Running a business has changed dramatically as a result of the Internet. Now, employees have new tools and communication methods that make conducting business more efficient and more complicated. Additionally, customer characteristics and expectations have changed substantially.
From independently seeking out new and more information to being continuously connected and looking to brands for personal connections - today’s customers have changed, and it is imperative that businesses change to keep up.
Today’s customers are:
- Information savvy
- Mobile consumers
- More than just a number
Historically, consumers and business buyers relied heavily on salespeople, advertising, and experts to make buying decisions. Particularly in B2B exchanges, buyers viewed salespeople and support staff as experts in the industry needs, solutions, and target markets of any given business.
As with many aspects of our lives, today’s customers rely on technology to enhance their buying and support journeys. No longer are customers passively absorbing advertising or dependent on outside experts. They leverage omnipresent technology to consume personalized, contextual information, make purchases, and run their businesses. They have the tools to educate themselves and make decisions independently.
Technology has taught buyers that they can quickly find resolution and answers to any need, issue, or question. As a result, when a customer engages with a brand or business, they are already more informed and further along in the decision-making or resolution process than in the past.
For a business buyer, the ability to make a self-educated decision before engaging with a brand or purchasing a product or service allows them to run their business more intelligently, better target their customers, and ultimately lead in their markets. For a consumer, retrieving all the information available on their need and possible solutions with the click of a button has dramatically shifted their experience and long-term satisfaction standards.
Customers no longer just drive their buying journeys. Increasingly they have the power to influence their peers in a way that only experts and trained sales professional once did. Customers have more clear expectations and demands from the businesses and brands with which they engage.
When companies fail to meet those expectations, today’s more informed customers are better able to seek out competitive options and share their experience with their peers through communication portals and social media. Similarly, though, when expectations are met or exceeded, customers are now more likely to deepen their engagement with businesses and share their success with their colleagues.
The implication of not having total control over a brand identity can be dramatic for companies. However, businesses that put customer experience and education at the center of their business model and innovation strategies continue to serve as the trusted source for services or products.
Today, the world is pulled together by connected networks that surround the customer. Customers can navigate that world from a device so small that it fits in their hand. The expectations and norms are that they can browse, shop, text, map, and communicate all from the same device.
Customers no longer just set down a landline or walk away from a computer and lose their connection to a business. We live in a world of constant connectivity.
According to Pew Research, not only do 95% of Americans own a cell phone, but 77% of Americans now own a smartphone – up from 35% in 2011. As a result, mobile devices represent the most significant enabler of constant connectivity.
The smartphone has created the age of the customer, the intertwining of customer worlds, and a culture of immediacy by serving as the nerve center for consumers and business buyers. The smartphone keeps customers constantly informed and reshapes the definition of timely while elevating the critical nature of context.
When customers reach out, they don’t just call or email anymore. They are prepared to buy groceries, compare product reviews, and engage on social media from their smartphone. Similarly, today’s customers are also hoping to solve issues, interact with representatives, follow brands, and make purchases anywhere on any device at any time. Business buyers also bring their tech-driven expectations to work. It’s just as vital for them to be able to conduct research, check on purchase orders, or receive and give approvals quickly, to protect the business’s bottom line.
As a result, companies that failed to embrace a constant connection, around-the-clock and immediate interaction, and a mobile-first mindset are already behind.
More Than a Number
While technology has transformed the customer experience, customers still seek a fundamental human connection and personalized expert guidance when interacting with a brand. Modern customers are looking for technology to enhance their relationship - not to replace sales and service representatives.
Today’s customers want to be treated like people, meaning they want businesses and their representatives hear, understand, remember, and respect them. Intelligent applications of customer data and strategic engagement technology allow companies to deliver these human experiences at scale.
Familiarity is an important aspect of human connection. Just as when a local pharmacist, banker, or barista might remember a customer’s name, when the interaction is personalized using technology, a customer is more likely to come back. Even a basic interaction, such as a service agent using a customer’s first name or a birthday email, can increase brand loyalty. However, a single break in the chain of personalization can break the customer’s commitment to the brand. Customers seek to be consistently recognized and remembered across every interaction and communication channel.
For business buyers, smart, human connection with vendors, who provide advanced expertise and knowledge, is even more critical. Companies need products and services tailored to specific circumstances and communication and engagement tools designed to create a more personal interaction to succeed in B2B interaction. Trust and knowledge are essential to business buyers, and they are more willing to partner with brands that can provide them an advanced connection.
With the increased importance of technology and brand connections, customer journeys are more sophisticated. Businesses now must anticipate the needs to of their customers and clients as well as industry trends. When interacting with buyers, content needs to be personalized and accurate for their customer journey, role, needs, names, preferences, and behaviors. A well-rounded customer experience provides personalized digital communication. Agents and sales representatives should have tools to create engaging and remote interactions for answering and resolving customers questions and issues.
In order to succeed with today’s customers, it is important that a company’s tools, processes, and behavior reflect this change in their characteristics. To sell and support these more informed and connected customers in a more personal way, it is important that a business also understand their demands and expectations.