Tech experts give their thoughts on how small businesses can utilise the goodwill felt towards them during lockdown and provide a personalised customer experience as we move further away from lockdowns
This week marks the latest step of the UK roadmap out of lockdown. It provides us with the perfect opportunity to reflect on the huge amount of support small businesses have received through the pandemic and how they can deliver on this with their doors fully reopening. Recent research found small businesses make up more than 99% of the business population in the UK, showing their performance in the coming months will play an integral role in the UK economy bouncing back.
Fortunately, many smaller businesses have proven themselves to be creative and resilient during these trying times, which will continue to serve them well as the UK opens up.
Personalising customer experience
Simon Johnson, General Manager, UK and Ireland, Freshworks, believes small businesses should ensure providing high quality, personalised customer experience is a priority. He says “Small and medium businesses have a real opportunity to capitalise on the public goodwill towards them spurred on by the pandemic. We have seen a groundswell of support for smaller, local businesses throughout the last year, and with life creeping back to normality and high streets reopening, independent business owners have a responsibility to match the support they’ve received by providing a high-quality, personalised customer experience.
“Buyer context is a very important consideration for SMEs hoping to thrive in the current market. One of the main reasons why leads fall through is because businesses lack that 360-degree view into their buyers’ behaviour. CRM systems can help here, by acting as an extension to the sales function and helping to build a comprehensive view of customers and support in converting more leads. Small businesses are often able to provide a more personalised, bespoke experience for their customers because they have a better understanding of who they are as individuals, their needs and wants and buying preferences. By getting the right CRM system in place, businesses can gain the most complete view of their customers possible and replicate some of this personal service.
“On top of this, providing customers with a speedy and hassle-free experience is key for any ambitious SME, both in-person and online. The pandemic has changed the way we shop, and online offerings will remain crucial for smaller, more agile businesses to survive any future lockdowns. Companies certainly don’t want to miss out on converting website visitors into paying customers, and live chat can be an indispensable sales tool here to improve the overall online experience. Feeding all live chat and phone conversations with the customer into the CRM system, alongside data on their browsing and purchasing behaviour and social interactions, helps build a comprehensive profile of who they are as individuals, enabling businesses to better serve them.”
Utilising the tools available
Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director Western Europe & MEMA, Amelia also believes that small businesses should look to make the most of the technology available to them if they are to thrive moving out of lockdown. He says “According to a report by Simply Business, nearly one-quarter of a million SMEs have ceased trading as a result of the pandemic. The impact on owners and employees alike has been stark, with small businesses amongst the worst affected throughout the pandemic, without the same reserves as some larger players. To support them in the re-opening of the economy, SMEs should look at leveraging productivity-driving technologies that are easy, accessible and affordable, such as low code/no-code solutions, which can be implemented and managed by employees with minimal technical know-how.
“Low code/no-code platforms offer a real antidote to challenges caused by the pandemic, such as dwindling reserves or resources. By providing non-tech-savvy workers with guided instructions to easily and quickly design, deploy and implement conversational AI agents that can support with day-to-day tasks, from customer service through to finance management. These types of solutions mean that small businesses can easily automate time-intensive administrative processes, driving productivity and allowing their employees to focus their time, resource and attention on value-add projects to grow the business. For instance, you can design a 24/7 call centre digital agent that is trained in company protocol to respond to a wide range of customer enquiries and can seamlessly escalate tricky or emotionally sensitive queries to human customer service agents to manage.”
Digital experiences will remain crucial
Matthew O’Neill, Industry Managing Director at VMware says that even with businesses now opening their doors, companies must continue to provide engaging digital experiences for customers. He argues “The relative digital maturity of the retail sector, thanks to the already flourishing eCommerce ecosystem, was critical in preventing many retailers from closing entirely during this period. However, shifting towards solely operating through digital channels still presented its challenges, in many cases forcing retailers to reassess their creativity and, in some cases, even their business models.
“What’s good to see is that research from VMware reveals that this investment is at least starting to pay off. Almost one-third of the British public reported that retailers now deliver a better digital experience than they did prior to the pandemic, indicating the evolved role of eCommerce stores in not just continuing but in some cases improving customer experiences. In line with this, one-third (32%) of the public have said that they are not missing in-store retail as much as they thought they would.
“Moreover, we’ve seen a growing appetite for more innovative digital experiences in retail over the past year. For example, our research found that almost half (45%) of people would welcome an increased use of virtual or augmented reality by retailers to better understand how products might look in their homes.
“But it doesn’t just have to stop at how it looks in the home. One truly innovative example of a digital-first experience is the virtual Lipscanner app, created by luxury beauty brand Chanel. The at-home application software uses automated reality to allow users to try on any of Chanel’s lipsticks virtually. Moreover, the app uses artificial intelligence to identify the customer’s lip colour in an image and recommend a matching shade in the collection. Thereby allowing for personalisation and providing the customer with a tailored experience.
“Experiences like these not only provide unique and engaging experiences for customers but instil consumer confidence in buying a product remotely with digital experiences.”
Maximising the goodwill
The pandemic has had a major impact on businesses of all types, but smaller businesses and the self-employed have been hit harder in most cases. The public is all too aware of this, meaning they have been keen to support smaller businesses wherever possible. With the UK continuing to move out of lockdown and closer to some semblance of normality, small businesses have a responsibility to match the support they’ve received. They can do this by using the technology and tools available to them, to provide a personalised, smooth customer experience.
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