Robert Wollan of Accenture: Consumers Are Switching It Up

Consumers switch the companies they buy from. It happens. But this past year, there’s been a 5% increase in consumer switching and a whopping 85% of consumers feel that the companies could have encouraged them to stay. Tune in as Robert Wollan, Global Managing Director of Accenture CRM Practice, joins Brent Leary to share some eye-opening findings from their most recent annual consumer survey.

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consumer switchingSmall Business Trends: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Robert Wollan: I have been with Accenture for more than 20 years now, one of the folks who help founded our practice in the early 90’s. We’ve probably invested more time and energy and attention into figuring out what it means to be engaging customers.

Small Business Trends: What were some of the key things you picked out from your annual Accenture Global Consumer Survey?

Robert Wollan:  There are a few things that you might have expected. We have seen consumer switching arise steadily over the last number of years we’ve done the survey. So consumer switching hasn’t necessarily been a new thing. But it has reached a new plateau:

  • One: consumer switching is here to stay.
  • Two: a thing we have seen steady over the last couple of years is rising expectations. Consumers are telling us that their expectations are rising every single year. This matters a lot to companies because if you are not thinking about making sure you keep pace with consumers – you will quickly fall behind.
  • Three: we have seen an increasing frustration with obvious execution issues.  Having to repeat yourself three or four times, having to start over every time you have to engage a company. Those kinds of service issues have become prevalent.

Small Business Trends: What surprised you?

Robert Wollan:  Price isn’t the primary reason people are leaving. In today’s world, we can rapidly check a price online, go into a store, snap a UPC code with your mobile phone and find out how you can buy it on line. We thought pricing would become the dominant, lingering issue but it’s not really the case.

Service experience is really driving reasons why people leave. In fact, the number one reason people leave is that the promise they were given when they chose the provider wasn’t being met in the delivery world. That was a really surprise for us.

This year we found that 85% of consumers actually said that companies could have done something to keep them. We are looking at this through a different lens. Customers actually do want to stay with their providers.

These are the things that really stood out.

Small Business Trends: I am looking at broken promises; nearly two thirds said that was their top concern. That speaks to trust issues and how important trust is today.

Robert Wollan:  Well, trust is an issue that came up Brent. What we called “broken promises” was actually a way for companies to look thoroughly at how they are setting promises vs. how are they delivering. Surprisingly companies are spending very little time, energy and attention on how they set promises beyond the marketing realm.

Small Business Trends: A tailored experience is critical to a strong customer relationship, 48% of respondents said. Are you seeing companies understand and address this?

Robert Wollan:  What we are seeing is companies still clinging to this one size fits all model, trying to improve the base. It is time to move beyond the one size fits all model and start to isolate what matters to different customers segments. Then starting to implement those things.

Small Business Trends: 31% of respondents prefer companies that actually use their information that is available to create a better experience. But only a quarter of them found companies that are actually doing that?

Robert Wollan:  More and more today we are seeing the amount of information that is available that companies can act upon increase. Customers will give it to you, but they view it as an exchange. They are going to get some value out of it when they are providing that information.

As we talked about setting expectations, when customers do give it to you – whether it is through social media channels, through traditional voice, maybe face to face in the store – whatever the mechanism is, they are expecting you to treat that as a tool to make sure their lives are easier. And that exchange may be at the heart of some of what this broken promise is all about.

Small Business Trends: It looks like consumers get information from the buyers using a variety of channels. 79% say they get it from word of mouth, 71% from corporate websites, 63% from review sites. Lagging far behind are social networks like Facebook and Twitter at 47%?

Robert Wollan:  I think one of the hypotheses that came out of that is companies still haven’t quite figured out how to make it easy to draw their products and services into the conversation, where it is more natural. It becomes pretty rare that companies will actually be leveraging social media beyond the generic messages, or specific promotions.

Small Business Trends: If there are one or two take-a-ways that a company should put in play, what would they be?

Robert Wollan:  I might make even four that really stood out, Brent:

  • One:  at the heart they can stop assuming that customers are leaving because of something inherently nomadic in them. The customers are saying they would like to stay. So at the core, put that strategy in how you are executing.
  • Two:  do a better job balancing how you set expectations at the front of the relationship. Get those expectations into balance.
  • Three:  evaluate what data you’re asking for from customers. And stop looking for all of this data that we don’t do anything with.
  • Four:  really reexamine what being digital means today. Focus on what channels you want to offer your services and products through, and then how well those meet different customer segments. Not the masses, but the folks that you most want to add to your customer portfolio, or keep with you as opposed to switching.

Small Business Trends: Robert, where can people learn more?

Robert Wollan:  The best place to do go is certainly  You can also follow me on Twitter, @Wollan.



This interview about consumers switching is part of the One on One interview series with some of the most thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This interview has been edited for publication. To hear audio of the full interview, click on the player above.

This is part of the One-on-One Interview series with thought leaders. The transcript has been edited for publication. If it's an audio or video interview, click on the embedded player above, or subscribe via iTunes or via Stitcher.

Brent Leary Brent Leary is the host of the Small Business Trends One-on-One interview series and co-founder of CRM Essentials LLC, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm covering tools and strategies for improving business relationships. Brent is a CRM industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker and award-winning blogger.