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What is consumer behavior?

Learn how to leverage consumer behavior data to create a better customer experience.

By Hannah Wren, Content marketing associate

Published April 7, 2020
Last updated August 14, 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. Consumers have more power to learn about a brand before they even visit its website or one of its stores. And 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.

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
  • Puchasing behavior such as 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, 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
  • 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. This can cause a dip in customer satisfaction (CSAT) scores.

  • The aftermath of a crisis, such as a physical or public health emergency, service disruption, or PR nightmare
  • 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.

  • Channel preferences changing over time and across generations
  • 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 like:

    • Facebook Messenger
    • Twitter DMs
    • WhatsApp
    • SMS

    Findings also show that millennials and Gen Z are more likely to use social and messaging channels.

  • The power of word-of-mouth marketing over advertising
  • 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. It can also remedy negative reviews—Harvard Business Review found that consumers who complained about a brand on social media and received a response were more loyal afterward.

  • People reacting to a change in your product or service
  • 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.

  • Emotions influencing buying decsions
  • Consumer psychology shows that emotions influence consumers’ decisions. 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 that:

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 your consumer behavior analysis 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. 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

    Companies can better understand how their target audience behaves by looking at changing patterns in:

    • ปริมาณใบสั่งงาน
    • First-reply time
    • Customer satisfaction scores

    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

    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 Facebook or Instagram campaign. Marketing teams can also use data about frequently asked questions or common pain points to adjust their campaigns to reflect customers' needs.

    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

    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.”

    Providing this kind of tailored experience requires businesses to pull data from customer service—and outside of it—to create a single, actionable view of the customer.

    This means connecting your customers’ support interactions with their:

    • Demographics
    • 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 actionable insights that personalize the customer journey and build brand loyalty.

    Better consumer behavior analysis

    Using data to help you better understand customer behavior as well as potential customer behavior helps your business become more customer-centric. Looking at the personal factors, social factors, and
    psychological factors that influence consumer satisfaction and purchasing habits can drive insights that build brand loyalty.