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Brands failing to engage customers of today, study shows

Australian consumers are turning away from company websites in preference to search engine recommendations, are seeking seamless payment experiences and are choosing brands that create engaging content, a new report shows.

Cognizant’s customer of the future report surveyed consumers around the globe and focused on understanding the changing mindset of consumers in the age of machines, looking specifically at their preferences and how these will change as artificial intelligence (AI) develops.

The research revealed Australian consumers trust is continuing to shift away from brands and towards algorithm-based services such as search engines, e-commerce sites or mobile apps, with 82%, 72% and 73% trusting them for information and recommendations respectively, twice as much as companies websites (40%).

The shift away from brand trust is slightly more in Australia as opposed to the global position, with 48% of Australians saying they were indifferent to whether the brands they used today disappeared, in comparison to 45% globally.

When asked why they are inclined to trust digital tools, they said these tools helped them save time (79%), improve their lifestyle (63%), and gain more freedom and flexibility (63%).

However, consumers are still hesitant to trust voice assistants, especially in Australia, with four out of ten respondents (41%) trusting their recommendations, versus half of respondents globally.

In addition, only about a third of Australian consumers (35% vs 43% globally) said they would implicitly entrust the brand recommendations of their voice-based assistants. However, despite the fact that trust in digital services is high, there is still a human element to brand trust, with peer-to-peer recommendations playing a big role, the report shows.

In fact, eight out of ten Australian consumers (79%) are influenced by recommendations from family and friends, and seven out of ten (68%) by online ratings and reviews. In addition, local consumers still value face-to-face, phone and email interactions with company employees, even though this is to a lower extent than the rest of the globe (52% vs 60%).

Cognizant assistant vice-president, Centre for the Future of Work (APAC) Manish Bahl says, “This is proof consumers are not yet ready to cut the cord completely with brands, and the way companies engage with them now and in the future, either through humans or machines, will be essential to maintaining brand loyalty.”

”Nearly half of Australians said they felt a bond with brands that helped them save time and money, or made their lives easier, more enjoyable and productive. Brands now need to figure out how to nurture that bond,” he says.

Nearly half of Australians said they felt a bond with brands that helped them save time and money, or made their lives easier, more enjoyable and productive. Brands now need to figure out how to nurture that bond, says Bahl.

Among the best practices to maintain and grow that bond is hyper-personalised experiences, according to Cognizant.

Almost two thirds of Australians (63%) say a customised experience is vital, but nearly half of them (47%) are dissatisfied with the level of personalisation they currently get from businesses.

Another factor in increasing consumer trust, according to the report, is the brands ability to develop engaging and qualitative content (64%), but more than half of respondents find content from companies lacklustre and promotional (58% in Australia vs 55% globally).

“In light of these insights, businesses can’t afford to sit on the sidelines,” says Bahl.

“Engaging the customer of the future will require a human-machine alliance that will have a profound impact on how traditional business models evolve, presenting both opportunities and risks to companies. Not all businesses can become Amazon or Google, but they can be on Amazon, with a Google ranking,” he says.

The new report, ‘Algorithms over brands: How to reach todays and tomorrows AI-augmented customer’, included 400 Australians and looked at the future of their relationship with brands.