What consumers look for in a brand

A happy customer is a staying customer, new Intercom research into 1,000 Irish consumers confirms.

Despite consumers tightening their belts in an uncertain economy, they will still spend with companies that talk to them and make them feel valued.

That’s according to new research from Irish tech unicorn Intercom that reveals how customers can impact retention and business growth.

“Customer expectations have changed in major ways, but we’re not seeing the customer support world adapt as quickly in response”

The study of 1,000 Irish consumers found that three in four say communication that makes them feel valued is a top or the most important factor when doing business with a brand.

How to meet expectations

In fact, 60% would leave a business if they didn’t feel valued—alongside not actually having their issue resolved (73%), getting ghosted by a support representative (68%), or taking too long to get a response (65%).   

There are striking generational differences in the style and tone consumers want from businesses. “Good customer support” varies based on the person and situation—making it essential for businesses to deliver personalised communication that is grounded in context and a deep understanding of each individual customer. 

“Customer expectations have changed in major ways, but we’re not seeing the customer support world adapt as quickly in response,” said Declan Ivory, vice-president of Customer Support at Intercom.

“This study underscores the urgency needed to show customers they are valued and heard, much of which comes directly from how you talk to and treat them in support conversations.”

Get personal — but not cringey

Personal and friendly communication strengthens the relationship between businesses and their customers, but how you do it matters. Too much familiarity that doesn’t feel authentic can backfire. 

  • Tone is key: consumers say they would take their business elsewhere if a customer support agent didn’t treat them as an individual (38%), used cringe-worthy language (29%—think misused slang), tried too hard with inauthentic communication (28%) or used too many emojis (20%). 
  • Not all emojis are created equal: a majority of respondents (58%) find it acceptable for companies to use emojis in support conversations—and they prefer facial expressions over objects. Younger generations are four times as likely as older ones to want companies to use emojis and GIFs, signalling a shift in how businesses will need to adapt their support and communication strategies as younger generations become primary buyers.
  • Today, most consumers prefer casual (55%) vs. professional language (45%) from companies. Gen Z’s growing influence may make informality the norm in the future—64% of Gen Z respondents prefer a more casual approach.
  • Knowing a customer’s purchase or usage history is the top way to make them feel valued. 71% of respondents rate it among the top 3 factors that show they are valued, including receiving VIP treatment (53%) and proactive tips and support without needing to initiate a conversation (51%). Surface-level personalization, like using their first name in communications and added greetings and goodbyes, rank lower. 

Consumers want short text and direct messages

The ways that consumers want to engage with businesses are changing, with 85% of respondents saying they’re okay with companies communicating in the same way they communicate with their family and friends. 

  • When asked which ways consumers like connecting with family and friends that they wish businesses would use, respondents across all generations (58%) said communicating by text or direct messages. From Gen Z to Boomers, this is the more welcome approach. 
  • 29% of respondents also ranked sending a stream of shorter messages instead of longer paragraphs as a top wish. Gen Z showed the strongest preference (38%) for this style. 
  • Automated phone systems are the most disliked channel overall across all respondents, but for Gen Z, live phone calls are even worse. 
  • Different situations call for different styles of communication. Chatbots and online chat are most preferred for answering a quick question (50%), confirming an appointment or delivery time (34%), or cancelling an order (27%). Four-in-five (80%) say overall, there are times and places where they definitely prefer chatbots and online chat. 20% say there’s no circumstance where they would want to interact with a chatbot or online chat—however, this sentiment is higher for Boomers (39%). 
  • Overall, people don’t want to share sensitive information via chat, but Gen Z (17%) are more comfortable doing so than their older counterparts. 
  • Automated customer support tools like chatbots have room to improve. While consumers are split on whether they find them aggravating (60%) or helpful (40%), more Millennials (48%) and Gen Z (44%) find them helpful and easy to use than other age group. And with disruptive technology like OpenAI’s ChatGPT now available, huge leaps in customer support automation and artificial intelligence are clearly imminent. 

The industries providing the best and worst customer support 

  • When ranking industries, consumers say supermarkets and hotels have the best customer support, and their reputation is particularly strong with older generations. 
  • As travellers struggle with lost baggage and cancelled flights during a busy holiday travel season, airlines ranked lowest for customer support satisfaction, with only 5% of respondents rating their customer support experience the best. Telecom/mobile and clothing retailers also showed room for improvement.

“In a rocky economic environment, consumers will bring their money and stay loyal to the businesses that deliver personalised customer support,” said Ivory.

“Businesses who want to stay above the competition are the ones already changing or rethinking their support strategies not just for now, but for the next era.” 

John Kennedy
Award-winning ThinkBusiness.ie editor John Kennedy is one of Ireland's most experienced business and technology journalists.