Have you ever thrown your arms up in the air and wondered “what’s going on with today’s consumers?” Well, you wouldn’t be the first — trust me. For better or for worse, gone are the simpler days of reaching your customers in one place: print, whether in the paper or yellow pages. Nowadays, there are countless places your customers are spending their time, and you need a more strategic approach if you want to attract and retain the modern consumer. If you’re wondering what I mean by “the modern consumer,” check out our blog post for a deeper dive. In the post, we identify the following key characteristics:

  • Digital-first
  • Trust peers over brand promises
  • Want convenience
  • Expect personalization
  • Always connected
  • Short attention spans

So bearing that in mind, here are five things you should ask yourself as you reorient your business practices:

1. How committed are you to evolving your business practices?

The old adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same” describes most business transformations, unfortunately. Changing your practices is very difficult, and unless you’re all in, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Today’s customers can be unforgiving and they demand consistency, so be honest with yourself about how much you’re willing to change — and what promises you make.

2. Is your team all in, too?

Unless you’re a sole practitioner, you’ll have to teach your team what it means to sell, service, and nurture in today’s market. A big part of this transition is getting everybody else to commit to serving the modern consumer, too. If you’re facing any resistance, perhaps try redirecting training efforts by asking them a few questions about their own purchasing behavior. Spoiler alert: most people fit the bill of a modern consumer, despite how they self identify. Once they can identify with the customers your business is going after, they’ll feel more committed to the transition, too.

3. What’s your game plan for handling reviews?

So much of today’s shopping experience is about “social proof“ –in other words, peer reviews. Do you have a system in place for generating reviews, for responding to reviews, and for broadcasting reviews? Do you take immediate action to respond to negative reviews so that you can turn detractors into advocates? Training your employees about complaint resolution is important here. Do you have a strategy for leveraging your reviews on your website to up your SEO juice? Familiarize yourself with the guidelines around reviews to avoid hurting your search performance. Some rules of thumb to keep in mind: Never pay for reviews. Always empathize with distressed customers, and apologize when you get a negative review. Always take accountability.

Tip: Consider a platform for automating these activities so that you’re not finding yourself behind-the-curve week after week.

4. Do you have real-time data to share with your customers?

Amazon, Uber, and Domino’s all share one thing in common: they’re training customers to expect a progress update. Amazon texts you about your package’s delivery status; Uber shows you a map so you can follow your ride; Domino’s shows you the progress of your Friday night pie. What data can you share with your customers to keep them in the loop? Perhaps you’re like the auto spa guy I met recently, who among other advanced-vehicle-care services, wraps cars and trucks in the most creative ways. But the best part? While he’s wrapping a vehicle, he sends a quick photo update to his customer to show them the progress, inviting his customers into his process. This can apply to any industry or profession. Are you a tax specialist? Consider texting your clients to let them know how soon their taxes will be ready for review.

5. What’s your plan to stay connected to your customers?

Today’s customers want to feel connected with the brands they do business with. Are you sharing your domain expertise and unique insights across your social channels? What about company milestones? Or better yet, customer milestones, like birthdays? How you stay connected will vary from business to business, but there are plenty of easy-to-use tools out there that can streamline this for you, so do your research.

Tip: Consider a monthly newsletter to keep your business top-of-mind.

So what’s the payoff?

Modernizing your business has three main benefits:

  1. You’ll beat your competitors. Most small businesses don’t believe the ways of the modern consumer are here to stay. Moving first provides you with a unique acquisition opportunity.
  2. You’ll drive efficiencies in your business. Depending on the tools you choose to implement, modernizing your business means more time having genuine conversations with your customers — something they’ll pay more for — and more time for yourself, which is never a bad thing.
  3. You’ll get your business ready for a higher priced sale if you’re looking to exit. Implementing the latest practices in your business is like renovating your kitchen before you sell your house — the buyer will pay you more for it.

Don’t kid yourself — changing to meet the expectations of the modern consumer is not for the faint-hearted. And it’s certainly not for the half-hearted, either. Even if you’re all in, you won’t get it right overnight, so put a plan together that lays out what you want to accomplish in the near-term, mid-term, and long-term. Adjust the plan as you go, celebrate progress, learn from setbacks, and don’t let up. Remember: customer expectations are continuously evolving, so you’ll need to be disciplined and methodical about tracking your progress and about adapting to accommodate market changes.