Traditionally, digital customer experience strategies have been seen as largely the remit of sophisticated large organisations, digitally-savvy start-ups or agency types who sit in cafés drinking oat-milk turmeric lattes. But for many SMBs today, finding new, digital ways to engage with customers is not merely a matter of building a thriving business, it’s about surviving.
Events of the last year have revealed the critical role that building sound digital strategies can play in reaching and serving customers. During the pandemic, we’ve seen businesses at risk rapidly evolve to adapt to the threats posed by not just by the virus, but by the lockdowns to contain it.
Digital allows for an agile, personal, no-touch way to interact with customers and suppliers. For businesses whose livelihood was most at risk (such as restaurants and retail), having in place these touchpoints made an immense difference in their ability to withstand the economic shocks of the virus.
My local pub, for example, responded rapidly to the lockdown, pivoting their business model to a lunchtime farmers’ market and home delivery. Unable to chat with customers over the bar, they used digital and social media channels to mobilise regulars and build new connections through constant, iterative updates. Customers stayed engaged and knew exactly when and how they could order their meals. Consequently, this business came out of lockdown stronger than some.
Other businesses have also used digital strategies to adapt quickly to changing circumstances: from studios offering yoga classes online to grocers receiving orders via WeChat and using ecommerce platforms for regional produce.
This digitisation of SMBs is only set to escalate in 2021. Customers are flocking to businesses that offer safe, no-touch ways to receive goods and services. In turn, businesses recognise the efficiencies and benefits realised by having a robust digital strategy in place.
Digital builds (on) relationships
Would you really know that Sally from Grade 3 got married if she hadn’t friended you on Facebook? The same applies to businesses – staying connected to customers keeps that business front of mind in a competitive marketplace. Consistent posts and interactions can not only create brand loyalty but activate the network effect: every post does not only have the potential to be seen by customers, but also their contacts, expanding networks and customer bases.
Connecting with customers and suppliers through social media, notifications and other touchpoints builds closer ties. In the pandemic and beyond, when physical interaction is fraught, these continuous interactions become all the more important. Digital touchpoints supplement (or, in lockdown, replace) the personal interactions we’re used to every day. And because customers are interacting with businesses on their mobile devices, SMB brands can now reach them wherever they are: at home, on the bus, waiting at the school gates.
It doesn’t cost a bomb anymore
The advent of new, low-cost cloud-based digital platforms has given SMBs the reach that previously only brands with big budgets could enjoy. Alongside social media, other digital tools are more accessible than ever. Not so long ago, building automated emails, an interactive website, chatbots, SMS notifications, and other digital touchpoints would have involved engaging designers and developers to create bespoke solutions at significant expense.
Today, there’s no need to spend a fortune to build and use these tools. The many affordable, low code tools allow small business owners to create a suite of touchpoints with minimal outlay of resources. Mailchimp for marketing automation; SurveyMonkey or Typeform for feedback loops; Canva for digital design; Square or Shopify for eCommerce and payments; Wiise for finance and inventory; and many other tools out there provide SMBs with cheap, easy ways to go digital quickly. These tools are also cheap, easily deployed and agile. So, if one strategy isn’t working, business owners can easily pivot and experiment to get the right combination to reach and engage with their customers.
The last year has shown how important it is for SMBs to not just be able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, but to reach and connect with customers not only in person, but through digital experiences. In times like these, connecting is more important than ever. And, in a world increasingly reliant on digital connections, it’s a great time for Australian SMB’s to create richer relationships with their customers online.