In the new year, small businesses should focus on customers.

As 2015 came to a close, small businesses look to 2016 as a new year for growth and opportunity. Budgets and plans are in the process of being finalized. Communicating and connecting with customers are paramount. And small businesses should always be looking for ways to improve those lines of communications and customer service.

What should small businesses be focused in the New Year regarding communicating and connecting with their customers?

They should focus on the customer.
Yes, that’s right, the customer. Sounds like a no brainer; however, many businesses large and small have lost focus on the customer and see them as units in boxes instead of multifaceted individuals as we all are. Demographics are shifting. It is harder and harder to create customer profiles. Organizations need to use all tools and channels available to customize the customer experience based on what the customer needs as well as wants and not just what the organization wants.

Communications and customer service professionals weight in why truly focusing on the customer is the top trend for 2016.

“This is the year that in earnest, businesses will stop focusing on the likes, and start focusing on the real driver of new revenue, doing likeable things,” says Peter Shankman, a customer service and marketing futurist.
According to Nielsen’s 2014 Global Survey on Corporate Social Responsibility, it was found that 55 percent of global online consumers across 60 countries say they are willing to pay more for products and services provided by companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact. Doing good helps the bottom-line.
“In 2016, the oldest Millennials will turn 34,” say Maddie Grant and Jamie Notter, co-authors of When Millennials Take Over: preparing for the Ridiculously Optimistic Future of Business. “They’re not just entry level, and they are very close to outnumbering their Generation X supervisors (and don’t be shocked, but they’ve outnumbered the Boomers in the workforce for a while now). And while most of them still lack formal authority inside our organizations, their sheer numbers are going to push a key shift in the working world that has been percolating for some time: a renewed focus on organizational culture.
“Millennials care deeply about culture. In a recent survey, 77 percent of them said culture was as important or more important than salary and benefits. And with Boomers retiring, we’re going to be hiring a lot of younger people, so suddenly culture will make a difference. Culture has been appearing on the ‘what keeps you up at night’ lists for senior executives for the last few years, but this year it’s going to actually push many of them to take action. The organizations that move quickly will end up with a sizeable advantage over the companies that ignore culture.”
The takeaway from this is businesses need to be open to all generations, either as customers or employees and understand the shifts that are taking place.
“Small business will get to grips with Blab as a useful communications tool to connect with customers,” says Danny Brown, co-author of Influence Marketing: How to Create, Manage, and Manage, and Measure Brand Influencers in Social Media Marketing. “Not just a promo tool, either, but opening up a regular ‘Ask Me Anything’ with customers on call with owner and/or staff. Used properly, Blab could be a great way to shape your business moving forward, as well as show others the type of customer your business attracts.”
New communications tools such as Blab and Meerkat, live video streaming apps that allow businesses and customers to connect and communicate with each other sharing information in a two-way matter that is more personal than an email contact form, are vital for businesses.
“The rise of mobile as a crucial channel for businesses,” says Steve Lubetkin, professional videographer and podcaster and co-author of The Business of Podcasting. “Too many small businesses depended on their teenagers to build their websites, and those sites are not designed responsively, with a mobile version easy to use on smart phones and tablet devices. Mobile is the rising mode of consumption for most web users today, so not being prepared for mobile visitors is going to be a huge disadvantage for small businesses.”
Grant Kantsios of the Charlotte-based SEO and design firm says, “Small businesses will continue to (if not already) move towards a ‘mobile first’ way of thinking. Considering that over 50 percent of searches are now from mobile devices, businesses must understand this when they are handling their online brand and website. More time and resources must be devoted to understanding how to make things work both on PC and mobile. It will take some companies to invest some money into this, but they can’t afford not to do this. Mobile and local searches for small businesses are almost always associated with some form of action for the searcher. Make it easy for them to find the information that they are searching for!”
That means businesses should understand mobile is where your customers are. It needs to incorporate into everything your business does in order to reach your customers. Make the investment.
Really focusing on customer in an authentic way in 2016 will help your small business stand out to your customers.

This column was originally published in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Monday, November 28, 2015 and nationally distributed  to over 300 media outlets through the Tribune Content Agency.
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