One of the biggest challenges for a small business is keeping up with customer expectations set by the Ubers and Airbnbs of the world. Here’s how to do it.

We now live in a world where customers are hyper-connected, highly opinionated and, most importantly, always on. In addition, their expectations are being driven by companies that didn’t exist 5-10 years ago. The rise of the smartphone has also transformed customer interaction – everyone now has a supercomputer in their pocket.

In this mobile-first environment, consumers are continually rationalising the number of apps they rely on to run their lives based on the value they receive from these apps. Once that value stops, the apps are simply deleted.

The value customers are looking for is based on experiences and personal interactions. Customers today expect everyone in a business (regardless of their role) to know who they are, their preferences and their history of interactions.

Turn customers into advocates

We used to talk about customer satisfaction as a goal, but the goalpost has since moved – customer advocacy is now the aim. Advocates are people who have an emotional connection to your brand or service, and become de facto extensions of your sales team. This is because buying behaviour has also changed – often when a customer contacts you today they have already made a purchase decision that has been strongly influenced by advocates in their social circle.

Due to limited resources, small businesses face key challenges in keeping up with these  changing customer expectations, which in turn limits their ability to build advocates.

Impact on CX

Customers become advocates through compelling experiences. But you cannot deliver compelling customer experience at the expense of employee experience. The companies and brands that are winning today are the ones that focus both on driving customer and employee ‘effort’ to zero – continually finding ways to improve the experience for their customers and employees. Delighted employees deliver enhanced service and experiences.

Uber used to be a great example of doing both but recently they have taken their eye off their employee (driver) experience. Drivers have become disgruntled and that's one of the key factors contributing to the company’s present challenges.

In our recent research with Deloitte Access Economics, small businesses identified three core challenges they expect to face over the coming five years:

  • A rapid acceleration in the shift to online transactions and interactions

  • The absolute necessity of customer-centricity and the knowledge of customers that it requires

  • Changing customer expectations

In this video, we speak to PractiFi’s Glenn Elliot about that final point – changing customer expectations.

How tech can help

There are many things small businesses want to improve – including sales, marketing and customer service. On that last point – customer service – research by Deloitte Access Economics found that 60% of small businesses would like to respond to customers within an hour, and one-third would like to respond within 10 minutes.

But they need to have good information about their customers in order to improve, and not on post-it notes or spreadsheets. Because even if they aren't lost, they might not make sense to everyone, or not be accessible to others within the business.

Technology brings automation, digitisation, a single view of customers – a reservoir of information that is accessible and understood across an organisation. It brings efficiency and productivity.

We recommend three steps to making the most of this:

  1. CAPTURE all of the data about your customers. Such data has two parts. The first is the customer data within your company that is traditionally held in silos – sales, service and marketing data. This is where CRM is powerful as it not only allows you to digitise your customer data but also to connect it into a single ‘360 degree’ view. Once you have done that, anyone within your company should be able to see the various touchpoints and interactions for each specific customer. The second part is the data your customers are producing – from their pocket supercomputers on their social channels and locations. This data allows you to listen and fill in the gaps on preferences and propensities.  
  2. LEARN: now that you have rich data, you can reason and learn about your customers, and find insight on how to improve their experience. With the rise of analytics and artificial intelligence, there are powerful capabilities that allow you to do this.
  3. CONNECT: this is perhaps the most important step – once you have found the insight, you have to be able to act, most often in real time. Your customer might be ready for a marketing offer. You’ll know from your data what sort of offer they are likely to respond to – a discount, a VIP promotion, a product message tailored just to their needs – and whether they are more likely to respond to an EDM at a certain time of day, a push notification when they are in a certain location, a promotion on a social platform, and so on. They might be ready for a service call and, again, you’ll know what form that should take from your data. If you don't have the capabilities to execute on this insight, the opportunity would have been lost.

How to choose the right technology

If you were building a home today, in theory you could also build a generator to provide electricity for that home – but why would you? You would obviously consume electricity as a service from a utility, and get the outcome you are looking for without having to worry about the skills and resources to deliver it. Technology should be approached the same way.

Start by asking yourself what customer outcomes you are looking to deliver and identify the fundamental technologies required to deliver those outcomes (e.g. CRM, campaign marketing, analytics, artificial intelligence etc) then consume those as a service. Ensure these technologies are easy to deploy and integrate, and that they work together and can scale as your business grows.

Of course, small businesses don’t a lot of resources nor data analysts lying about. So, just as in your personal lives Facebook auto tags your photos, Amazon recommends products, Siri interacts with you via voice, we are adding intelligence to our products to make all business functions (sales, service, marketing) smarter and more efficient.

It’s an elegant outcome that allows you to work smarter without you needing to build these capabilities yourself – for example, the intelligence that tells a salesperson ‘of all your opportunities, here are the ones you should focus on based on their propensity to buy’.

Still have questions about how tech can fuel the best customer experience, or how to match tech to your small business’s needs? Check out the research we worked with Deloitte Access Economics to produce – Digital Opportunities for Today's Small Business.


Robert Wickham is Regional VP, Innovation and Digital Transformation at Salesforce. He spends his time travelling around the APAC region helping customers transform their businesses. And he’s pretty serious about coffee and startups, so if you’re a coffee startup, you should probably make sure he can google you and order ahead wherever he lands. Rob tweets at @rrwickham and you can read more from him here.