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Meeting Customer Expectations in a Changing Environment

Creating a positive customer experience lies at the heart of any successful business but when current environments start shifting, technology advances and interactions move online, customers' priorities change, as well. Try keeping up with these evolving needs by learning a few tips to meeting your customers expectations.

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Business Communications: Speed and Accessibility

Good communication has always been a bedrock of great customer service. Today, the speed, frequency and methods businesses use to connect with customers is essential.

Long gone are the days of picking up a phone, calling a customer service line and waiting to speak to a representative — or even the days of sending an email from a form and waiting several business days for a reply

According to the Pew Research center, 72 percent of Americans use at least one type of social media platform to connect with each other and with businesses. These types of users turn to social media and are accustomed to speedy communications and instant gratification. They expect to receive answers to questions right away, and from a human rather than an automated system.

To remain competitive, companies must communicate with customers in real time on the channels they prefer. For a company, this may mean expanding available customer service hours. While 24/7 staffing isn't realistic for many small businesses, keep in mind that customers do expect some level of weekend support or longer open hours.

Personalization Is Key

No one likes being treated like a number. But in an automated, virtual world, customers demand personalized service. According to a recent survey, 73 percent of consumers want businesses to understand their unique needs and expectations, and 62 percent expect companies to adapt to those needs. Unfortunately, only 51 percent of those surveyed feel that companies actually understand their needs. Less than half believe that most businesses are willing to take the steps needed to truly personalize service.

After all, customer service is all about relationships. To build rapport and trust in a virtual marketplace, businesses must move away from broad segmentation and focus on learning more about each individual customer. That might mean taking advantage of technology to create individualized customer profiles, training employees to take a customer-facing approach, and using customer-preferred channels — such as social media — to provide real-time interaction.

Adapting to Change

So with all of the expectations customers have, how does a business determine what to focus on? The Data and Marketing Association recommends starting by performing an assessment of all distributed communications.

For instance, consider how your business communicates with customers during a crisis. Many companies may "go dark" and reduce their marketing efforts. In times of rapid change and uncertainty, many consumers want to see companies as partners that disseminate helpful information and mobilize action through authentic, accountable communications.

From social media to email blasts, marketing campaigns to call-center scripts, take note of what's working (and what isn't). Soliciting customer feedback through surveys or short polls can be helpful. As a bonus, gathering feedback allows you to open a new, personalized channel of communication with customers. Tracking consumer response to your communications will help you identify trends and changes, so you can make informed adaptations to meet customer needs.

While consumers may expect more from companies, businesses have to evaluate what they are currently doing to determine how to meet these demands. By keeping (multiple) channels of communication open and listening to feedback, businesses can continue to adapt to the "new normal" of ever-evolving customer expectations.

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