According to an economic profile by the U.S. Small Business Administration, American small businesses employed 60 million people in 2019. That figure pre-dates the pandemic, and it’s fair to say small businesses have been particularly challenged over the past 18 months keeping and expanding their workforce, however small. It’s those employees who historically have managed customer relationships and have driven business growth.
One of the ways small businesses have been able to deliver competitive customer experience amid staffing issues is through rapid digitization. It may sound counterintuitive, but automation, analytics, and artificial intelligence software all have the power to improve human interaction and customer relationships, but only when systems are unified and data and departments are de-siloed.
Customers are savvy, especially now, when our economic future is uncertain, so the stakes are high for all businesses, but especially small ones. Even the slightest breakdown of customer engagement or in the customer journey can send a client down the road to a competitor. As small businesses become increasingly reliant on technology to manage their customer relations, there are a few critical customer personalization areas that need to be addressed in order to maintain and improve customer experience and avoid software disintegration.
Tailoring customer communications and marketing efforts across various touchpoints—email, phone, chat, etc.—is tricky business, but essential. According to a 2019 Gartner survey of 2,500 customers, “more than half report they will unsubscribe from a company’s communications and 38 percent will stop doing business with a company if they find personalization efforts to be “creepy”.
Notwithstanding, customers want personalized experiences, just not ones that include customer personalization that feels overly invasive. That same Gartner survey notes that, “using ‘tailored help’ messaging increases the predicted impact of the commercial benefit index (e.g., brand intent, purchase, repurchase and increased cart size) by 20 percent.”
In other words, customers desire customer personalization that feels natural and human. In order to achieve this, SMBs rely on a bevy of software to log customer preferences and purchase history, monitor what’s been added or removed from the cart for retailers, and tailor recommendations and advice based on customer behavior. When a business is using disparate systems for data storage, accounting, point-of-sale, trigger-based messaging, content, customer relations, marketing, and so on, disruptions to the customer experience occur and expand, which can lead to lost revenue.
Small businesses do not have the money or time to integrate these various, competing customer personalization systems on their own. So the most efficient solution to disjointed technology is finding a unified platform that enables seamless flow of data, scalability, and one that connects departments to handle as much of the operation as makes sense for that company.
How to Avoid Siloes when Choosing Software for Improved Customer Personalization:
- Haste makes waste: Small businesses should avoid services or products with long deployment cycles that require complex integration into existing systems, which take time, expertise, and cash-flow away from business-critical areas.
- Try before you buy: Long-term, lock-in license agreements, especially costly ones can be disastrous. If the learning curve is too steep or a product proves to be overkill, businesses should have the option to get out of that contract, within reason.
- Monitor data flow and user experience: During any trial period, or roll-out of new technology, SMBs should engage with sales reps and back-office employees to see if the new system is being used as intended and delivering the ROI it promised. In most cases, vendors will not do this for their customers.
Omni-channel Customer Support and Engagement
Technology that connects sales and support teams with customers across multiple channels including telephone, email, live chat, and social media, is foundational for small business growth. Maintaining omni-channel customer communication at a high level requires considerable effort. For small businesses, technology has evolved to the point where many facets of customer support and engagement can be tackled using fewer employees with better results. But as the strain and complexity of operations tasked to technology goes up, data and process gaps will emerge and customers can become disengaged with businesses.
How to Unify Customer Touchpoints and Teams for Improved Support and Engagement:
AI can help sales and support reps quickly pull up pertinent information on a customer and send task reminders, alerts, and suggestions for the best time to contact leads or customers based on their preferences and previous interactions. It can prioritize emails or support tickets across multiple touchpoints and flag customer sentiment for improved response times—all which goes a long way for customers.
Connecting touchpoints so that data gleaned from email or chat can be accessible and actionable for businesses across multiple departments and tools requires deep system integration. It’s not something most small businesses think about, but deep tech-stack integration is what allows for things like company-wide search, unified dashboards, consistent UI, mobile device management, and other services that can boost productivity and efficiency to give businesses a competitive edge.
Analytics plays a huge role in identifying customer patterns, which drives customer satisfaction. If, say, a particular customer only shops for swimsuits around the same time ever year, analytic software can spot and chart this data so that a retailer can create personalized discounts or recommendations ahead of their next purchase, at the right time and with the proper emphasis. BI tools can also give small businesses a view into their own operations, identifying sales slowdowns or process sticking points.
How to Use BI to Better Understand the Customer and the Business:
Embedded and Conversational BI
Particularly for small businesses, which may only have a few users, business intelligence can be daunting. At the same time, businesses rely on BI to satisfy customers and understand their operations. If the software is too complex, or the resulting dashboards and reports are too difficult to decipher without a data analyst, the tool will go unused. Small businesses should opt for a solution that can be or comes embedded into existing tools, like CRM. Employees may prefer to call up data or reports using voice commands, making BI tools with natural language processing technology a must.
Privacy and Security
All businesses have a responsibility to use technology that ensures the privacy and security of its customers. In the case of small businesses, data privacy and security often falls on the shoulders of their technology providers, though the repercussions of a breach fall squarely on theirs. For this reason, small businesses should look into the privacy practices and security protocols of their software providers, seeking out solutions that can both provide the hyper-personalization that is integral to their success as well as ensure the safety of their customers’ personal data.
Improving customer experience through app adoption and integration is difficult for any business to tackle on its own, particularly small businesses. Solutions like the new Zoho One come with all of the services and apps mentioned above and more, unified on a single platform, which reduces the experimentation and integration burden on businesses.
However a small business chooses to build out its software portfolio, its best to start by adopting one or a few apps at a time and grow the system incrementally, charting use and results in tandem. This way, customers get a seamless experience that only a unified system can offer.
More in: Customer Satisfaction, Zoho Corporation