As the economy continues to sputter along, consumers remain very demanding with each purchase. Today’s customers are harder to please and even less loyal. To stay competitive, you have to give them what they want. What will customers want in 2014?
1. Personalized customer service. Companies like Amazon pioneered using the Internet “cookie” technology to customize its website and marketing messages. Online customers now expect to be personally greeted when visiting a site they visit often, and won't settle for anything less than a pleasurable and informative shopping experience.
How to deliver: Invest in a great Web infrastructure and a customer-relationship management system (CRM) that includes email marketing like Infusionsoft.
2. Ability to track orders and research history. Consumers want to know exactly where their orders are and when they'll be delivered. In fact, they want the option to be continually informed, as in receiving text messages every step of the way. They also want the ability to research what they've bought in the past.
How to deliver: Invest early in a process where customers can have access to similar information that's used internally by employees.
3. Swift response to tweets and Facebook posts. When a customer sends a company a message on social media, they expect to hear back within an hour.
How to deliver: Have a large enough team that someone can reply within this time frame based on the number of interactions.
4. Immediate shipment or quick delivery of a service. Customers no longer want to wait for anything. If they order a product, they want it delivered in two days or less. If they need a service, they want that service no later than the next day.
How to deliver: Give customers quick delivery options, but don't offer them for free—charge a premium. With this additional revenue, hire to fill the customer demand while making a profit.
5. Try and buy. Most consumers want to be able to try a product before they buy it. This is done frequently by giving customers free samples.
How to deliver: Promote a way for customers to try before they buy. Alternatively, have a no-questions-asked return policy to make them feel comfortable that if they're not 100 percent satisfied, they can return it.
6. Social transparency. Customers want to know everything that's going on with the companies they do business with. They want transparency when it comes to company values, sustainability and what's coming next. In short, they want to be involved and connected with the human side of the business.
How to deliver: Run the company assuming nothing is really private. Create a community that can support each other and give them input into future products.
7. Proactive customer service post-sale. Customers want the type of post-sales support from a company that makes it feel like the company is looking out for them. For example, set up an alert that a payment is due a few days in advance, so they're not late and incur a surcharge. Or send them an email when something they bought needs maintenance or service—before they come to you. Customers want information; be proactive and show them you care.
How to deliver: A company shouldn't try to profit deliberately from mistakes that customers make. This makes them feel more punished than rewarded for their association with that business. Show them you care about them through proactive behavior.
8. Value. Customers do care about price, but they want value. They'll shop around to find the best value for price. They also want to be rewarded and recognized for being a loyal customer.
How to deliver: Be transparent on price. Have a simple loyalty program that recognizes long-time customers. This can be as simple as sending recognition emails or allowing special access inside the company.
9. Information available 24/7. Customers want to be able to reach a company all the time. This doesn't mean they expect someone to answer their calls in the middle of the night; but rather, they want to be able to get the information they need when they want it, via a voice-automated response system or the Internet.
How to deliver: Set up an infrastructure so the most common information is available 24/7 via phone or the Internet. This includes order status, product information, tracking a transaction and balance due. It also includes a thorough FAQ page on your website, and putting forth as much company and product information as possible.
10. Be listened to, and heard. Most customers just want the empathy that comes along with being listened to. They understand that many times their customer service problems can’t be solved, but they need to vent and have their grievances heard.
How to deliver: Hire hospitality professionals for the service department since they have experience in this area. Empower your service representatives to make decisions on the spot for the customers in 98 percent of the situations.
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