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Setting Customer Expectations is a Big Part of 2021 Business Success

Maintain Smooth Business Operations as COVID-19 Drags On by Mastering Customer Communication

Recently, we discussed on this blog how 2021 business success really hinges on hard work and a commitment to doing things differently. And doing things differently includes your approach to customer communication. 

Making Business Adjustments to Accommodate COVID-19 Restrictions

As a result of local and state mandates, businesses have had to make adjustments that change the customer experience but don’t necessarily hinder the ability to continue doing business. These adjustments, as we are all now familiar, include mask requirements, capacity restrictions, and changes to the flow of foot traffic.

We know well by now that no business in any industry has been unaffected by the pandemic, whether in a positive or negative way. The arts & entertainment industry, including movie theaters, lost big as people have been unable to gather in crowds. Conversely, the new stay-at-home culture has catapulted big retailers like Target, Amazon, and Walmart into record sales. Businesses in different industries have had to scramble to adapt their business models to a predominantly virtual environment with limited in-person interaction. 

We’ve seen the restaurant industry, a multitude of different retail outlets, medical services, and many others make adjustments to continue doing business in this new world. Whether your business is thriving during the pandemic or trying to get back on its feet, there are some easy ways to boost customer communication and drive business forward, even as we continue to socially distance.

Customer Communication Quick Wins to Foster Loyalty and Reduce Frustrations

Some changes as a result of the pandemic include shifting business hours, reservation requirements, capacity restrictions, or the elimination of in-person services. There is clearly a business impact here, but you can better weather that impact by communicating clearly and regularly with your customers to set expectations early and often.

Here are some quick wins you can employ to improve your customer communication:

  • A Daily Briefing: They do it at the White House, so why not take the same approach at your business? Leverage social media to provide regular updates about anything your customer base might want or need to know. They will have an easier time engaging with you and will remember that in the future.
  • Emails and Texts: Don’t flood your customer contacts with emails and text messages, but they are a quick, easy, and more personalized way to communicate information when the time is right. Think special offers or discounts, or a sudden change that may impact their experience. Right now, periodic emails are a great way to remind your customers that you’re being safe, clean, and respectful of COVID-19 precautions so they can be confident when doing business with you.
  • Search Results & Website Updates: When someone searches your business online, what comes up? Make sure your information is accurate if someone uses the search engine results page (SERP) to find your hours, contact info, or location. Additionally, make sure your website is updated to reflect any changes to your business.

Your Website as a Critical Communication Tool

A heavier lift, but one a lot of businesses have found to be a crucial adjustment, is to equip your website with new functionalities to accommodate eCommerce, chat, or simply more accessible information. 

Many businesses, like ski areas, have had to employ a third party to manage reservations or online purchases as in-person services become limited or eliminated.  

Online shopping, take-out, delivery, reservations, presales, customer service, safety concerns, business updates, periodic closures, and contact tracing are all services that have gone digital in a big way since the pandemic. 

In reality, even after we are able to get back to life as normal, these types of services and offerings will have also become normal, and customers will have come to expect them. 

Adopting new digital habits for customer communication today will serve you well in the long run. 

Beyond digital, there is a need to use print communications as well. For months, grocery stores have been using directional arrows in the aisles and floor guides to indicate six feet of distance. The more visual you can make an experience, especially when you are providing behavioral guidance during a pandemic, the easier you make things for your customers. 

Prominent displays of information, from your mask policy to your capacity restrictions, help set customer expectations and put everyone on the same page. 

Enhance your communications now, and your customers will have greater loyalty and evangelism for your brand well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

Want some help implementing the right customer communication tools? Contact us today. 

Do Your Target Audience Research

You Don’t Really Know Your Target Audience Until You Ask the Right Questions

If you’re buying a gift for someone and want it to be something they’ll really like, you have to know at least a little bit about that person. And if you don’t know much about them, you likely would ask questions of someone who does.

Creating messaging that resonates with your target audience is really no different; however, we often skip the step of seeking out those important details about our personas.

Why is that?

While we have access to many tools and platforms (especially social media) that provide insight into target audience groups, there is far less emphasis on learning about our customers on a deeper level. Only research allows us to go beyond tools and platforms and truly understand our audience personas.

These 6 research tactics will help you get deeper insights into your target audience and empower you with the information you need to create robust content strategies that drive effective buyer journeys.

  1. Tap Into Their Challenges

If you sell a product, you know all about that product. And you want to tell prospective customers all about it, too.

But wait!

Your customers have real challenges they’re trying to solve, and they want to know how you can help solve their problems.

Maybe you sell software that makes a cumbersome process faster and more efficient. That may seem like a great value proposition, but your target customer wants to know how your product’s speed and efficiency can help them. They might be spending revenue on additional software they would no longer need with your solution. Or, perhaps they are having trouble hiring because of the system they currently use.

Be sure your messaging speaks directly to the problem your customer is trying to solve. Here are a few easy research tactics:

  • Ask existing customers for specifics on how your product has helped them. This step can be done using a survey or having your sales team reach out.
  • Include specific questions about business challenges on lead generation forms.
  • Leverage conversational marketing to identify specific challenges at the time leads visit your website or landing page.

90% of B2B marketers say the leading attribute of content marketing effectiveness is audience relevance. (Statista)

  1. Build Detailed and Robust Customer Personas

There’s irrefutable evidence that building personas, and mapping content to those personas and where they are in the buyer journey, generates results for businesses.

Customer personas today are far more detailed than ever before. It’s not enough just to know, for example, that your audience is largely made up of female owners of investment firms in New England.

Your personas should be specific to the individual so when you put content in front of them, it speaks directly to their situation. Even something as basic as knowing a user lives in Vermont versus New Hampshire can make a huge difference along their buyer journey.

Build your personas using the following criteria, and get as detailed as you can:

  • Give the persona a name and state their unmet need/business challenge.
  • Identify the action you want them to take based on that unmet need/business challenge.
  • Apply specific information to each persona based on the research you have conducted. This would typically include demographic and psychographic data, including personal preferences, behaviors, reactions to marketing activity, ethics, and buying mentality.
  • Analyze and segment your audience data so you can identify the trends that uniquely set each persona apart from another. Resources like Chambers of Commerce, industry and trade research, and even the Bureau of Labor and Statistics can provide validating or insightful data.

55% of marketers create content that is relevant to the buyer journey and/or ideal customer profiles. (Uberflip)

  1. Map Keywords to Your Target Audience

The way each of us search for information online could almost be considered a fingerprint of our individuality. If two users who own different travel agencies are searching for a specialized software solution, one might search “CRM for small travel agency” while the other might search, “easy booking software for travel business”.

If you understand that your target audience has business challenges that include managing customer relationships and cumbersome booking software, you can incorporate keywords that speak to those needs to ensure users find your content–and find it useful.

  1. Pay Attention to Feedback and Negative Reviews

It can be so easy to view negative reviews or undesirable feedback as an irritating side-effect of being in business. But the truth is, all feedback–negative or positive–is an opportunity to learn more about your customers’ experiences.

You should always respond to customer feedback, whether through your customer service line or on social media, and use that feedback to understand more about the situation and see how you can help. If a customer has a negative experience because of something that’s simple to correct, wouldn’t it be worth knowing about? A course correction that is relatively easy for your brand to make can mean the difference between retaining that customer (and providing a customer service experience they might tell others about) and losing that customer to a competitor (and sharing the negative story with others).

Suddenly, you’ve not only lost a customer, but you’ve lost potential business from anyone they talk to about their less-than-ideal experience.

However, strictly focusing on the customer feedback itself, you can use this information can help you in several key ways:

  • Learn more about the particular customer and their mindset, which can deeply inform that persona.
  • Identify gaps in your messaging based on whether their issue stemmed from a misunderstanding or confusion after engaging with your brand.
  • Discover trends among personas by assessing similar feedback, positive or negative feedback, or the type of persona providing the feedback. Then, you can be more strategic in how you message to those personas going forward.
  1. Hold an Event and/or Go Where Your Customers Are

Nothing brings customers together quite like a conference or networking event. It’s a veritable trove of opportunity to learn more about your target audience–and yet, many companies don’t prioritize hosting or attending industry events; and if they do, they often fail to execute marketing tactics that would provide more information about their audience personas.

During a pandemic, there are still opportunities to host virtual events, and even though they’re a bit different than in-person gatherings, you can provide a format that still allows you to engage with your audience and collect valuable information about them and their needs.

Whether virtual or (we hope very soon) in person, you’ll want to execute on the following:

  • Engage directly with customers by asking leading questions that delve into the information you need and want – their key business challenges, their current processes, and other information critical to building a persona.
  • Collect information from leads to ensure you can follow up with correspondence and a piece of content that demonstrates you understand their needs and can help solve their challenges.
  • View the opportunity as a long-term benefit to your business rather than trying to secure a single sale. The more you research your target audience, the better positioned you’ll be to drive greater business in the long run.
  1. Be Involved in Your Support Platform

If your company leverages a support platform, it’s a great place to learn more about your customers and fuel your target audience research. Share this information with other departments–support should not be done in a silo as it can provide critical data for sales and marketing.

Paying attention to your support platform could provide information about:

  • Which aspects of your solution or product matter most to your customers and why.
  • Where frustrations or confusion lie when using or implementing your solution or product.
  • What aspect of your solution or product provides the most value, and why.

It’s easy to use certain tools and have a social media presence and feel like you’ve adequately researched your audience. But in truth, there’s nothing more informative than speaking directly with customers to learn how they think, feel and act. Doing this type of boots-on-the-ground research will be far more effective for your business in the long run.

Want help with market research? Contact us!

For Businesses in the New Year, a Different Approach is Key

To Have a Better 2021, Business Owners Need to Put in the Work 

On New Year’s Eve, it felt good to leave 2020 in our rear view where I think we can all collectively agree it belongs. But that’s all that happened. The ball dropping did not end the pandemic, and businesses in the new year will continue to struggle with the effects of COVID-19. 

There is always a feeling of hope intrinsic to a new year, but this year it’s a bit different. After the events of 2020, having hope for improvement isn’t enough. Business owners will have to put in the work to flip the script and experience a better year. 

2021 is about learning from what happened in 2020 to take action, forge a growth-focused path, and take command of your business success.  

The Pandemic Taught Us More Than How to Wear a Mask

The biggest takeaway from the 2020 pandemic year is that businesses in the new year (and beyond) cannot be caught off guard. 

It’s easy to get comfortable or complacent with the way you do business. Maybe you hadn’t seen the importance of an updated website, or eCommerce capabilities, before the pandemic. Suddenly, customers were demanding online services that you weren’t equipped to offer.

The best way to ensure business success is to be prepared. No one could have predicted a pandemic, but we all could have benefitted from operating as though it was a possibility. 

As business owners, we can be better prepared to take on challenges, no matter what befalls us. Here are the primary areas on which businesses in the new year can focus to make better decisions.

Establish Versatile Business Operations

The pandemic caused everyone to adopt completely different ways of doing business. For many business owners, it was a sudden pivot they found themselves wholly unprepared for. 

Your business needs to be able to quickly adapt to whatever the environment or culture might be. Think about the major changes that came with the movement into quarantine, then out, then back in again. Employees were out sick. Customers stopped patronizing businesses in person. Indoor spaces became dangerous, but cold weather made outdoor service difficult without the right setup. Digital solutions became essential for customer service and communication.  Businesses needed to adopt contact-free service, delivery capabilities, greater inventory, faster shipping, sanitized and protected shopping environments, and online accommodations for traditionally in-person services. 

Sit down as a team and think about how you can plan for unexpected changes to your business culture. It might not be as straightforward as you think, so it’s important to consider all the ways you might need to change course to continue providing the best service. Some key points to consider might be:

  • The expectations of your customers (consider all possibilities) and what your business needs to do to meet those expectations if you aren’t already.
  • How well you understand your own business – is someone in each department able to take the reins if there are unexpected personnel changes or shortages?
  • What elements of your business need updating? Consider more than just the updates you are aware of but may not be addressing.

Know Your Weaknesses

Being capable of taking on unexpected economic challenges means you should always be improving. And improvement can only occur when you know what your weaknesses are. While business teams consistently brainstorm about ways to enhance their services and perform better, a more telling exercise is to ask the question, “What could we do to fail?” 

Discuss what you’re doing that’s bad for business. Talk about what those poor practices could lead to that would hurt your business. What are your vulnerabilities to unforeseen changes? Then, delve into those unforeseen changes – we’ve provided a few below – to understand how your business would fare, and what you can do to produce a different outcome.

  • Sociological changes: In 2020, we saw major sociological changes, some of which altered customer perceptions of businesses. These changes weren’t isolated to major corporations like Amazon; on a broad scale, customers adopted different expectations for businesses in general based on sociological factors like how businesses treat their employees, how diverse their staff is, how they treat women and mothers, how much they give back to communities, how well they follow social distancing and sanitation protocols, or how sustainable they are.  How can your business foresee and adapt to sociological changes that might impact your customers’ perceptions of you? Where does your business stand right now in light of these sociological changes from 2020?
  • A new competitor: What could another business bring to the table that yours is lacking? Don’t wait until it happens to realize where you need to make improvements.
  • A new technology: How could technology advances cause your business to fall behind or become obsolete? Is there technology you can adopt now that would enable greater business success?
  • The political climate: How might the activity on Capitol Hill impact your business? Are there regulations or mandates that will require you to make changes? Are there existing requirements you need to meet but haven’t yet taken the time to address?

Embrace Digital

Businesses that had not invested in digital solutions faced greater challenges during the pandemic. These challenges were not, and are not, limited to website capabilities or a social media presence. 

Ski areas for example, which have traditionally sold tickets in person at the mountain, suddenly have to manage reservations and online lift ticket sales so they can limit numbers due to COVID restrictions. They are also pulling out all the stops when it comes to patron communication, leveraging email, mobile apps, website updates, and digital advertising to ensure they are level-setting skier expectations for properly planning a visit to the mountain.

That level of digitally-dependent communication, especially for an industry not previously so heavily reliant on doing so, is one of the major business shifts inherent in today’s pandemic climate. You should take this time to reflect on how your business can leverage digital solutions – and while this includes updating your website or CRM, it should also include functionality, such as eCommerce, that you may not think you need now, but might need in a future state. 

The Best Way to Stay at the Forefront of Your Business is to Stay at the Forefront of Your Brand

Above all, the most important thing you can do is focus on your brand. When your brand is in a good place, unexpected changes will be easier to take on, whether you are prepared for them or not. A healthy brand can weather a storm better than one that is underdeveloped and lacking customer loyalty. 

Now is the time to focus on building your brand recognition by establishing a consistent look and feel, forging strong connections with your customers, and offering great digital experiences at every touchpoint. Focusing on your brand allows you to build up important relationships and customer loyalty, and even if it takes you some time to adapt to unexpected changes, your customers will likely be more forgiving and return to you once you can fully meet their needs.

Don’t find yourself in the middle of a pandemic – or any unexpected situation – before you realize your brand can’t measure up. Ask yourself today: “Is my brand strong enough to survive?” If you feel even a morsel of doubt, it’s time to lift up the hood and implement the right tools to build a stronger foundation for business success in 2021, and beyond.

Want help identifying how you can be better prepared? Contact us today.

The Cost of Failing to be an Eco-Aware Brand

Part 1: Why the COVID-19 Pandemic and Sustainability are Inextricably Linked – and How Brands Should Respond

What is an eco-aware brand? Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were increasing expectations among consumers for brands to be more sustainable. 

A 2019 study by the Sterns Center for Sustainable Business found that sustainable products are responsible for more than half the market growth for consumer packaged goods since 2013. Businesses have continued getting into the sustainability game to compete for consumer loyalty – and then the 2020 pandemic turned everything on its head. 

The Link Between a Global Pandemic and Sustainability

There are few things that make the entire world sit up and pay attention, and the pandemic is one of those things. Brands were a pivotal part of the outbreak since the beginning, as consumers hunted for toilet paper and sanitizer, online shopping and takeout became essential, and face masks and personal protective equipment turned into items of critical necessity and mass-demand. 

Consumers saw brands respond quickly and effectively to these needs. And those responses made an impact on consumer sentiment. In fact, the 2020 Edelman Brand Trust Report found that 55% of consumers feel brands are doing a better job responding to the pandemic than their own governments. 

As brands have stepped up to meet the moment – providing community support, enabling contact-free services, expanding product lines to produce supplies for medical personnel and consumers – we have seen that it is possible to rally around a cause and do public good quickly and in an impactful way. 

Directly adjacent to the pandemic response is the climate crisis, and as brands have shown that meaningful change is possible to fight COVID-19, consumers will be looking for the same type of response to fight global warming.

Companies without a plan to develop a more eco-aware brand strategy in 2021 and beyond will likely lose consumer loyalty in a post-pandemic world.

The Pandemic-Focused Brand Becomes the Eco-Aware Brand

Because of COVID-19, consumers now have different expectations for brands. They want virtual communications. They want safe practices for product distribution and employees. They want contact-free service. And they want to feel taken care of. 

The brands that do well responding to these pandemic needs will also be the brands consumers look to for placing a greater emphasis on sustainability.

Dunkin’ Donuts is a perfect example of this consumer expectation. The fast food chain stepped up immediately after the COVID-19 outbreak, donating $1.25 million to support health and hunger relief organizations. They also communicated with customers about the safety precautions their stores would be taking in an effort to keep staff and customers healthy while continuing to serve beloved coffee and donuts to the American people. 

Recently, the brand announced it finalized the shift away from the environmentally-unfriendly polystyrene foam cups it has been using for years to more eco-conscious paper cups. While they have been planning the switch since 2018, the timing was impactful from a brand loyalty standpoint.

Brands that do good for their communities and the public during COVID-19 will be elevated in consumers’ minds, which will lead to greater expectations for what those companies are capable of doing when it comes to other major issues like climate change.

This statement should be taken as a positive – that brands will now be held to a higher standard of continuing a pattern of good that can be felt long after the pandemic. The events of 2020 have made people hyper-aware of the devastation that can be wrought by a single global event, and brands stand in a prime position to help mitigate similar challenges.