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ALL CONTENT AND PHOTOS WRITTEN AND SUBMITTED BY NIALA RAMKALLAWAN

As the first wave of the COVID-19 virus has subsided, with the lift on restrictions and quarantine over in Trinidad and Tobago, the twin island returns to some level of normalcy. Under ‘The New Normal’, the business and entrepreneurial sectors are now faced with observing, learning, adapting, embarking on changes, modifying business processes and upgrading operating procedures.

For many MSMEs, the pressing need to return to the drawing board, revisit the basics, alter the current business strategy or rework an existing business model with a myriad of additions and revisions has become a stark reality. Changes prompted by the business climate though physical in nature, has also directly and indirectly impacted business interactions, networking and our stakeholder relationships.  

Our customers continue to be an integral presence that keeps our MSMEs afloat and alive today. It is unmistakable that this New Normal has turned out to be a catalyst of change that paved the way to a change in customers’ dynamics and the shift in consumers’ consumption patterns.

 

 

Entrepreneurs, let’s be honest here:

  • Have you recognized during quarantine that customers frequented online marketplaces and e-commerce websites using e-payment facilities and delivery services?
  • Did you pay attention to the collection of vendors, competitive pricing, similar products, complementary and substitute products available in those marketplaces?
  • Was there a change in your customers’ behaviour or their spending patterns?
  • Were you able to identify which aspect or dynamics of your customers has changed?

Considering the demographic variables (age, gender, status, education, income and family size), geographic variables (location, market density), psychographic variables (personality attributes, motives, and lifestyle) and behavioural variables (volume usage, benefit expectations, spending patterns, brand loyalty, price sensitivity)

  • Did you acknowledge the value of your customers to your business and the power they held?
  • Are you mindful that without a steady stream of customers the very survival of your small business is under threat of stunted growth, failure or closure?

If you have been paying particularly close attention before, during and even after the quarantine period was over, several changes have surfaced with regards to loyal, casual, bargain hunters, regular and business customers. From a vantage point of this changing business climate, it is crucial that you consider your customers and also consumers of your product offering.

As business owners and budding entrepreneurs, the onus is on you to be able to differentiate both, understand their individual dynamics and refrain from using the terms interchangeably. So what is the difference between a CUSTOMER and a CONSUMER? In a nutshell,

  1. The Customer is the buyer of the product WHEREAS the Consumer is the user of a product.
  2. Simply put, the customer is in charge of the purchasing aspect, while the consumer is involved in the consumption.
  3. In reality, each individual is a consumer, who has engaged in the consumption of goods and services at one point or another.

 

  • Understanding How Customer & Consumer Dynamics Work

 

When strategising, Entrepreneurs must be conscious of the Hierarchy of Effects by Lavidge et al. portrayed in the subsequent diagram, which takes you through the process of a Consumer at the Awareness Stage who has an unfulfilled need or want, up to that of acquisition by the Customer at the Purchase Stage.

 

Customer dynamics is defined as “an emerging theory on customer-business relationships that describes the ongoing interchange of information and transactions between customers and organisations” (Wikipedia, 2012).

Time and again, Entrepreneurs have a tendency to concentrate their attention and efforts on a customer base using segmenting, targeting and positioning. This technique allows for the business owner to choose a target market or particular niche market that can be catered to where a need has not been unaddressed in its entirety or is done so below par.

At this juncture, market research and proper data analysis will be a crucial driving force as you learn more about the new normal customer. On occasion, you may be required to ‘put yourself in the shoes of a consumer’ to gain a better understanding of your customer dynamics. Both approaches are conscious choices where an Entrepreneur can revise and structure elements of the product such as price, quality, aesthetics, features, product size, durability and value, functionality and performance, comfortability and usability, and safety in a realistic, lucrative and sustainable manner.

Now is definitely not a time to get complacent, as upcoming competition, competitive pricing and substitute products have flooded these online marketplaces, forums, e-commerce websites and trading groups on social media. Also, the likelihood of persons to.

Ultimately, the requirements of the New Normal Customer will come to the fore bringing with it a surge in the providers, producers, manufacturers, sellers, complementary and substitute products looking to seek entry into or to penetrate the market in response to these unmet needs and wants among consumers, or dissatisfaction expressed with existing products. This ripple effect in the business climate in the imminent future is great and also very much at play as an aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

=> Now for an in depth look at The New Normal Customer

Defining features of the New Normal Customer include that they are:

- More connected and in tune with technology

- Highly opinionated and better informed

- Doing more research prior to purchasing, comparing prices and are vigilant spenders

- More open to buying similar products of another brand and also substitute ones once available, if they perceive a greater value for their money or better quality

- Prioritising their spending, focusing on buying essentials initially then making luxury and limiting compulsive purchases

- Validating that Urgency and Convenience are high on their agenda, where if they want something, they exhibit a tendency to have it right away

- Regarding word of mouth, including customer referrals and testimonials to hold more value than the brand in question

- Always anticipating a consistent and favourable customer experience

 

As an Entrepreneur, you should EXPECT that the New Normal Customer:

- Needs to feel safe, secure, assured and satisfied as a part of their shopping experience

- Looks forward to reestablishing trust, confidence and care before purchasing a product

- Exhibits the need for something extra to feel appreciated and be reminded of how your business can create value for them

- Wants the business entity to prove its value, as customers are no longer inclined to gravitate towards a specific brand or display product loyalty

- Demand to be ‘in the know’ and information disseminated needs to be properly communicated via business websites and social media handles

- Has gained self-sustaining skills throughout the quarantine period and anticipates you will show them do-it-yourself videos, recipes, host webinars or even have online tutorials for free or for a small fee attached

- Looks forward to your business entity maintaining relationships and holding their attention through virtual interactions

- Has deviated away from predictable habits, patterns and typical behaviour and now requires an innovative, fresh strategy by businesses to acclimatize to these new customer dynamics

 

Fundamental Tips when conducting business with the New Normal Customer

 Though, it may seem miniscule, all Entrepreneurs should understand that their MSMEs need to adapt to the New Normal Customer by:

- Taking time to understand the dynamics of the New Normal Customer

- Studying the consumers’ consumption patterns, behaviour and influence i.e. social media, peers, customer reviews and testimonials, etc.

- Examining which segmentation approach will result in rebuilding brand and product loyalty

- Reworking existing marketing, promotional, sales and distribution/delivery strategies

- Investing in technology and introducing online catalogues

- Providing additional online facilities such as mobile support, live chat, self-service and social support

- Getting tech savvy, using mobile apps, social media and e-commerce platforms for sales

- Arranging the set up and functioning of e-payment facilities

- Extending the convenience of home deliveries by providing in-house or outsourcing delivery and courier services

- Forming alliances and partnerships with businesses in a similar capacity or those of a complementary nature

- Rethinking your current value proposition and brainstorming resourceful ways to generate income

- Researching additional innovations that can be focused to best align with The New Normal Customer

- Observing the type of experience your product and business provides during each transaction

- Remembering that the customer experience is immensely different from customer service        

 

With a lengthy period of closure or slowdown resulting from quarantine in earlier months ended, the restart of things and jumpstart given to certain sectors in the economy, every Entrepreneur and business owner must find it imperative to take an initiative and ‘get on the technology bandwagon’ via the use of social media handles (like Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or WhatsApp), building websites, advertising in marketplaces or engaging the use of e-commerce facilities as the way forward.

It is easy to see a trend in the consumer market and ignore it, thinking it will not affect you in the moment. But being an Entrepreneur, turning a blind eye is definitely not an option, but you must strive to be proactive, engage in contingency planning, develop a business survival strategy tool kit or have an emergency fund available so cash flow problems will not become an issue later down the road of your entrepreneurial journey.

As great emphasis continues to center around the global health scare of the COVID-19 virus, this present time, the HERE and NOW requires MSME owners to prove themselves as game changers, trend setters and pioneers that plan ahead, are forward thinking, venture into unchartered territory and take calculated risks that will yield higher returns.

Our very purpose sets the stage to show courage, resilience, confidence and good faith. We must remember how we value our worth as individuals and the worth of our business will impact on how we treat with our daily lives, business decisions and the changing customer dynamics.

What are your thoughts on this quote from Harvey MacKay?

“Customers are the reason we open our doors every day, and keep the machines humming all night long. Customers determine where we live, whether we stay in business.”

 

Sources:                       

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Customer_dynamics

 

 

About Niala

I am a Freelance MSE & Social Media Advisor, the Owner/Founder of Gia’s Creative Studio and YBTT Mentor/Advisor providing ‘Insights from a Creative Entrepreneur’ on transformational leadership, strategy, forging a legacy, motivation and success.
Niala Ramkallawan, MBA, BSc.
 
You can find me on:
LinkedIn - https://www.linkedin.com/in/niala-r-71b12742/
YBTT - https://ybcaribbean.skysthelimit.org/volunteer-profile/15317
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/giascreativestudio/
Instagram - https://www.instagram.com/giascreativestudio.868/

 

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