New research puts customers in the driver’s seat when it comes to determining which companies lead in the digital age.

According to a new Salesforce.com report, “The State of the Connected Customer,” 62 per cent of Canadians agree technology is redefining their behavior as a consumer, and 61 per cent feel significantly more empowered than they did five years ago.

They also expect businesses to quickly adapt to these changing preferences, otherwise they’ll simply switch brands: According to the report, 69 per cent of consumers agree technology makes it easier than ever before to take their business elsewhere because it empowers them to research, browse, and purchase wherever they are and whenever they want.

Given the reality of the connected customer, Salesforce used the report to outline four ways companies can pivot to be successful, rather than risk being disrupted.

Place customers at the centre of your business

First and foremost, businesses need to place customers at the centre of their business, as digital conversations can make or break brands, and customers have “boundless” access to online content that drives decisions, Salesforce found. Nearly half – 48 per cent – of respondents believe social media has given consumers more power, and 70 per cent are more likely to purchase products that have positive online consumer ratings.

Embrace immediacy

Brands must also embrace the culture of immediacy, Salesforce found, as 63 per cent of consumers expect companies to respond and interact with them in real time. Mobile plays a critical role in the on-demand world as well, since customers expect companies to participate in the culture of immediacy through instant mobile service and access to information: 48 per cent said it’s absolutely critical or very important that companies have an easy-to-use mobile experience.

Personalize, personalize

Another expectation is personalization: Customers want to be treated like people, not numbers so while connected customers are technology entrenched they are still looking for personal relationships with companies. Brands need to get smart about personalization as 62 per cent say they’re likely to switch brands if they’re treated like a number instead of an individual.

The research shows that the connected customers expect consistent and intelligent experiences across every interaction or communication channel, and being recognized and remembered is a large part of that. Ultimately, familiarity at every touchpoint defines brand commitment, and 64 per cent of respondents strongly agree or agree they expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them.

Know thy product

Finally, not only do brands need to know their customer, sales representatives need to know their own products and services inside and out.

To ensure that’s the case, The State of the Connected Customer recommends that brands reinvent the sales process, as savvy customers expect made-to-measure sales experiences, rather than sales pitches. They expect to be helped and informed by the company sales team: 81 per cent say it’s absolutely critical or very important to work with a salesperson who focuses on achieving their needs instead of making a quick sale, while 82 per cent say it’s very important to work with a salesperson who doesn’t try to sell products they don’t need.

Overall, the spirit of the report seems to be a tried and true business tenet: Value your customers or perish. Only now you must do it much faster and better.

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