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Keeping up with ever-changing customer priorities and behaviors

Customers’ actions and priorities have evolved since the beginning of the year in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. With many communities now re-opening after months of lockdown orders, it’s up to small business owners to adjust to meet their customers’ changing needs and maintain their loyalty.

What’s changed?

With millions out of work and nearly everyone under orders to shelter-in-place, purchasing preferences have evolved due to several driving factors: long-term value, quality assurance, local preference, human interaction, digital experience and a desire for supply chain transparency, just to name a few.

Consumers that were heavily affected by the pandemic (through loss of income or sickness) are making the biggest adjustments. These consumers will be less likely to make purchases deemed “for pleasure” and instead will use their limited dollars to solve a problem or answer a basic need. Getting the most bang for their buck will be their priority for the foreseeable future.

Consumers are also more apt to buy local goods and services from small businesses during this time. They associate these kinds of purchases with helping protect local economies, adding a level of philanthropy to their spending decisions. Since the pandemic forced the closing of many small businesses and restaurants, consumers can directly see the impact that their spending decisions have on their communities.

People are looking to build trust in a post-pandemic world. As a result, consumers are responding well to supply chain transparency. They wish to know how and where products have been produced, how the supply chain was affected by lockdown orders and if it’s reliable enough to sustain another lockdown period. Reliability builds trust, and consumers will choose a company that can deliver during times of uncertainty.

The pandemic also brought an increase in technology adoption as people were forced to trade human interactions for digital ones during the lockdown. While convenience remains a high priority, the human touch is still highly sought. According to PWC research, 59% of consumers felt that companies have lost the human element of the customer experience. Though that survey was taken before the pandemic, it is now more important than ever for businesses to find the human touch again, especially through digital tools.

When it does come time to invest in technology, be sure to choose new tech that will enable employees, not replace them. Since human interaction is still a driving force in consumers’ buying decisions, the technology you add should create an ideal environment for your employees to provide seamless service to your customers.

Creating and communicating new value

There are a few things that small business owners need to re-strategize to match customers’ new priorities. The most obvious is marketing and messaging – your brand to the outside world.

Small businesses should clearly communicate how their products and services solve a problem or need. If your products are made locally or help keep local people employed, highlight that! Don’t be afraid to talk about your supply chain and the individuals who create value in your business. If applicable, mention the longevity of your products and long-term value of your services. Share how you’re working with your suppliers to maintain cleanliness and safety in every step of production. You may even mention your local partners and business relationships, adding the human element everywhere you can. And be sure to keep the tone of your messages engaging and honest.

Perhaps most importantly, customers are looking for value. Consider adding quality assurances if they’re not already in place and be sure to communicate them to your customers. Boost your service model to help customers work through their questions and concerns before and after the sale. Make yourself more available or add perks for loyal customers — all of these methods add value and are typically inexpensive to implement.

Finally, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to work with other companies in your supply chain to discuss adjustments and new ideas for “pandemic-proofing” (as much as it can be done) in the future. Be sure to build on your business relationships as well as your customer relationships as we all adjust.