You've likely noticed how today's customers have changed the way they shop, but I still find, as an adviser and consultant, that many entrepreneurs aren't sure how to deal with the new post-pandemic changes, or are still waiting for things to get back to the old normal.
If this sounds like you, I'm convinced you need to face reality. Success now requires developing a whole new relationship with your customers -- starting with focusing on them.
It's a radical power shift, which I found outlined well in a new book, The Metail Economy,& by international retail consultant Joel Bines. Relationships are often built online, he writes, with influencers setting the trends and customers deciding where to buy and how much they're willing to pay through search engines.
He suggests, and I agree, that connecting with customers these days requires a total rethinking of your strategy and actions. The focus must now be on "ME as the customer," each embodied in individualized, highly fragmented, and fluid clusters.
You don't tell customers what they like -- you must let them tell you, along the lines of six key parameters outlined here:
1. Cost: Customers define and find the bargains.
Everyone has their own view of the price-value equation. They listen only to other customers like them, and they have an instant worldwide view of the alternatives online. This view can change quickly by location or time of day, and your challenge is to listen to their needs and be there at the right time.
Customers skip over your ads and easily find the real best deals through "best value" sites on the internet. Also, research from Hawk Incentives found that 40 percent of the surveyed consumers say it makes them "feel smarter" when they can find better deals.
2. Convenience: Make the experience memorable.
Convenience is in the eye of the customer, not your company. It means making your customers believe that you will do whatever it takes to make their lives easier, perhaps even ordering from a competitor if you are out of stock. Customers expect to feel good about the whole experience.
For example, at every Ritz-Carlton, employees are empowered to spend up to $2,000 per guest to overcome any negatives and make a stay more memorable. The initiative has paid big dividends in customer loyalty and advocacy, as well as employee team spirit.
3. Category expert: Show customers that you know what they need.
It's not enough to have everything in a given category. You have to audaciously cultivate a following to make your business the first place customers think of when they have a relevant problem. That means investing in people and building trust in your expertise and the information provided.
A positive result of being a recognized category expert is that it gives you the credibility to broaden demand and start new trends, instead of waiting for outside influencers and other customers. Naturally, you then get the lion's share of that increase in demand.
4. Customization: Convince customers it was made for them.
"Me"s don't want to feel like part of the herd. If you can do mass customization through technology, that is a good start. Then you have to add a personalized experience to make it feel like one-at-a-time. It's a careful balancing act between investment and the costs you are able to pass on to the customer.
5. Curation: Customers expect a chosen-for-me feeling.
"Me" customers become loyal when you know them so well that you recommend things they would've picked themselves. You can use their historical purchase patterns, plus trends from influencers, to anticipate future wants. It takes intense attention to detail to create and sustain that special feeling.
6. Community: Make customers feel part of something bigger.
There are few things more effective at making customers today feel good about themselves and your brand than giving. It's less about the stuff you sell than the big idea that surrounds it. Work hard and smart to create a space that consistently makes your customers feel they belong.
Of course, it always pays to adapt these evolving customer principles to your own strengths in order to cater to the ever-more sophisticated, powerful, and demanding consumer. The key to remember is that they are now in charge, not you, and that is not likely to change. But don't let that keep you from capitalizing on your innovations, your team, and your intelligence to reap the big rewards.