Customer expectations can change quickly. The constant influx of new tech developments means customers are always looking for the latest and greatest, and keeping up can be daunting for business leaders. In addition, the ubiquity of the smartphone means that people can contact anyone they want at any time, and customers expect no less from the companies they do business with.             

Furthermore, customers are used to having their expectations met or even exceeded, so satisfying them is imperative to running a profitable business. Customer retention plays a big role in the growth a business sees. Kissmetrics reports that a lost customer is worth a global average value of $243.

Customer expectations are all trending toward faster, cheaper, and more efficient. Because communication via social media has become so easy, more than 42 percent of consumers expect businesses to respond to their online question within the hour. They also expect companies to have the knowledge they're looking for -- after all, the internet provides a virtually limitless source of information, and it's at their fingertips 24/7.

For businesses, it can be tough to keep up with changing expectations and still maintain a margin for profits. A company with five employees probably can't hire a 24/7 call center, but there are plenty of steps that business leaders can take to keep up with consumer demands.

1. Update Online Platforms Using Emerging Tech

Sometimes a bad digital experience is all a customer needs to write off a company for good. In fact, 55 percent of customers say that one bad website visit will negatively impact their perception of a brand.

Laurence Haziot, IBM global managing director and general manager, for consumer industry, said in a news release last year there are unique opportunities for each brand to upgrade its shopping experience online. She noted, "They must use new tools and technologies such as cognitive analytics and cloud to capture data regarding people, products, preferences and store facilities -- and then leverage that information at a hyperlocal level to provide a more expansive, personalized and effective experience wherever consumers want to shop."

One brand that seems to recognize how technology can help transform online shopping into an enjoyable experience rather than a chore is J.C. Penney. Its website allows you to virtually try on glasses online before you buy them.

2. Get Rid of Stale Processes

Customers are always on the lookout for an innovative customer experience. To deliver this experience, brands are building in-house creative teams at an increased rate. Sixty-eight percent of these internal entities still collaborate with agencies outside the company, however, giving them a broad perspective into the most effective ways to attract customer interest.

Tim Carr, founder of LIFT Agency, explains why this is a good idea: "Over time, internal creative teams can get jaded. Working on the same brand every day limits creativity and innovation, and it's easy to go back to the same concepts over and over again when you begin to run out of fresh ideas." Bringing in a new point of view can help companies ensure they aren't doing the same old thing just because they've always done it that way.

3. Reduce the Barriers to Buying Online

Producing a product and acquiring customers is pointless if you can't efficiently get the product into their hands. Shipping is an incredibly important part of the supply chain, and Amazon Prime has created an expectation that shipping is not only free, but also fast. This expectation is so ingrained that more than half of customers will abandon an online shopping cart due to shipping charges.

Investing in drones for product delivery may be out of reach for most companies, but offering customers free shipping doesn't have to be. One of the best ways to make free shipping attainable is by working with several different carriers instead of just one. Especially during the busy holiday season, partnering with multiple carriers will offer more options and help businesses control costs.

Customer expectations are by no means stagnant. As more and more businesses offer amenities for free, more and more customers will come to expect them from all businesses. The never-ending introduction of new technologies will likewise continue to influence customer expectations. Businesses can trend toward improving their customers' experience by optimizing their online platforms, bringing in outside perspectives, and making access to their products as convenient as possible.

Published on: Apr 3, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.