By Ran Oelgiesser of vCita
It’s impossible to overstate the vital role technology plays in small business survival today. The crucial ability to automate key client interaction processes frees up valuable personnel resources to attend to more business-critical tasks and grow the operation accordingly.
(Photo courtesy of Ran Oelgiesser)
However, small businesses (SMBs) must strike a balance in their automation to ensure they are still providing the kind of personalized touch that customers have grown accustomed to as part of the small business experience. This is especially important considering recent reports found nearly two-thirds of SMBs rely on existing clientele for a majority of annual revenue, and that repeat patrons spend 67 percent more on products and services than new customers.
So how can a small business integrate technology solutions without alienating their current customer base?
1. Keep It Simple
Many SMBs tend to adopt online tools that require the user to take excessive steps to get to what they want (account sign-up, long and repetitive forms, unnecessary automated emails, etc.). This is usually a result of misguidedly imitating the CRM strategies employed by large organizations.
Too many extra layers are unnecessary for SMBs, and overly complicated online solutions increase the chances the customer will leave or become overwhelmed and pick up the phone – negating the benefit and purpose of these online engagement and self-service tools.
Clear calls-to-action, easily accessible on every page of your site, with simple steps and fewer questions are always a better option. Great examples are leveraging online scheduling and online payment forms. SMBs should look for simple solutions that fit their basic needs and avoid the complicated big business solutions that can confuse customers and reduce client conversions.
2. Respond Efficiently Through Channels
In today’s age of the “instant gratification” consumer businesses face the daunting task of catering to clients who expect immediate attention 24/7/365. Fortunately for small businesses, this mostly translates to responsiveness rather than providing actual services. The good news is that although making services available at all times is unrealistic for small businesses, the ability to promptly respond to questions, accept payments, or schedule appointments is an achievable goal.
Whether it’s chat functionality, a mobile CRM that allows the business to act on the go, or simple text reminders and notifications for client inquiries, SMBs can find a solution that allows them to give their customers the services and answers they need, as quickly as possible. Additionally, automated self-service tools can often do the work for SMB owners, providing clientele the immediate resolution that comes with online forms, document sharing, scheduling and invoicing, all at the consumer’s leisure, without any additional personnel commitment from the small business.
The bottom line is, regardless of the nature of the response, if SMBs don’t make themselves available to meet the customer’s needs in a timely manner, odds are there’s a competitor out there who will.
3. Better Understand Your Customers’ Needs
There are plenty of businesses that aren’t available on the technology or channel customers prefer. SMBs have a great advantage – they have a rather personal connection with their clients, so they should simply ask their clients. What don’t you like about working with our business? How easy was it to become a customer? How easy is it to share documents, fill forms, schedule a follow-up appointment or pay for services? Without a solid understanding, it’s impossible to know what the customer is looking for and which technology the business should adopt to meet these needs.
The Results: Creating A Smarter Small Business
The breadth of technology solutions available today – as well as the ever-changing nature of the broader marketplace – affords SMBs an avenue to help even out the commercial playing field to an unprecedented degree. However, all the potential benefits technology can bring are purely hypothetical without smart adoption and implication. Accessibility and responsiveness don’t do much if provided in areas no one cares about. Balancing the benefits of automation while still retaining the trademark intimacy is something small business clientele expects. Business owners must exercise discretion and implement the best tools that provide real value to customers while allowing the business to efficiently serve their needs as quickly as possible.
Ran Oelgiesser is chief marketing officer of vCita. He has nearly 20 years of experience in startups and large organizations with technology, product management and marketing. Prior to vCita, Ran was a co-founder and vice president of product marketing at Kidaro (acquired by Microsoft in 2008).
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.