Is Your Business Ready to Serve the 21st Century Customer?
While you're pondering how to start / expand your small business operation, it would be wise to start prepping yourself today for a 21st Century Customer who will be far more difficult to serve. Most business models attempt to use 20th century ideas. 21st Century Customers will be more knowledgeable, affluent, demanding & vocal, and will expect to be catered to as individuals regardless of their age, gender or race. There are four trends that will shape the 21st century's customer and create challenges for small-business marketers. People will enjoy longer life spans.
A larger body of the population will be made up of aging, maturing adults. Consider these statistics: By the year 2020 North Americans over 65 will outnumber those under age 13, and by the year 2030, North Americans over age 65 will total 69 million at least. As people mature and get older, their priorities and needs change along with their understanding and perception of the world. You'll need to keep pace with your customers' changing perceptions of their needs. People will have more money than time.
Regardless of customers' economic levels, their available money will outweigh their available time. People will have a variety of activities and responsibilities competing for their attention--making time the ultimate commodity. Firms whose offerings do not help people gain something of value, such as more time, convenience or peace of mind, will struggle to get customers. Businesses that gobble up too much of people's time will loose customers as well. Society will be more culturally diverse.
An even larger percentage of the population will be comprised of many different ethnic groups creating increased opportunities for niche and specialty marketing. Each market, however, will have several niches inside itself. If you rely on one-size-fits-all marketing strategies or tactics that speak to the audience as though it's simply one homogenous group, you'll miss the mark or be rejected. Also, inadequate understanding of cultural and ethnic differences can lead to miscommunication and poor service. Reliance on technology will increase.
Through home computers or public access stations at cafes, libraries, colleges and community centers, more people will have access to the Internet and its vast holdings. Customers will be able to easily educate themselves on any topic. You'll need to have technologies in place to interact with a more inquisitive and knowledgeable customer.
Getting and keeping customers is frequently cited as one of the top challenges faced by small-business owners. This problem will only intensify for those who don't begin to evaluate how today's clientele will look down the road in relation to these trends. There's good news, though. Through a mix of low-cost, high-tech & high-touch technologies you can give your business an edge. They all center around being active. Learn about your customers' perspective through active listening.
You must become skilled at listening and not just hearing what your customers tell you. If you want to gain a head start on the next trend or marketplace need, then talk to your customers. The most profitable ideas will come from the streets and real people and will work their way up to decision-makers who can turn them into profit centers. Activate your customer database.
As you become skilled at listening to your customers, you'll need a safe place to store all the valuable information. Scores of small-businesses don't even have a database of customer information. Remember, you'll be dealing with more demanding customers who will expect you to cater to them as individuals. Invest in an active database program. You'll position yourself to offer customized service, track buying habits, anticipate needs, and sell more of your offering. Use your database to activate more customized service based on your customers' individual needs.
Saks Fifth Avenue sends regular customers who become inactive a discount coupon, along with a letter saying, "We haven't seen you in awhile." A local florist uses it's database to remind you in advance of a previous special occasion order and confirm your plans for this year. Gestures like these communicate that you're paying attention and listening, and that you're interested in making customers happy and retaining them as customers.
Businesses who embrace these steps will grow in profitability now and well into the next century.
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