More than ever before, customers want to interact digitally with businesses in the same way as they do with friends and family; through social media and mobile devices. These insights are revealed through a recent Microsoft survey of over 1,000 U.S. consumers that uncovered shifts in the ways customers want to hear from businesses. Given that the ability to acquire and retain customers is perhaps the single most important factor for small business success, it’s critical that business owners can deliver on these digital experiences.
Below are key ideas to keep in mind when implementing digital experiences into your business.
1. The ways customers want to connect with businesses is changing.
While there will always be a need for in-person communication, digital channels are equally important to customers. In fact, among all survey respondents, an equal amount of them wanted in-person experiences and digital experiences, including website, email or social media. While we don’t have our own historical data to measure how this ratio has shifted from year to year, we believe this affinity for digital represents a shift among consumers who, just last year, preferred businesses communicate with them via more traditional channels like postal mail, TV ads and print media, according to a MarketingSherpa survey. However, as companies increasingly move toward more digital engagement, the expectation for a fast response does not decrease; 85 percent say it’s important that a business responds in a timely manner.
2. Technology is a ubiquitous consideration across all generations in relation to businesses they frequent.
The technology decisions a business makes (or doesn’t make) can impact its ability to retain and attract customers. Seventy-three percent of customers say it’s important that they can access information about their interactions with a business online, something that was equally important across the millennial, generation X and baby boomer generations. The Browning Law Group is meeting this need by streamlining how it delivers documents to its customers by creating individual, secure SharePoint sites for each client. On SharePoint, clients can access letters, transcripts, pleadings and other documents virtually, instead of having to keep track of multiple hard copies.
3. Security safeguards are a business imperative as customers become increasingly comfortable sharing personal information.
Customers are surprisingly trusting when it comes to sharing information online. The most common preference of customers surveyed was to share personal information (income, social security numbers, home address) digitally at 46 percent. That said, it is important to only collect the needed information and it is crucial to protect it. Data breaches can result in lost trust and, ultimately, lost business. In fact, the survey found that more than half of respondents would be unlikely to do business again with a company that had been a victim of a data breach; there are no do-overs.
4. Technology holds the potential to set your business apart from the competition.
Many businesses don’t consider the impact back-office technology can have on attracting and retaining customers – or how technology can be used to help meet evolving customer demands. Collaboration solutions like Office 365 enable employees to share customer information and leverage the collective intelligence to respond faster to customer issues. Productivity solutions like Dynamics 365 empower businesses to automate routine processes so employees can spend more time with customers. Data analysis tools such as Power BI help derive insights from your data around customer wants and needs. And a cloud platform like Azure is the glue that holds it all together. Stat Health Services, for example, uses the Azure to host the StatDoctors service, which it provides to business customers like Scottsdale Healthcare. Through the service, Scottsdale Healthcare patients can connect with their doctor via their personal devices. This has turned out to be a benefit for patients – who have reported a 98 percent satisfaction with the service – as well as Scottsdale Healthcare, which reported a savings of $115,000 in its first year of using the service.
A shift in creating the digital experiences customers crave doesn’t have to be overwhelming in terms of budget or bandwidth. Start with a complete audit of the way you interact with customers to determine what is working and what can be improved.