With social and mobile tech now at our fingertips, people today are ultra-connected. And with artificial intelligence integrated into our daily experiences, consumers are also more intelligent than ever. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is here, and it’s brought a major shift in customer expectations.
The incredible rise of smartphones and social media has been pivotal to this cultural shift. Imagine this: Today’s smartphones have 1 million times more memory and 100,000 times more processing power than Apollo 11’s guidance computer that put a man on the moon. Crazy, right? But true to form, customers have easily adjusted to the extraordinary power they wield right from their palms.
The trickle-down effect of this reality applies to companies of all sizes – but might be most crucial for small and midsize businesses. With the advances in mobile phones and social media, “instant” isn’t always fast enough. Those changing expectations are today’s major hurdle for SMBs in terms of building customer engagement and long-term loyalty.
Customers today expect highly connected, personalized experiences from all organizations, with even business buyers expecting simple, easy-to-navigate, consumer-like ones. The lines between such experiences are fundamentally blurring. SMBs must be willing and able to create highly connected, personalized experiences to stay relevant amid the churn.
4 Keys to Consistent High-Quality Engagement for SMBs
For small and medium-sized businesses, the equalizing forces of mobile technology and social media are a double-edged sword. With more opportunity than ever to market and sell to a global audience, SMBs are also exposed to a customer base whose expectations are continually shifting. And with limited resources, small businesses need to be especially savvy about how they respond to customer questions and needs.
Small business owners are feeling that pressure, with 53% saying they feel they’re at a competitive disadvantage in terms of meeting customer expectations compared to their enterprise counterparts. Ultimately, they can compete through judicious use of technology. If an SMB is resource-constrained in terms of workers, it has to get smarter about how it uses technology to not only find or engage prospects, but also win customers and keep them for the long term.
How can your small business team exceed the expectations of the evolving customer and achieve consistently high-quality engagement? Here are four ways:
1. Elevate customer success to a company value. If a brand wants to differentiate itself, it first has to believe in customer success as a value (or find another compelling differentiator to stand behind). Customer Success is one of our four core values at Salesforce, alongside Trust, Innovation, and Equality. Valuing customer success as a company means everyone from the sales team onward invests in anticipating customer needs and solving them proactively so customers are happy, successful, and flourishing. Why is this important? Because customer happiness and growth is essential to your company’s success. The two go hand in hand.
2. Build trust with transparency. Among SMB leaders, 90% value trust above all other facets of their customer relationships. Putting customer success front and center requires building trust between brand and buyer, and fundamental to that trust-building is transparency. That means creating open, honest, personalized experiences with people. Leveraging technology like customer relationship management, and the connections it helps to create, helps open the lines of communication and keep customer trust strong.
3. Personalize using AI. In 2019, 62% of customers say they’re open to AI fueling their improved buying experiences, and almost half of SMB owners think their businesses are ready to implement it. Businesses can use AI to learn from each click the customer makes to get smarter, cut down on manual tasks, and translate insights into more personalized experiences over time.
Let’s look at an example from my own life. Every day, I wear the same bracelet. What’s interesting about my experience as a consumer is that I was marketed to on Instagram based on my prior engagement with photos of jewelry on my feed. I bought it through Instagram. When I had a question about the shipping, I also posed that question on Instagram. So these social media platforms have been equalizing forces for companies of all sizes.
4. Create community around products and services. Small businesses are increasingly creating community around the company’s product or service.
Take, for example, the small running shoe store in Healdsburg, California, where I buy my favorite shoes. That patch of wine country is remote for some shoppers, but the owner has built a community around the store — throwing barbecues, organizing running groups, and recommending scenic hikes and wine tastings. The store has become the town’s running culture hub because the owner has created a personalized experience for customers that borders on a lifestyle.
Businesses can also establish these communities online, posting regularly on social media and growing their followings, or they can form these relationships offline like in Healdsburg. Either way, those personalized experiences — and the relationships they cultivate — are key to differentiation for companies in the age of instantaneous customer expectations.
As senior vice president of SMB marketing at Salesforce, Marie Rosecrans focuses on empowering small and medium businesses with the tools and resources they need to grow. Before joining Salesforce in 2008, she held positions in customer support, professional services, product marketing, and program management at Oracle, Peoplesoft, Evolve and Primavera.