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How to avoid being left behind in a digital-first future

The pandemic has presented a unique set of challenges for businesses of all sizes, particularly for small and medium businesses (SMBs) – whether it’s managing teams through uncertain economic times, adapting to new digital technologies to connect and find new customers, or managing ongoing supply chain disruptions.

In the face of this adversity, many have seized opportunities to innovate despite the chaos around them. According to Salesforce’s SMB Trends report, 44 per cent of SMBs have grown over the past year due to accelerated investments in sales and customer service technologies. 

With the switch to digital essential for growth and survival, it’s no longer a question of ‘should’ you embrace technology but ‘when’. If the answer isn’t now, then the relevance and longevity of your business are at serious risk. 

The world is changing faster than ever before. If business owners want to keep pace they need to look to their peers who are making digital investments to grow and take note. 

Technology creates seamless and connected customer experiences

Digital business models are not new, they’ve been part of the business evolution for over 20 years – but the last 18 months kicked everything up a gear and now things are moving faster than ever before with no signs of slowing down. 60 per cent of all customer interactions are now digital, up from 40 per cent just over a year ago.

Part of this is due to growing expectations for connected experiences across the many channels that customers choose to engage with brands on from the website, social media to messaging apps. It’s also due to their preference for real-time customer service. 83 per cent of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company – up from 78 per cent in 2019. 

The challenge for many small business owners is how can you achieve this at scale? It’s a challenge that many are rising to, updating their playbook on customer-centricity in response to changing customer priorities. 89 per cent of SMBs have moved a portion of their operations online, while a third is offering more flexibility in how their customers engage with them than before. 

For example, Living Edge, a leading authentic and sustainable furniture and lighting business, ramped up its e-commerce offerings during COVID-19. Using Salesforce Commerce Cloud and Sales Cloud, the business was able to improve its e-commerce experience by developing a new online showroom that is delivering personalised digital experiences for its customers. 

Its new website also allows for 20 per cent more product listings and features an inspirational browsing experience where customers can easily switch between home and professional views to find the right information specific to them. In the first month after it went live, the site’s conversion rate was 290 per cent higher than the average for the three months prior and created an 82 per cent increase in revenue for the business.

The strongest link in your customer experience chain is employee happiness

In business, there has always been a symmetry between happy employees and happy customers. That’s why the employee experience is and always will be a key focus for business owners. It requires them to keep on top of their employees’ needs and build frictionless experiences so that their staff can focus on doing the same for customers.

To get there requires building trust with employees by communicating openly, responding to their personal needs, and asking for feedback. But how can you achieve this as the lines blur between physical and digital workplaces? It starts with building a digital HQ – an online workplace that connects everyone in your business, helping them find new ways to innovate, collaborate and stay connected.

As companies in every industry look to create digital HQs that support the new normal of remote and hybrid work, they can expect to see a ripple effect in their business whereby employee experience, customer satisfaction and the overall bottom line are all positively impacted.

Take collaborative co-working community Creative Cubes. It’s using Slack and Salesforce to capture customer insights, connect departments and streamline its processes. The result? Its workflows are simpler which means staff can work faster, respond quicker to customer issues, and the business can create more meaningful connections with its customers.

Successful SMBs will respond to tomorrow’s problem today

One of the biggest ‘Catch-22’s’ for a small business with good momentum is that it’s hard to take a step back and see where there’s room for improvement, whether it be in their digital stack across operations, logistics or customer service. 

While many small businesses have integrated digital across their operations over the last year and a half, some continue to take a reactive approach where – rather than elevating the business holistically – they roll out ad hoc solutions to fix one issue at a time. While this can provide an immediate fix to a problem, it may not provide the digital foundation that those businesses need to scale in the long term. 

To ensure they’re not left behind, business owners and managers need to embrace and prioritise an innovative mindset from the start. Doing so has the benefit of enabling smarter priorities amongst employees, helping them to streamline processes, focus on chasing qualified leads, and develop dynamic content for their customers. 

Owning and operating a small business has never been easy and the last year has made it harder than ever before. However, it’s shown us that those leaders who aren’t afraid to step up and innovate and those that prioritise digital investments today will be the success stories of tomorrow. 

Read more: How to surprise and delight your customers through better digital interactions

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Merlin Luck

Merlin Luck

Merlin Luck is Regional Vice President of Small and Medium Businesses at Salesforce ANZ.

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