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In the face of massive shifts to every facet of their daily lives, South African consumers expect the majority of their interactions with businesses this year to be online. This is according to the fourth edition of the Salesforce State of the Connected Customer report.

The report shows that while a string of crises has affected all facets of life, including a fundamental shift in how customers connect with brands, factors like empathy, personalisation, convenience, and digital transformation are the keys to customer relationships.

As customers reevaluate the role of business in society, the notion of stakeholder capitalism is increasingly being factored into purchase decisions.

Says Robin Fisher, Area Vice President, Salesforce – Emerging Markets, “In a crisis, customer connections are critical. The events of this year have upended the relationships between customers and brands. During a time when uncertainty and confusion reign, brands have an opportunity to reinforce and rebuild trust with new and loyal customers alike. And this is reflected strongly in the research results.”

The key trends revealed in this year’s State of the Connected Customer show:

  • Customer connections are essential in crises – 94% of South African customers surveyed say how a company acts during a crisis demonstrates its trustworthiness.

  • Understanding and convenience drive differentiation – Sixty-six percent of South African customers say it generally feels like sales, service, and marketing don’t share information.

  • The digital imperative hits its moment of truth – In South Africa, 84% of customers say that COVID-19 has elevated their expectation of digital capabilities. Digital-first behavior is here to stay as customers develop new habits that will last for the long term.

    “As digital engagement grows, customers expect companies to digitise their operations for multichannel, high-touch interactions. This relies in no small part on the use of personal information, and customers are calling for enhanced transparency and stewardship,” Fisher adds.

  • Customers demand that brands demonstrate their values – Eighty-eight percent of South African customers say the societal role of companies is changing.

Long-overdue reckonings with social, economic, and ecological ills have come to the fore, and society is calling on businesses to do their part in righting wrongs. A failure to heed responsibilities to more than shareholders threatens bottom lines.

Looking ahead: Lessons from across sectors and industries

Customers navigate products, services, and experiences from a variety of industries throughout their day-to-day lives, criss-crossing between the personal and professional, digital and physical, essential and supplementary. As they do this, their standards are being constantly influenced, with distinctions between sectors often blurred in their minds.

“Companies seeking to differentiate themselves would be wise to look beyond their immediate competition and evaluate how their capabilities stack up against other industries. Globally, 62% of consumers say their experiences with one industry influence their expectations of others,” Fisher concludes.

The global report captures insights from over 15,000 consumers and business buyers across 27 countries, including 650 respondents from South Africa, to help companies transform how they drive customer success. The research examines survey results across four generations of customers: baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials, and Gen Zers.