Small businesses have plenty of advantages over corporates – they are more agile, often more willing to take risks and eager to do things differently. But sometimes smaller operators can learn and adapt from the powerhouses at the big end of town – especially when it comes to dealing with the customer of the future.
Here, Tim Nelson, chief economist at AGL, imparts valuable tips that he has learned through his 13 years with the company about what the customer of the future will want, how they will find it and how small business can easily adopt a strategy to stay ahead of the curve.
Green is for go
The customer of the future will want many things, but Nelson says at the core they want good, reliable products that are green. This is specifically the case for the energy sector, where the uptake for renewable energy is growing.
“Future customers will want a reliable, competitive-priced supply but they are increasingly going to want it to have a better footprint when it comes to environmental outcomes,” he says.
“Part of the trend we are seeing is more and more consumers and businesses seeking to purchase products that reduce their environmental footprint not just through renewables but through smarter use of energy – which is at the forefront of customers’ minds.”
By presenting an environmentally-sustainable product whether it be organic produce, a plastics-free operation or a commitment to a reduced carbon footprint, businesses will be on-trend in the future.
Customers are hungry for data
Nelson says customers are making decisions faster and on the fly and this is because they have quicker access to data thanks to modern technology – and this will only increase. In AGL’s case, the uptake of customers monitoring their energy in real time via the company’s app means they are being much more agile when it comes to decision-making.
“We are already starting to see that revolution of what was once previously a quarter or monthly bill delivered to customers,” he says. “I think we are starting to see already the implementation of new and exciting technologies that will significantly increase the ability of customers to minimise the amount customers are spending on their energy supply.”
The future is kind of slippery
The main lesson Nelson says he has learned through working in a corporate environment is that no one is a fortune teller. He also advises that it is important to not become so wedded to one way of thinking that you can’t detach from it – because even the ‘craziest’ of possible scenarios may come to fruition.
“Don’t think that you can ever accurately predict the future,” he says. “The best lesson of that is the solar panel evolution. In 2007 if you had said that there would be millions of houses with solar PV on their roof in 2017 you would have been laughed at and possibly even ridiculed and yet that is the world we find ourselves in.”
Nelson says small business should try to understand their customers and consider how their product and service relates to others.
“Pivot quite quickly and think a little bit outside your own experiences,” he says. “It’s not just about thinking ‘how does my product work for me?’. Think about how does the product work and how is it experienced by the customer.”
Market on a budget
Small businesses may have less cash resources for market research and marketing to be able to understand shifts in consumer buying patterns and interests compared to big business, but Nelson says often the best solution is close to home.
“It’s constantly seeking feedback wherever you go,” he says. “The easiest way to get feedback from customers is to ensure that every single employee feels comfortable to be a customer advocate, and to glean insights just by having conversations with them about their experience with a particular product or service.”
Strategise to stay ahead of the game
Even though you don’t have a crystal ball, you can have the next best thing – a great strategy for dealing with future customers.
“The most important thing in any business is to work out what are the material things that can impact on our customers and your business and then develop a series of metrics for measuring how those things are going,” he says.
Once you see a change, be prepared to act upon it.
“If you can stick to that then you have the best possible chance for dealing with quite rapid change and uncertainty,” he says.
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