Whether you like it or not, your customers are changing. Influenced by evolving cultural norms and fast-moving technology, the level of service your customers expect from businesses is changing, too. Keeping up with changing expectations should be high on any business owner's agenda. After all, one of your best competitive advantages is customer service done right.
Here are some key ways expectations have changed in recent years and how small-business owners can meet—and even exceed—them:
What Customers Want: Constant, Quick-Turnaround Communication
Messaging apps, social media and an "always on" culture have changed many people's definition of fast. With email now squarely at everyone's fingertips, consumers expect faster replies across the board. If fast replies aren't doable for your business, set expectations appropriately, and stick to your promised turnaround times. When it comes to phone, letting a call go unanswered can lead to losing business altogether. If you're dealing with a high volume of calls with little support, enlist the help of a pay-as-you-go answering service or virtual assistant.
—Greg Waldorf, CEO, Invoice2Go
What Customers Want: More Personalized, One-On-One Experiences
As large companies become savvier about using big data to tailor services to their customers, people are becoming conditioned to expect new levels of personalization from every business they deal with. This represents a big opportunity for smaller businesses, as they often have an easier time pulling this off in a genuine way. Think about every touch point you have with a customer—and brainstorm ways to make each moment more human and more personal. Keep track of what they bought in the past so you can make recommendations on what they may need in the future. Send handwritten cards for holidays or milestones. Recognize loyal customers and thank them with an occasional discount. Or perhaps host a local event or party to build relationships in the community.
What Customers Want: New, Convenient Ways to Pay
We live in an age where people are using their phones to pay for everything from a cup of coffee to a bathroom renovation. Making payments has become so simple that customers are less willing to jump through hoops to make sure you get paid. Just about every physical business can use a mobile credit card reader, and if you send invoices, mobile apps allow your customer to pay electronically from the bill itself.
What Customers Want: Feedback Heard—and Put Into Motion
Social media and review sites have given customers new channels through which their voices are heard louder than ever. Customers feel more empowered—they want to know if their feedback is being heard and whether anything has come of it. To get this one right, first make sure you're reading all your customers' feedback. Secondly, consider replying to each message personally, in a way that conveys your commitment to addressing their concerns. Finally, make improvements based on specific feedback, then close the loop and report back on the changes you made to make their experience better.
Once you understand changing customer expectations, one of the most important things you can do to meet them is to properly manage them. You influence expectations with every promise you make, so be genuine from the outset. Providing an honest representation of what you can deliver is far better than portraying an idealized version that you can't live up to.