5 signs your small business isn’t ready for changing customer expectations – and what to do about it

In the Digital Opportunities for Today’s Small Business report, small businesses list local competition as their number one immediate business concern. Keeping pace with changing customer expectations – the basis of how a business can compete – is anticipated to be the top perceived business threat in five years’ time. And a shift in customer expectations isn’t just a trend lurking on the horizon, it’s happening now.

Changes in technology has created a customer that’s empowered and connected – they have unprecedented access to information. They can Google anything and research products, read reviews and compare prices – meaning there’s no longer an implicit trust given to the salesperson. We’ve transitioned from an age of empowered vendors to empowered customers.

Further fuelling the situation are businesses that drive expectations of CX ever higher – the Ubers and Amazons of today leverage technology to deliver amazing, simple and connected customer experiences.

When a customer comes across a business that isn’t delivering the experience they have come to expect, it’s obvious and jarring. And, customer expectations are only going to increase as technology becomes more prevalent in our lives. So it’s important to heed this change, before it’s too late and your competitors have plugged the gap.

Here’s some telltale signs your small business is underprepared for changing customer expectations and, more importantly, what you need to do to get ahead of the curve.

1. A lack of personalisation

Personalisation is becoming increasingly important in developing meaningful connections with customers. At its core, personalisation is about customers being recognised as individuals, and treated in a way that makes them feel appreciated, unique and understood. A process that hinges on having good customer knowledge to start with – something only 48% of SMBs believe they have.

The secret to good personalisation is first ensuring you have the technology to store and leverage your customer data. Then applying the concept of personalisation right throughout the customer journey, and making sure what you’re offering to customers is super relevant and helpful to them as an individual.

2. No system to analyse sales, marketing and service information

It’s important you understand why customers are visiting your business, across marketing, sales and service. If these interactions aren’t tracked in a central system, not only will the experience be disjointed for the customer, but you won’t have a holistic view of the business.

For example, are there common themes emerging in customer service cases? Are these themes occurring over a short or long time frame? And is there a step in the process that can be improved to stop the need for service in the first place?

You might have executed the service interaction really well, but if you don’t have the systems in place to analyse this data and piece it together, you can’t learn from it. The same goes for marketing and sales – you might have five campaigns in market but no idea what’s triggering customers to walk through the door.

Easy to use, inexpensive analytics tools will provide answers and help you refine your sales, marketing and service approach, which will ultimately create a better experience for the customer.

3. A minimal online and social media presence

A robust and useful online presence has become a mandatory for doing business in this modern day – customers expect nothing less. And a basic, pretty website isn’t enough anymore. Your website needs to be easy to use, engaging and provide the functionality customers expect from an online experience, such as being able to book appointments or buy online.

Given three-quarters of Australians are on social media, you also can’t afford to not have a social presence – it’s where your customers are. Yet, the report found social media to be one of the most challenging areas of sales and marketing for SMBs, with only one in five regularly using the platform to engage customers.

For a small business, social media can seem daunting and resource-intensive. But automation tools can do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

4. Lost sight of the customer

If a business has lost sight of the customer, it’s a big problem, because the customer has all the cards now. Twenty years ago, customers didn’t have a lot of choice and moving your business was hard, but technology has changed all that, making loyalty a fickle concept.

Having a customer-centric mindset is integral for any business that wants to survive and prosper in the age we’re in. This means listening to your customers, valuing their business and putting them at the centre of everything you do. Again, technology plays a big role in making this easy.

5. A poor customer experience

Ultimately, the bar’s been raised and a poor customer experience is no longer passable. If a customer experience is inconsistent, slow or doesn’t add value to a customer’s life, they won’t be a customer for long. Now’s the time to act and fix any flashing signs of a customer experience breakdown in your business.

Undoubtedly, there will be some big changes and disruptions to emerge over the next five years. But, if your business is ready, agile and adaptable, you’ll take these changes in your stride.

For more advice on how to prepare your response plan to changing customer expectations, download The Top Future Challenge Facing Small Businesses ebook.

Adrian Towsey is Regional Vice President – Commercial Sales at Salesforce. Read more from Adrian Towsey.