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There's a Huge Shift in Customer Expectations Happening Now

Customer expectations have changed a lot when it comes to buying goods and services. Just 20 years ago, it was common to pay by check at the grocery store.

Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone carrying a checkbook, much less pulling it out to cover small purchases. How can businesses respond to the changing consumer landscape?

Customer Expectations in 2023

Here are the most prominent consumer trends and how small to medium-sized businesses can accommodate them.

1. Customers Expect 24/7 Service.

Modern consumers live in an always-on world. Social media allows people to post their thoughts immediately, online shops are always open and people can pay bills from their phones — no more waiting in line at the bank. As a result, people want customer service to follow suit and be available at any time.

It may not be feasible for a business to hire someone to answer the phone overnight. However, automated customer services like chatbots can serve as a first response, answering people’s questions while they wait to speak to a representative. In some cases, a chatbot might be all the customer needs, helping reduce the overall volume of calls and emails. Chatbots can also prioritize customers or sort them into groups for different departments to handle.

2. Fast Responses Are the Norm.

Along the lines of 24/7 service, customer expectations also include rapid response times. Most people carry a computer in their pocket — it’s easy to respond to texts, emails, and phone calls in real time. People are used to receiving quick replies and want businesses to do the same.

Once again, chatbots can provide a valuable service for small businesses looking to improve their response times. However, even an automated email reply can go a long way toward showing customers that the business received their question.

3. Businesses Must Show Environmental Concern.

Customers are increasingly conscientious. People want to know where their products came from and whether they were ethically produced. In fact, many consumers will actively avoid brands that don’t align with their environmental values.

Businesses can use this to their advantage. A 2020 McKinsey survey found that 60 to 70 percent of customers said they would pay more for sustainable packaging. Additionally, 36 percent of shoppers were willing to buy more sustainably packaged products if the labeling indicated they were eco-friendly. By demonstrating their commitment to sustainability, businesses can attract mindful customers willing to pay more for higher quality.

4. People Want Personalization.

From customized license plates to dog collars, people love personalized services and made-to-order products. Treating customers with individualized care starts by listening to what they want. Then, it’s important to remember customers’ names and preferences.

Businesses can take a few notes — such as which drink a customer ordered or if they have any food allergies — and then reference them later. Or, AI services can keep track of people’s online orders and make future recommendations based on previous purchases or search history.

5. Cash Use Is Down.

In 2020, paying with cash was a faux pas. As consumers got used to digital payments, many of them switched over to services like Venmo or Zelle for purchases where using a card would be impractical.

That trend continues into 2023. Only around 40 percent of customers use cash in a given week, so businesses should install card readers — if they haven’t already — or upgrade existing ones to accept contactless payments. Additionally, companies should consider accepting Venmo, PayPal or other forms of online payment.

6. Shopping Should Be Easy.

Repeat customers often appreciate a site saving their name, shipping address and payment information so they can check out quickly. Using cookies lets people pick up where they left off and helps create a frictionless shopping experience.

It’s also helpful to make the “Add to cart” button clear and easy to click on mobile. Including drop-down menus that find people’s exact delivery addresses further simplifies the checkout process.

7. Brands Should Take Strong Stances.

One of the biggest changes in customer expectations is that people want companies to speak up. Many businesses use official Twitter or Facebook pages to show their support when it comes to social or political topics. Although brands may want to stay out of the political crossfire, staying silent on major issues can unintentionally come across as supporting the opposing side, leading to disgruntled customers.

It’s up to each business to decide whether to take strong public stances on various issues. However, it’s often best for companies to analyze their main customer base and speak for or against topics that most customers will agree on. With an American customer base, for example, appealing to the use of locally sourced, American-grown ingredients is likely to go over well with consumers of various political or ethnic backgrounds.

8. Consumers Want Free Shipping and Returns.

The rise of Amazon has gotten people used to lightning-fast, free shipping, with items sometimes arriving the day after placing an order. Because Amazon makes so much money, it can eat the cost of returns, too, issuing refunds on top of providing free shipping back to the warehouse.

Most small businesses can’t afford that. However, they can make an effort to improve shipping speed, provide tracking information and accept returns if an item arrives damaged or defective. At the very least, they should be clear about their shipping policies so customer expectations will be reasonable.

9. Mobile Sites Are King.

Mobile traffic now accounts for 54.4 percent of all internet use. For certain sites, like social media, nearly the entire customer base may regularly access the content via a smartphone.

Customer expectations include having an accessible, mobile-friendly website that includes contact info, product information and even online shopping. All modern businesses should optimize their sites for mobile — or, in fact, build them specifically for smartphone users.

Meeting Consumer Demands

Running a business looks different today than it did in the early 2000s. Customers have more power than ever, and companies must adjust to meet their growing list of needs. By becoming more responsive, offering online shopping, upgrading sites to be mobile friendly, and showing greater environmental concern, small and medium-sized businesses can adapt to the changing landscape of customer expectations.

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Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks

Eleanor Hecks is editor-in-chief at Designerly Magazine. She was the creative director at a prominent digital marketing agency prior to becoming a full-time freelance designer. Eleanor lives in Philadelphia with her husband and pup, Bear.