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Buyer behaviors are still adjusting to over a year of online shopping, curbside pick-up, and delivery. As the U.S. starts opening up fully, we’re seeing that a lot of the most convenient behaviors seem to be sticking around for most of the public. As a business owner there are ways you can adapt to this future that don’t require overwhelming website updates or a complete change to your business model. We’ve picked four of the most popular trends in digital offerings and make some suggestions about how you can implement them.

1 Telecommuting/Virtual Meetings

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Online meeting apps, like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, became ubiquitous over the pandemic. While many people think of virtual meetings as only for the corporate world, it is now something that the everyday person is very used to. Across all ages, from school children to the elderly, the idea of having a conversation over a screen is no longer a barrier to entry. You can take advantage of this as a business owner. Here are some options on how to use virtual meeting services with your business.

  1. Consultations Over Zoom
    For many service based businesses the consultation is key. While certain things may require an in-person visit, like home inspection, in most cases you just need to have a conversation. A virtual meeting is a great way to save time and travel while still being able to meet face-to-face. Major questions can be answered and all the initial work can be completed without ever leaving your office or the customer having to leave their home. This is a level of convenience that wasn’t possible before the pandemic and has saved countless hours for business owners and customers alike.
  2. Virtual Showrooms
    While the growth of online shopping has definitely grabbed the headlines for the last eighteen months, the concept of what it means to shop online is still being figured out. One of the more creative ways to show customers their options is by doing a virtual showroom. This could be as simple as a set meeting where a sales associate uses a mobile device to show off items in an actual showroom, or a series of videos showing detailed images and videos of the product. This kind of on-demand inspection mirrors the in-person showroom experience and provides that extra engagement to the customer that helps lead to a sale.
  3. Enhanced Customer Service
    Originally modeled by Amazon with it’s wildly popular Mayday! service, virtual customer service is coming to the fore. This is especially useful when a customer service situation has risen beyond initial forms of resolution. Being able to offer a face-to-face representative who can help resolve the issue is a great extra step that isn’t common yet. If customer care is a key element of your business then this may be a perfect option for you. 

2 Virtual/Contactless Payments

After a year of hand sanitizer and many businesses going cashless, it seems that alternate forms of payment are here to stay. Although contactless payment has existed for a while with things like Apple Pay and Google Wallet, machines like chip readers and apps like Venmo are now common, especially for small businesses. Transaction services are jumping on the bandwagon as well, helping businesses by upgrading machines and point-of-sale devices. If you still have a standard credit card machine, it’s worth checking in with your provider to see what they are offering as far as upgrades and new payment options. Here are a few ways you can expand into virtual and contactless payments.

  1. Allow People To Pay Online
    This may seem simple, and might even be something you already do, but it’s not as standard practice as you think. Having an online shopping cart is pretty normal for an online store, but what if you’re a roofer or graphic designer? Having a payment portal where people can put down a deposit or track their payment history with you is a great way to build trust and add an extra level of convenient customer service. Applications like Quickbooks and PayPay can help you get set-up.
  2. Expand Your Payment Options
    While this might not work for every business, having expanded options like PayPal and Venmo Business is highly desirable among younger consumers. Especially if you are in retail, allowing people to pay in their favored form knocks down that extra barrier to purchase. 

3 Social/A.I. Customer Service

Customer service has seen a massive change since the start of the pandemic. Things that used to be handled face-to-face were moved online and as customer service calls rose new solutions needed to be found. This has accelerated the use of A.I. and customer service over social media. Social customer service is nothing new to the customer, in fact being able to reach someone about your problem at a social media channel is now expected by the public. Platforms like Facebook have started adding A.I. features to their messaging applications that can be programmed by the page owner (you) to handle the most common questions and concerns. This has grown out to bigger businesses as well with Chatbots looking to save industries over $11 billion by 2023*1. With this technology becoming common your business can take advantage of it as well.

  1. Add a Chatbot to Your Facebook Page
    Assuming your company already has a Facebook page, adding a chatbot to the messenger function is a no brainer. Facebook has set up Business Page messenger prompts to help customers find what they’re looking for, set appointments, and answer customer service questions. There are also simple tutorials to show you how to set up your chatbot to get the best results.
  2. Add a Chatbot or A.I Assistant to Your Website
    Although not quite as simple as adding a chatbot to Facebook, adding a chatbot or A.I. assistant to a website is becoming more and more common. Depending on your website hosting there are different plug-ins available to automate your bots. If you use WordPress then you have plenty of options and multiple articles about which ones work best. These bots are definitely the future due to their convenience for the customer and their dramatic savings over manpowered customer service, so now is a great time to get on board.

4 Hybrid Events

It seems that no one really got used to or perfected the virtual event. The excitement and energy of seeing things live, like music and sports, couldn’t be replicated on your laptop screen. That being said, people have gotten used to being able to attend events virtually and this desire doesn’t appear to be going away. If events are a part of your business then it’s time to consider a hybrid event. Hybrid events allow people at home to participate in the live event that you are holding. This has been done for business conferences, weddings, and graduations. Here are a few ways you can stand out with your hybrid event.

  1. Make It Special For the People At Home
    As live events start returning, the desire to visit virtually is increasing as well. Whether it be due to location or just not ready to go back to an event yet, consumers are willing to pay to participate in something virtually if they have no other way to. But instead of making the virtual even an add on, why not make it a viable product? Don’t just turn on the camera and let it ride, offer commentary or additional product information. Maybe an exclusive interview with the founder or key partner. Your live spectators will get the joy of the event and your at-home spectators will feel like they got value from their participation.
  2. Give Bonuses for Participation
    Humans are incentive based and respond well to rewards. If you’re holding an event,  providing a reward for participation can be a great way to induce customer loyalty. Maybe it’s a coupon for your live spectators or a referral offer for your virtual spectators. Play to the strengths of the customer’s choice of participation. If they are there live then maybe the coupon needs to be used at the event. If they are virtual they might need to login to your shop at a specific time. These kinds of incentives encourage participation and generate customer satisfaction.

This is a lot to digest and I’m sure some of it still feels like stuff from the future, but the pandemic accelerated interactive technology and consumers like it. In the end it’s important to remember that making the customer experience easy and intuitive is essential to building a customer base. These are a few new ways to make that happen.

 

Sources:

  1. CB Insights
  2. WellnessLiving.com
  3. Google Support
  4. T&F Online
  5. Hubel Digital
  6. Zoom