Customers today are connected like never before. It’s almost second nature for them to hold a device in their hands at all times. We call these people digital natives. And no matter the platform, from smartphones and tablets to laptops and smart TVs — even the Xbox and Playstation — they’re using the Internet to inform purchases from wherever and whenever.
At the same time, more information than ever before is available online. For businesses, this can be both good and bad. It means more opportunities to reach potential customers. But it also means that once you reach them, you’re expected to stay in touch. In essence, this has leveled the playing field for businesses. Size of media budget has become irrelevant.
What’s it all mean for you? With the prevalence of user-generated content sites like Yelp, City Search, Urbanspoon, as well as social media, businesses of every size are now able to fight for the same customers. In today’s highly-networked world, a great reputation trumps flashy marketing or big spends — especially at the local level.
Here then are 5 things to consider when catering to digital natives:
1. Interaction matters. One of the most important parts of standing out in a sea of small businesses is making sure customers know you care. Tech-savvy customers need to know you’re listening to what they have to say. In today’s always-on world, a well-tended digital presence is the best way to accomplish this. So, when customers post on your Facebook page, reply to their comments as soon as you can. Be active on Twitter, engaging with influential young people in your community. Elicit feedback whenever you can. And, most importantly, if you’ve failed in some way, apologize. Putting a human spin on your brand’s online presence will show that you understand your customers’ needs.
2. No do-overs for first impressions. The age-old adage about second chances and first impressions is still true today. Options abound for digital natives. That means if your website isn’t current, or your phone number isn’t easy to find, or your business isn’t listed on Google Maps, you’re probably going to be passed by before they even have a chance to learn about your business. Online is your first touch-point with digital natives, so make sure it’s a good experience.
3. Keep the experience going. Because comparison shopping is so easy, digital natives are constantly on the lookout for new ideas, products, and services to try. That said, the best way to keep customers once you’ve made that first impression is by creating a special experience for them. Offering a loyalty program is a great way to do this: by running daily specials, contests, or VIP-only events for repeated purchase behavior, your business can stand out from the crowd in the digital native’s mind. Sure, they’ll search for the nearest coffee shop, but all other factors being the same, they’ll always choose the one that remembers their name and finds a way to say “thanks for doing business here.”
4. Make sure there are multiple ways to get in touch. Digital natives are savvy, and they’re persistent. More than ever before, customers are using multiple methods or “channels” of communication. From iPad apps, to a website, to a Facebook page, to a phone call, clients expect to be able to reach you. Keeping your (and their) options open is one of the best things your business can do. Being easy to reach is a great place to start.
5. Keep it simple. If this sounds complicated, don’t panic. The basic ideas about how to connect with natives are straightforward. If your business is easy to reach, interesting, flexible, and personable, you already have most other places beat! The main ideas here are pretty easy; the exact execution is up to you — don’t be afraid to experiment. Once you find something that works, be consistent and devote some resources to maintaining each of these ideas. Each will go a long way in helping you to build a steady core group of digital native customers.