A friend in Singapore recently lamented to me that when he was younger, kids in restaurants would say grace before meals, now children are using Instagram before their meals. While he was recounting this story lightheartedly, it occurred to me just how quickly habits and human interaction have changed over the last decade.

The Information Age has brought a myriad of changes for industries and businesses worldwide, presenting opportunities and challenges in the way they communicate with their customers. Social media and mobile technologies represent a unique risk and challenge for traditional businesses, but also an amazing opportunity to tap into their customers to listen, engage and create a personalized experience that hadn’t existed before.

With approximately 200 million active Twitter users having conversations, sharing links, uploading photos and videos, discussing events and following trending topics it is clear the art of conversation online is alive and well. Empowered customers all over the world, are joining conversations about business products and services on social platforms. These conversations are originating around the world, with 604 million of the 1.07 billion, Facebook users accessing the platform from their mobile devices. Thus, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to actually listen to and engage with all these external conversations.

In 2012, Harvard Business Review surveyed 2,100 companies and found 79 percent use or plan to use social media, but only 12 percent felt they were actually utilizing social media effectively. The caveat in this equation is that customer perceptions can change entirely based on social media. The standard has been set; it’s become essential for businesses to build relationships with their social customers.

Sharing content across social platforms, gives businesses the opportunity to showcase their products and services, and in doing so, it provides an opportunity to listen to and engage online with the customer. What are they saying, what do they like or don’t like, would they buy this product? It’s all instantaneous feedback you can’t get in-store and it provides businesses with insight into what the customer wants. By promoting exclusive discounts nationally or locally with location-based ads, businesses can drive foot traffic and increase their in-store sales. Savvy shoppers are always seeking out exclusive discounts, coupons and giveaways, by providing the social content, incentive and the actual product, retailers can create an environment that spurs shopper loyalty they need to compete with the big boys.

With a boom in online shopping, retailers have been attempting to embrace multi-channel strategies to bring customers into stores. Retail is no longer about bricks-and-mortar, but the true value is in ‘clicks-and-mortar.’ Reportedly, 58 percent of businesses that have used social media marketing for over three years have reported an increase in sales during that time period. The high level of personalization offered by online shopping portals like Amazon are reflected favorably by consumers, over visiting a traditional retail store because Amazon is able to customize their offering to customers, based on what the company refers to as “item-to-item collaborative filtering.”

Until recently, brick and mortar stores had limited tools to personalize their communication methods. New technologies and software integrated within these stores have helped to push business promotions and analytics to a whole new level, especially when it comes to new forms of customer retention and loyalty. But the challenge for brick and mortar retailers still remains; how do you identify what customers want and how do you deliver it to them as affordably and efficiently as online retailers?

While businesses are expected to post relevant and rich content, they’re also expected to listen to the customer, embrace and engage directly with them in a timely fashion. Retailers and businesses can adapt, adopt and retain customers by continuing to evolve and enhance the customer experience. Breaking down the barriers of communication that once separated them will be essential in understanding the conversations and the heartbeat of what the customer actually wants.