Roy Banks is the CEO of Weave. He specializes in high-tech software development, e-commerce, internet marketing, and payment processing.
2020 was one of the hardest years for small businesses. Covid-19 has rocked every business to its core, requiring small-business owners to reimagine everything, including communications, engagement and services — all of which required new technology and solutions. No one anticipated conducting business in an environment where everyone would be required to wear a mask and socially distance themselves from one another. And while small businesses are geniuses and masters at adapting and innovating, it doesn’t come without its challenges.
The first challenge many small businesses share is that inefficient tools and systems hold them back from truly connecting with customers. Between voicemail, a web chat tool, an off-the-shelf email portal, a patient management system or accounting software, businesses are constantly bouncing around all of these systems, leaving little time to serve and take care of customers.
Second, competitors are modernizing faster and seem to have more resources to be innovative and meet their customers where they are. It can feel like a hamster wheel — small-business owners are running a million miles an hour just to keep up with the competition, which can be daunting and overwhelming.
And lastly, while growth and profitability are the primary goals, they aren’t why owners decided to go into business in the first place. Most small-business owners love interacting with customers and making an impact on their customers’ lives through their products and services, but they don’t feel the same sense of joy and excitement about answering after-hours phone calls or picking the right web chat tool.
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So how can small businesses address these challenges and accelerate business growth? By seeing, listening and adapting to customer needs.
Customers want to be seen.
Being seen is important to customers. Creating one-to-one personalized experiences is a massive advantage local businesses have over larger competitors. But unfortunately, many small businesses are too busy and stuck in the weeds to spend time giving customers personalized experiences and services that build customer loyalty.
Often overlooked is one of the most important ways to connect with customers: empathy. Business owners are consumed with worrying about the competition and the day-to-day operations of running a business that they can oftentimes forget to put themselves in the customer’s shoes. It’s important for owners to regularly visit their own websites, make an after-hours call to leave a message or schedule an appointment. Whatever the experience may be, small-business owners should experience it themselves. By intimately understanding the challenges customers face, business owners can develop customer empathy.
There are only so many interactions or touchpoints businesses have with customers. What if instead of making them ordinary or routine, they were amazing and memorable? Giving customers high-quality experiences can turn one interaction into a lifelong relationship.
Learn from your customers.
If there’s one thing every single business owner can do to grow their business, it’s to take every opportunity to learn from their customers. There are dozens of ways to ask customers to give feedback — review sites, surveys, SMS, email, chatbots and web forms — the list goes on and on. Business owners should be looking at reviews every day and encouraging customers at every interaction to leave feedback.
Customers have more ways to connect with businesses than ever before and that means there are more customer journeys they can take to finding your business or your competitor. Assuming that their kind smile at the front desk after their appointment is the only feedback needed is foolish. They may have had a painful experience booking their appointment. They may think the office is too cold. Feedback that helps owners grow isn’t always positive. Get comfortable with that. Instead of resenting it, be grateful for it and use it to guide your growth.
Stay ahead of customer expectations.
Covid-19 has driven a need for connection and interactions like never before. While creating feel-good experiences and amazing interactions for customers should be the goal of every business, they also represent opportunities to drive revenue and to grow business. In the last recession, McKinsey found that businesses that focused on delivering quality customer experiences actually drove better returns — three times the return — to shareholders than companies that lagged in customer experience. This means driving meaningful interactions with customers, clients or patients will translate into successfully growing business value and increasing customer retention.
McKinsey also found that 39% of consumers tried new brands during the pandemic. Covid-19 has changed consumer behaviors significantly and measurably. For example, customers are now demanding higher-quality experiences and preferring alternative ways of communicating and engaging with businesses. In order to attract and retain customers, small businesses have needed to adapt to these changing customer trends.
As the economy starts to open back up, consumers are eager and ready to get back to a new normal, which now requires businesses to offer multiple ways to communicate and engage with their customers.
Businesses shouldn’t be scared by the changes in consumer behaviors caused by the pandemic. Instead, they should be excited about them and embrace them as an opportunity to adapt and create a competitive advantage while creating better relationships and experiences for customers.
Small-business owners can’t outsource their work. They are the heart and soul of every business and oftentimes what customers love and value most. If they don’t serve and take care of their customers and provide them with amazing and memorable experiences, they stand to suffer — and ultimately, so will the business.
We’re at the start of a new revolution for small businesses. The tools and technologies that have historically been available to enterprise companies are now widely available for all. What’s more, the consumer mindset is shifting in unprecedented ways to create the perfect storm of circumstances to drive growth for millions of small and local businesses across the globe.