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We are operating in a new environment with respect to interacting with customers and prospects. And this environment will be different tomorrow than it is today—literally. That's how fast things are changing; as new technology is created at accelerated rates, the only thing moving faster is consumer adoption of the "latest and greatest" app or gadget.

As a result, companies must adjust their approach. And while focusing on improving a customer's experience is important, broadening the scope to include opportunities to facilitate improvement of customer lifestyles when possible offers the potential to build longer, more intimate relationships.

Most likely it will take a different approach to deliver the experiences customers expect. Here are a few key tenets companies are taking to heart to create organizations that can keep up with customer behaviors and expectations.

Fast and Flexible (F)

Every second counts when it comes to meeting customer expectations. A study by Kissmetrics found that 47 percent of consumers expect a Web page to load in two seconds or less, and just a one-second delay decreases customer satisfaction by 16 percent. According to a recent University of Massachusetts study, if a video hasn't started streaming in five seconds, about 25 percent of potential viewers will bail before viewing, and if it doesn't start in 10 seconds, that jumps to almost 50 percent.

Speed thrills and lack of it kills. We've never liked waiting for things we want, and technology enables us to wait less and less. Book buyers are used to getting e-books downloaded in less than 60 seconds, where just a few years ago they didn't mind waiting days for a book to be delivered—or even going to a bookstore to get it.

With less time to make a connection and convert it into a meaningful relationship, companies have to act quickly—and react even quicker, which means taking a hard look at their current capabilities to make fast moves.

Agile and Analytical (A)

There has never been more information about consumers, much of it coming from consumers themselves. Companies that invest in creating a strategic social listening culture supported by tools can effectively understand what's important to customers and prospects in real time.

Being able to integrate social data with transactional information is critical to discovering important insights. And while aggregating disparate data and analyzing it calls for analytical tools and skill sets, it also calls for an empathic approach to convert those insights into appealing interaction opportunities.

Interactive and Integrated (I)

Social, mobile, and cloud technologies have unleashed people's collaborative nature, and it's important for companies to not only embrace this, but to find ways to facilitate it. And as customers, people want to be valued beyond the financial transaction their business brings.

Pamela O'Hara, CEO of social CRM vendor Batchbook, says early customers are crucial to her business. They help figure out who the company's market is, how to reach that market, and at what price point. Because of this, O'Hara says it is important for her entire team to be involved in the relationship they are building with customers. Integrating customers' voices—not just their wallets—is key in building a business today.

Responsive and Reliable (R)

That building trust is critical to finding and keeping customers isn't news. But it's something that can get lost in the excitement generated by social media, mobile technology, and the cloud. And listening sometimes, responding when you can, or doing things right occasionally won't get you far with customers. It raises expectations quicker, and disappoints faster when those expectations aren't met.

Because consumers are operating differently today, and more differently tomorrow, companies must embrace the environment in which we're operating. It's only fair to customers that companies rethink their approach to doing business and building relationships with them.


Brent Leary is cofounder of CRM Essentials, an Atlanta-based CRM advisory firm focused on small and midsized businesses. He is also the author of Barack 2.0: Social Media Lessons for Small Businesses.

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