By Sarah Maschoff

Running a small business in the digital age can be tricky. Case in point: Today’s consumers are relying less on the standard stop-and-shop method of brick-and-mortar Main Street in favor of an almost fully digital experience that starts and ends online. Plus, creating an online storefront that’s reliable and effortless for today’s consumers is essential for any business.

With that in mind, here’s a simple guide on how today’s digital-first consumers tend to engage with businesses and specific products, as well as some areas on which small-business owners should focus their attention to meet these consumers’ demands.

Discovering the Brand

For most modern consumers, the buying journey begins with a smartphone and visiting their favorite social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. However, despite the proclivity for many to start and end this journey online, the reality is that consumers are just like everyone else: their minds and attitude can sway back and forth, meaning they will engage with your brand online and in-store depending on what’s most convenient for them.

Indeed, social media can serve as a bridge to the digital and in-store worlds with which customers interact with brands. But how you decide to use these platforms is entirely up to you — for example, create a unique and memorable brand hashtag, rely on influencers to “sell” your brand and/or use Snapchat to tell your story — as success stories tend to be like snowflakes.

Navigating Your Site

Once consumers find you on social media, they’ll likely want to discover more company information — and that usually means visiting your website. A clean, easily navigable and mobile-friendly site is essential to keep customers engaged. However, this is where many small businesses tend to drop the ball.

Case in point: The websites for many small businesses tend to run slowly, are oversaturated with text and, most importantly, aren’t mobile-friendly. So what does this all mean? Ultimately, these lackluster experiences tend to slow down or stop a consumer’s buying journey altogether.

With that in mind, having a clean, user-friendly online presence will lead consumers to explore your site for more details on your business and any worthwhile content you may have published about why you should be their No. 1 choice.

Speaking of Content…

In today’s online world, consumers are inundated with content from brands shouting over each other to gain customer attention. But beyond providing inauthentic and irrelevant content, companies that publish and promote blog posts, infographics and case studies that aren’t specifically geared toward their audience are ultimately doing themselves a disservice.

Consumers will at some point try to uncover some pertinent information about your business; after all, they’re trying to decide whether to invest in your products and/or services or whether they should go elsewhere. Thus, the key is to arm consumers with the information they need to make an informed buying decision.

Prompting Customers to Recommend Your Business

Like it or not, one of the biggest factors consumers weigh when deciding where and with whom to do business is through reading online company reviews and testimonials. Think about it: How is Sam going to decide which sub shop to use for a catered lunch? While he could certainly try out a few options or ask friends and colleagues, he can also quickly browse Yelp to make a more informed decision.

Indeed, Sam certainly isn’t alone in relying on fellow consumers for advice. According to a recent study by BrightLocal, 84 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. In other words, it’s imperative small-business owners actively read and seek out online reviews, as well as look at new, innovative ways to engage consumers.

Of course, you’re bound to get your share of angry and downright rude customer reviews. In these instances, your best option is to provide an apologetic response that shows you care and want to make things right. Offering a refund or future discount can also go a long way in winning over an angry or distressed customer, too.

Moreover, offering a polite, non-defensive response has proven to not only alleviate a dissatisfied customer’s concerns, but also showcase to the greater digital world that your business cares and wants to create a positive experience for all.

Keeping Them Coming Back

The buying process doesn’t necessarily have to end once a customer makes and receives a purchase. Sending a customer a thank you note within a few days and following up a few weeks or a month later to get their thoughts on your product or service can go a long way in maintaining brand loyalty.

No matter your approach, though, small businesses must employ ways to regularly contact customers, especially those who tend to have questions or concerns about your products or services. Your best bet? Create ongoing email marketing campaigns that target customers in each stage of the buyer’s journey. This way, your messaging is tailored to a specific audience, reducing the chances of it being ignored.

Furthermore, investing in a reliable and efficient call center, particularly a call center in the cloud, gives brands the ability to connect with clients in real time via phone or through a number of other self-service options. It should also help to ensure you’re providing a top-notch customer experience that will help you retain customers again and again.

How Your Business Can Master the Buyer’s Process

Mastering the buying process for today’s modern digital consumer is the ultimate test for small businesses worldwide. By following these tips on social media branding, content creation, online reviews and reliable customer communication, your business is sure to conquer these challenges and more.

Sarah Maschoff is a freelance writer based in Phoenix, Arizona. On top of spending time hiking, reading and hanging out with her cat, Sarah can be found writing about a variety of topics, including business, politics, automotive and health.