Disney sells “happiness,” not just a carnival ride. Starbucks gives customers a “third home,” not just a cup of coffee. That’s because both companies focus on how customers experience their brand, not just the products they sell. While small businesses have always known how to treat the customer right, larger companies are closing the gap using customer experience technology. That’s why it’s important for entrepreneurs to stay on top of customer experience trends. Here are three of those trends that can help improve your small business now.
Trend #1: The line between in-store and online experience is getting fuzzy.
For many consumers, the buying experience starts with an online search then continues in person when they’re ready to buy. But the division between the two stages is becoming less defined.
For example, car dealers are looking at ways to streamline the buying process by creating an online to in-store experience that takes the hassle out of car buying. A Dealer.com report describes how dealers not only showcase their inventory online but enable customers to settle on a price and start the paperwork. Then, the in-store experience is about picking up their new car and driving it off the lot.
To apply this concept, small businesses might provide access to online reviews while the customer is in the store. For selected products, customers could use their smartphones to scan QR codes placed next to the item. The code links them to online reviews. The Huffington Post provides a few other ideas that retail businesses can use to merge their online and offline customer experience.
Trend #2: Voice Recognition is making it easier to connect with businesses.
The emergence of smart speakers like Amazon’s Echo, Google Home, or Apple’s HomePod is giving consumers an easier and faster way to interact with businesses. Rather than firing up your mobile device to search for something, your virtual assistant can do it for you. In fact, artificial intelligence experts predict that half of all searches will be speech or image-enabled by the year 2020. It’s as simple as saying, “Alexa, where’s the closest bakery?”
Small businesses will want to be sure their digital information is optimized on these voice-activated devices, just like you do with online search engines. Duane Forrester of Yext offers these insights (and a free e-book) to prepare for this growing trend.
Trend #3: Data security has become an expected component of the customer experience.
The recent headlines of data breaches with companies like Facebook have brought data security into the arena of customer experience. Consumers expect businesses to take measures to protect their personal information from cybertheft. Yet according to a UPS Capital report, 90 percent of small businesses don’t use any data protection for customer information.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) recommends that companies reinforce their payment card practices in light of this trend. Work with your bank or credit card processor to use the latest validation and anti-fraud services. That might include secure chip card technology. Take a look at SBA’s Top Ten Cybersecurity Tips for more ideas.
Trends in customer experience are changing the way businesses of all sizes interact with consumers. Staying ahead of these trends can help to ensure that you maintain the competitive advantage small businesses have with their customers.