains important to brands by staying available and relevant to consumers.
- When you represent the voice of the consumer you can confidently say that in general, for every consumer who contacts your brand, there are likely 9 or more who have not
- If only 8% of consumers are inclined to contact your brand — do your current channel choices mean that you are only ‘open’ to a subset of that 8%? Is it time to consider adding channels to maintain relevance?
- Depending on your target market – you may need to make interventions into different areas consumers tend to research (i.e. regularly offer consumer point of view feedback to your brand web content) or add contact channels to ensure you are reaching the right brand audience
- In fact, if your brand targets a broad base of consumers we recommend a deliberate, diverse channel strategy to ensure you are available to meet consumers when and how they want to engage
- Brands should not assume that older consumers are not searching online
- Social media might be the least preferred channel for communication but its power to influence and broadcast is high, so brands should not underestimate it
- The opportunity for consumer care to play a role in digital is clear — 67% of consumers use online resources to research brands! (brand website 19%, search engine 41%, ecommerce 7%)
John Stieger is CMO of Wilke Global (an Astute copany), the leading consumer affairs software provider to CPG manufacturers. Previously he held executive roles in customer service, social media, brand, and IT with P&G and Gillette. An active member of the consumer care community, John has sat on the SOCAP National Board and has spoken on consumer relationships at SOCAP, the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, and the American Marketing Association. John holds a MBA from Cornell University and a BA from Colgate University.
About Astute: Astute is a leader in AI-driven software focused on the future of consumer engagement. Our technology powers the customer experience at more than 2,000 of the world’s leading consumer brands in over 100 countries. Astute’s software enhances consumer engagement by contextually blending human and artificial intelligence, enabling companies to provide more efficient service, gain customer insights, and increase brand loyalty. Learn more at astutesolutions.com
As Vice President Business Development for C3i Solutions, Dale is responsible for initiating and securing new business in a consultative environment. His primary focus is developing innovative solutions for companies in consumer packaged goods, food and beverage, retail, hospitality, consumer goods, OTC and other industries.
Dale joined the C3i Solutions team in 1997, and has significant experience helping clients develop customized consumer/customer solutions specifically designed to meet their business needs. Throughout his career, he has held various corporate marketing, brand management, advertising, promotions, and advertising agency executive posts.
Dale is an active member and conference speaker at SOCAP, ICSA, and CCNG. For many years, he has served on the national SOCAP Board of Directors, as well as being President and on the board of the DFW chapter. Dale holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and Journalism from Kent State University in Ohio, and has also completed Executive Graduate and MBA courses in Marketing at Southern Methodist University in Dallas.
About C3i Solutions: C3i Solutions, an HCL Technologies company, is a multi-channel customer engagement services provider, specializing in global, high-touch consumer, patient, and end-user management. For the past 35 years, our unique, multi-channel approach and experience in highly regulated industries have made us the partner-of-choice for some of the world’s most trusted brands. With a strategic focus on innovation, we excel at protecting our clients’ brands, while maximizing productivity and cost efficiency.