Should you be friends with your customers? While the logical answer to that would be an emphatic “no”, it seems these days customers want you to interact with them as if you are their friends.
A recent survey from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) of more than 1,000 American consumers reveals how much our behavior patterns and expectations have changed when it comes to dealing with businesses. According to a blog from Cindy Bates, Microsoft’s Vice President US SMB and Distribution, the survey shows “customers want to interact digitally with businesses in the same way as they do with friends and family—through social media and mobile devices.”
Since numerous studies this year have indicated attracting and retaining customers is one of the biggest challenges small business owners face, it’s vital that you understand and deliver on your customers’ expectations.
The Latest Customer Expectations Trends
A deeper look at the survey reveals:
1 — Even though many of us would guess consumers crave person-to-person communications, the survey shows the same number of consumers want in-person communications and digital communications, via websites, email and social media. This is a shift from last year, when according to a survey from Marketing Sherpa , consumers indicated they’d rather businesses communicate with them “via more traditional channels like postal mail, TV ads and print media.”
Bates expects this trend toward online communication to become steadily more apparent in the years to come. “As technology continues to evolve the way we interact with each other, businesses will need to become more savvy in the ways they are reaching and interacting with their customers. For example, the survey revealed that consumers would rather interact with businesses via instant message or chat over other channels like email and over the phone. This underscores how the technology we use in our personal and even our professional lives is infiltrating how consumers expect to do business.”
One consumer expectation that holds steady—customers expect a speedy response from businesses—in fact, 85 percent say “it’s important” businesses get back to them in a “timely manner.”
2 — Don’t make the mistake of thinking only younger generations are digitally inclined. The survey shows “Technology is a ubiquitous consideration across all generations.” Most of the customers surveyed (73 percent)—across Millennials, Gen Xers and Baby Boomers—think it’s important to have online access to information from a business. And 57 percent of consumers expect businesses to remember them and their preferences, which requires a strong CRM solution.
3 — Privacy is not an issue. The fact that customers have no problem sharing information online is rather surprising. Yet 46 percent prefer to share their personal data (income, social security numbers, home addresses, etc.) digitally. Nearly half prefer to sign contracts digitally.
“Customers are becoming more and more trusting of the cloud and digital security,” says Bates. “This is great news for small businesses, because it means that they are no longer limited to doing business with customers in their immediate area. Today’s entrepreneurs and business owners can use the cloud to interact with customers regardless of their location.”
Don’t get carried away, however, by asking your customers for too much personal information . And it’s vital you keep their data safe and secure. The Microsoft report shows more than half of those surveyed would “be unlikely to do business again with a company that had been a victim of a data breach.” As Bates writes in her blog, when it comes to protecting data, “there are no do-overs.”
Technology, particularly back-office tech, says Bates is a key solution helping small businesses find and retain customers. Using collaborative tech solutions, such as Office 365 , Bates says, “enables your employees to share customer information and leverage collective intelligence” so they can quickly respond to customer issues.
If information is key to keeping your customers satisfied, you need access to data analysis tools, such as Power BI  so you can easily see what your customers want. In order to have time to be more responsive to your customers you need to enhance your productivity throughout your company. Bates recommends Dynamics 365  which allows you to automate routine processes, giving you and your staff more time to spend with your customers.
Don’t overlook the obvious. An overwhelming 90 percent of consumers expect your website to have easily discoverable contact information and an email address. And in a sign of the times, 30 percent expect your site to be mobile-friendly.
Customer Support  Photo via Shutterstock