What is consumer behavior?
Learn how consumer behavior impacts customer support and how to leverage those insights to create a better experience.
Published April 7, 2020
Last modified July 15, 2020
Consumers always had the power to choose what brands to remain loyal to. Being constantly connected has given them greater ability to influence other consumers’ buying decisions as well, whether they’re posting a Tweet or writing a Yelp review.
With their phones in their pockets, and the Internet on their phones, consumers also now have the power to mandate where, when, and how they interact with companies. Research is clear: consumer behavior—consumers' needs, beliefs, choices, aversions, and frustrations—impacts the fate of your business.
It's an empowering time for businesses, too. The digital revolution also made it easier for companies to collect insights on the consumer to better understand their audience's behavior. While consumers have more power to learn about a brand before they even visit its website or one of its stores, businesses can learn more about what customers want through data.
But with companies managing three times as much data as they did five years ago, it’s also difficult to determine which metrics matter. Read on to learn how consumer behavior impacts customer support and how to leverage those insights to create a better experience.
Table of contents
What is consumer behavior?
Consumer behavior is the emotional, logical, and social factors that influence existing customers’ and potential customers’ relationship with your brand. The study of consumer behavior examines how consumers behave across the customer journey and across demographics, such as age, social class, or gender.
Consumer behavior looks at things like:
- Why your customers are loyal to your brand over similar options on the market
- How customers use your product or service
- What factors might motivate customers to stop their business with you
“Consumer behavior is anything consumers do, think, and feel,” explained Thomas O'Guinn, professor at the Wisconsin School of Business, author, and expert on consumer behavior. “It addresses what motivates individuals, societies, groups, and cultures to behave the way they do in terms of purchasing.”
“Consumer behavior is anything consumers do, think, and feel.” Professor O'Guinn
They may not realize it, but your customer support team studies consumer behavior every day. They’re on the front lines with your customers. They have a direct window into their responses that precede and follow events that impact their behavior, such as a social-impact marketing campaign, product update, or public-health emergency.
Examples of consumer behavior
Consumer-buying behavior affects all areas of your businesses—from acquisition and retention to marketing, public relations, sales, and support. Examples of consumer behavior that particularly impact a support team include:
- Retail sales spiking during the holiday season, such as on Cyber Monday
- The aftermath of a crisis, such as a physical or public health emergency, service disruption, or public-relations nightmare
- Channel preferences changing over time and across generations
- The power of word-of-mouth marketing over advertising
- People reacting to a change in your product or service
- Emotions influencing buying decsions
One Zendesk study found that customer requests can increase by over 40 percent during the holidays. For companies that aren’t prepared for this massive wave of customer contacts, average response time can increase, and cause a dip in customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.
For example, data from Zendesk’s Benchmark Snapshot showed a strong link between the rapid spread of COVID-19 around the globe and spikes in customer requests happening in response. This puts pressure on support teams to adapt quickly to meet customer demand and safeguard customers’ trust.
Email and the phone used to be the bread and butter of customer support. But consumers increasingly prefer to communicate with brands over the same channels they use to interact with friends and family, such as Facebook Messenger or Twitter DMs. Findings also show that millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use social and messaging channels.
83 percent of consumers trust recommendations from friends and family, which is unsurprising. But 66 percent also trust opinions strangers post online. Good customer service can result in positive reviews and remedy negative ones—Harvard Business Review found that consumers who complained about a brand on social media and received a response were more loyal afterward.
This might include the launch of a new product feature, software update, or new pricing model. Amazon saw an avalanche of new customers after launching Amazon Prime. This likely indicated a need to quickly scale its support.
Consumer psychology shows that emotions influence consumers’ decision-making processes. While marketers might plan campaigns that tug at consumers’ hearts, agents interact with customers directly. Therefore, they're essential in establishing real, human relationships with consumers early on, from the first moment they reach out.
Collecting consumer behavior data
When businesses glean insights about consumer behavior from their support interactions, they can drive more customer-focused business decisions. Consumer behavior modeling is a form of predictive analytics. It looks at trends and patterns in existing customers’ and potential customers’ behavior to provide insight into what can be expected in the future.
This kind of approach can help customer experience teams be proactive and prepare for events such as:
- How to serve customers during the holidays
- How to support customers through a product update
Here are five tips for collecting consumer behavior data—and then using those insights to improve the customer experience.
1. Don’t ignore customer feedback; use it to get better
Consumers want and expect their voices to be heard, and their feedback provides valuable insight into understanding their behavior. Satisfaction surveys are one way to allow consumers to become active participants in your brand. This enables you to glean insight into where your organization can improve, before that consumer stops doing business with you.
This feedback can translate into consumer-centric product improvements. It can also lead to reviews of processes and policies on behalf of your consumer base. When Zappos learned that return fees were dissuading some consumers from buying new shoes, they made it free. Or, Chobani uses consumer feedback when creating new yogurt flavors.
2. Use your community forum as a virtual focus group
Community forums provide businesses with a window to observe how consumers behave. Consumers often use a brand’s community to discuss features that they would like to see or pain points that they experienced. Organizations can use this information to adjust their marketing efforts or product strategy.
O'Guinn, co-invented the term “brand-community.” He explained that community forums are better for observing consumer behavior than focus groups because they are more authentic:
“Community forums are a powerful source of consumer behavior data because the data is naturally occurring and consumers believe they own the community, rather than the manufacturer. Consumers aren’t being influenced to say anything, compared to a focus group where a moderator might indirectly impact their responses. Focus groups are also expensive; it’s a lot cheaper to gather data in a public forum.”
"Community forums are a powerful source of consumer behavior data because the data is naturally occurring." Professor O'Guinn
3. Look for trends in your customer service analytics
Changing patterns in ticket volume, first-reply time, or customer satisfaction scores can enable companies to better understand how their target audience behaves. These are called historical analytics.
When used to look forward, they can enable businesses to predict:
- When agents are needed around holidays, product launches, and marketing campaigns
- Which channels make sense to leverage during those times
For instance, if ticket volume increases or first-reply time dips with every software update, this likely indicates that customers expect more help during that time. To better prepare, you might offer relevant knowledge base content to keep customers in the loop, before the update.
Tracking these metrics across channels is also important. High satisfaction scores on Facebook Messenger might translate into a conversational support strategy. If your customers are active mobile users, you might offer support on your mobile app.
4. Implement a Voice of Customer program
Beyond customer support, customer analytics can help improve product planning and marketing strategies, too. Many consumer-focused businesses implement a Voice of Customer program. This involves sharing support data across the organization to improve the overall customer journey.
If your audience is highly engaged on social messaging channels, your marketing team might create a targeted campaign across Facebook and Instagram. Marketing teams can also use data about frequently asked questions or common pain points to adjust their campaigns to reflect the specific needs of potential customers.
Similarly, product teams might use those metrics to better plan product offerings and feature rollouts. For instance, Vimeo’s support team partners with their product and analytics teams to ensure that customer feedback informs key product decisions. This drives measurable improvements such as reducing customer cancellations with product updates.
5. Connect your support data with the full view of the customer for better-personalized insights
To better understand and predict consumer behavior, businesses should connect all their customer data—from support as well as other areas of the customer journey—for more personalized insights.
This involves combining support data with customer information from other sources, such as your marketing automation software or order management system. Doing so opens up possibilities like:
- Sending special promotions to dissatisfied customers with recently closed tickets
- Giving agents a view into the promotional offers that a customer recently received
And it pays off—80 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from a brand that provides personalized experiences.
“Previously, businesses had limited amounts of data, such as only a customer’s ZIP code. Now, brands have much more fine-grain data and segments,” explained O'Guinn. “This means they can tailor their messages, instead of treating every customer, for example, that’s in the same ZIP code as the same person.”
This means connecting your customers’ support interactions with their:
- Purchase history
- Product usage
- Lifecycle context
- Key details such as opened outbound emails, abandoned shopping carts, and returns—of course keeping data privacy and compliance in mind
When customer experience teams can easily access all of the customer context they need, when they need it, they can glean insights that empower them to personalize the customer journey and build brand loyalty.
The 3 types of customer service metrics that matter
What's the difference between CSAT and CES? How do social media metrics differ from support data? Our tips, best practices, and key metrics are all in the report.