PRESENTED BY GOLDMAN SACHS

5 Ways to Get to Know the Customer of Tomorrow

02/09/2015 12:00 am ET | Updated Apr 11, 2015
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A company is only as successful as its ability to appeal to customers, and that means it's critical for small business owners to know what their target consumers are thinking about, talking about, and the values that guide their purchasing decisions. But consumer attitudes change quickly, and it can be challenging to spot the ideas that will drive buying habits in the near future. Yet, being able to do so means finding new customers which is actually one of the top three challenges reported by the small business owners in Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses.

It's not enough to think about your current customers. The tougher challenge, and the one offering greater long-term benefit, is to envision what the customer of tomorrow will be like. Absolute certainties about your future customers will never come, but several emerging trends are likely to influence their habits over the coming years. By harnessing the following five insights, you'll be able to better understand and build your customer base.

They're eagle-eyed about prices.
Customers grow more price-conscious every year. With an enormous degree of data access, tomorrow's customer will compare prices on an unprecedented scale. "Showrooming" -- trying out products in-store before going online to find the best deal -- is one of the clearest manifestations of this trend. What can your business do about it? Implement multiple sales channels: Combine a transactional website with social, mobile and physical retail -- aka the omni-channel approach -- to improve your brand's chances of appearing wherever customers look, online or off. If you're having trouble competing on price, emphasize other ways your company is delivering superior value, say, with a generous warranty policy, easy returns, exceptional customer support or loyalty programs. Consider including a tablet in your store that allows customers to comparison shop or research products online, essentially bringing their showrooming into the store itself, and making it a tool that actually works for you instead of potentially against you.

They care about being real.
Modern consumers, particularly millennials, value authenticity. They increasingly prefer to buy from companies that seem genuine to them. Demonstrate your transparency by acknowledging both strengths and flaws and expressing them in a direct way. If a customer is dissatisfied with a late shipment, send a personal apology via email. Getting criticisms on review sites? Respond honestly. Be sure to include specific steps your company will take to correct any problems. Simplicity, another hallmark of authenticity, can be expressed by providing clear, digestible product information, buying guides and recommendations based on a customer's actual preferences, as opposed to using aggressive marketing tactics.

They don't want to wait.
The era of "everything on demand" is looming, and customers are already impatient with the prospect of waiting for an ordered product to arrive. Although the concept of instant delivery is typically associated with global brands and expensive technologies, ranging from drones to sensor integration, there are several ways small businesses can take advantage of this trend without a massive budget. Many local shipping companies offer fee-based same-day delivery services, or you can consider partnering with other nearby businesses to hire a dedicated courier service that provides rush shipping. If you can't engage in same-day delivery, try to offer customers something else they can receive right away. For example, when a customer places an order for pet supplies, immediately send a free pet-training guide he or she can download at home.

They're concerned over their privacy.
Online tracking and data collection have many consumers wary of potential intrusions into their personal lives. With people hesitant to share personal information, some companies have begun to try an opt-in approach in which customers can choose how their information is stored. Of course, there's a tradeoff here: eliminating data collection reassures customers that their privacy is intact, but you'll be sacrificing your ability to provide targeted marketing, product recommendations or personalized accounts. With people hesitant to share personal information, some companies have begun to try an opt-in approach in which customers can choose how their information is stored. The key is to demonstrate to customers the value that comes with their opting in to information sharing. Your company appears sensitive to their privacy concerns, but you won't necessarily lose all the information that helps you better service them.

They're creatures of habit.
Good news: brand loyalty is trending. Bad news: as a result, customers get more upset by disruptions, such as when their favorite products or services are unavailable or difficult to obtain. Mess with a customer's daily routine even slightly and you run the risk of losing that customer for good. Strive for consistency. Notify customers well ahead of time of potential changes in service, and promptly inform them when a product's features are modified even in minor ways. Customer-education programs can be a useful asset: consider launching a digital newsletter, hosting quarterly events, or giving loyal customers trial runs with new products to ensure they're comfortable with your expanded offering. As long as you stay in touch with them, they're more likely to stay in touch with you. And that is building your customer base.

Understanding your customer base is one of the key strategies taught in the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program. Share your customer insights in the comments section below, and visit www.goldmansachs.com/10000smallbusinesses for more information on how the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program can help you grow your business.