5 Ways to Stay Ahead of the Competition

How Businesses Can Adapt to Changing Customer Expectations.

One thing that’s certain is that the pandemic has constituted not only a trying, but an extremely telling, period in terms of consumer expectations and the new “business-as-usual.”

Over 53% of consumers say a local business’s failure to offer pandemic-friendly services has led them to seek out and engage with a competitor or discontinue patronage altogether. Over 89% of consumers say they are likely to return to a business they first visited because of pandemic-friendly services, even after restrictions lift. And 70% of respondents who had a negative experience with a business during the pandemic say they are less likely to purchase goods or services from that business in the future.

In the past, critical turning points such as this one have often proven “make or break” moments for businesses. Uber took advantage of their opportunity to adapt when they saw a need for more flexible, personalized travel and completely disrupted the transportation industry. Kodak was far and away the leader in photography with the leading market share in cameras and film but failed to fully adapt to digital photography and fell from industry leader to bankruptcy. Repeatedly, the businesses that have stayed ahead of the competition are those that have anticipated and met changing customer expectations. Now is no exception. Those who take advantage of the moment and adapt will thrive and those who don’t will lose their customers to those who do.

“…those who take advantage of the moment and adapt will thrive, and those who don’t will lose their customers to those who do.”

Luckily, this guide will give you all the tools you need to get ahead of the game. Research suggests that there are five main ways customer expectations have changed recently. Adapting to meet these new consumer expectations will help you not only thrive now, but stay ahead of the competition.

  1. Engage your customers through message.
  2. Make your customer experience personal.
  3. Reduce friction.
  4. Offer ultimate convenience.
  5. Employ technology.

Coffee Shop Barista

01. Engage your customers through messaging.

Before the pandemic, 89% of customers wanted the option to message businesses. Now, 42% of consumers say they are more interested in messaging with local businesses than they were before. Texting also increased significantly during COVID, as 60.6% of consumers reported having received or exchanged text messages with a local business in the last month. With 99% of text messages being opened, and 90% being opened within three minutes, texting is officially the preferred communication channel for all age groups. Now is the time to start messaging your customers—or risk losing them to businesses that do.

Messaging can turn any business into a go-to— under any circumstances. Before COVID, Yummy’s, a Salt Lake City-based Korean BBQ restaurant, was a strictly brick-and-mortar business. After the pandemic hit, they quickly adapted to customer needs by taking orders via text and were overwhelmed with a flood of orders. They’ve kept this channel open even as restaurants open their doors because they’ve seen the power of offering convenience through messaging.

How you can start messaging:

Be channel-agnostic, meaning you should make it easy for customers to connect with you via their preferred channel whether it be SMS, Apple Business Chat, Facebook Messenger, or Google. Managing that many new channels might seem hard, but it can be easy and efficient if you use a messaging platform that consolidates all of them into one inbox.

Messaging can be used in one-to-one interactions but also one-to-many to help you efficiently reach a large group of your customers for announcements and even promotional messages. Be sure to follow these best practices when sending bulk messages:

  1. Always get customer permission beforehand when sending marketing messages.
  2. For transactional messaging, make sure the message you send is relevant and needs to be sent through this valuable channel.
  3. As always, make the message feel like it’s just going to the individual as opposed to a large group of people.

02. Make your customer experience personal.

Competing for consumer mindshare can be difficult, especially in our flooded marketplace. One way top businesses are standing out is by personalizing interactions. Approximately 80% of consumers are more likely to do business with a company if it offers personalized experiences, with 90% indicating that they find personalization appealing. However, this need hasn’t always been met well. Over 68% of consumers say they don’t feel like individuals during brand interactions.

How can you make things more personal and beat the competition?

Michael Brown, owner of Death Wish Coffee, almost lost his life savings in establishing his business. But after testing various forms of personalized outreach, his business has become an international brand.

“Keep that one-on-one relationship. If you can find tools that help you create that or make it feel that way, it is powerful.”

Michael Brown, Owner of Death Wish Coffee

03. Reduce friction.

As mentioned, customer experience has risen to the top in terms of factors that determine customer loyalty. Approximately 84% of shoppers are unlikely to shop with a brand again after a poor experience. And what contributes to a poor experience? Friction. The more steps, complications, and time it takes to complete a purchase or connect with you, the more likely your customers will drop out of your sales funnel and jump to the competition.

How can you reduce friction? Transparent, accurate communication and convenience is key. About half of consumers (46%) say that well-communicated safety practices and offering pickup/curbside/contactless services are in the top 3 most important factors in choosing a local business today.

Ways to remove friction:

  • Provide options for in-store pickup or delivery.
  • Connect and engage with customers on their preferred channels, including text, Facebook Messenger, Apple Business Chat, Google Business Messaging, email, and phone.
  • Provide multiple options for payment including mobile, text-based, and in-person.
  • Every customer is different, so always have multiple options for connecting and fulfilling orders to help meet ever-changing customer expectations.

“Most companies must realize that they are no longer competing against the guy down the street or the brand that sells similar products… Instead, they’re competing with every other experience a customer has.”

Dan Gingiss, Author & Customer Experience Expert

04. Offer ultimate convenience.

Convenience really is the bottom line. And it’s not just about proximity anymore. It’s about making your customers’ lives easier. Fair or not, brick-and-mortar businesses are continually compared against online experiences like those delivered by companies such as Amazon. Your ability to deliver on those expectations will play an important role in whether or not you earn customers’ business and more importantly, whether you earn repeat business in the future.

How can brick-and-mortar-businesses deliver convenience?

05. Employ technology.

A technological customer experience is not a futuristic ideal anymore, it’s a reality. Tools exist to make engaging with consumers in a modern way easier. So what should you do? Use them. This is no longer an option. If you want to stay relevant, it’s an expectation.

75% of customers expect businesses to employ new technologies to create better experiences.

How can you effectively implement technology?

  • Implement a live chat feature on your landing page. Approximately 41% of customers expect to see live chat on your website. With the right webchat feature, you can move conversations from desktop to mobile and back again (through text), facilitating a seamless customer experience.
  • Give customers the option to pay through text. A platform that allows you to send customers a secure link that they can click to pay offers ultimate convenience. No credit cards, no in- store payment, no physical money, no hassle.
  • Use retail loyalty software to get insights into the preferences and behaviors of your customers and respond with tailored offers and marketing. Build your website system to remember customers and cater to their specific needs.
  • Offer personalized virtual shopping experiences and consultations through Video Chat. When customers can’t make it on-site, use video to provide flexible, convenient shopping that allows customers to experience your business remotely.
  • Get feedback. And then get more. Use text to ask select customers for feedback about their experiences and really listen to what they have to say. Then make changes accordingly.

Today’s consumers are not the consumers of yesterday. They are more resourceful, selective, technological, and accustomed to convenience. More importantly, they are on the search for businesses who will actually listen to them and make genuine efforts to cater to their preferences and meet their needs. They are looking for personal relationships, trust, transparency, and communication.

Now is the time to transform your business to deliver an unparalleled customer experience that meets, even surpasses, customer expectations. Really listen to your customers. Put yourself in their shoes and ask them what’s important to them. Then, make changes to reflect those same priorities. Because if you don’t offer what your customers value, someone else will—and you’ll lose your customers to competition. But if you can begin by messaging, personalizing, reducing friction, increasing convenience, and improving customer experiences with technology, you’ll convert customers for life.

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