By Jamie Domenici of Salesforce
There are dozens of avenues small businesses can take to compete with their larger counterparts: innovative features, discounted prices, loyalty programs or slick advertising campaigns, to name just a few. While these are all important parts of the mix, “customer experience” is quickly becoming the competitive battlefield of the future. In fact, Gartner reports that 89% of companies now expect to compete mostly on the basis of experience (versus 36 percent four years ago).
Unfortunately, most growing businesses aren’t taking full advantage of the resources available to deliver exceptional customer experiences, according to recent research conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of Salesforce. More than 300 small business owners participated in the nationwide survey, which revealed several opportunities for small businesses to use technology to offer a better customer experience and leapfrog the competition. Below are some of the key findings from the survey:
Amping up the sales process can help small businesses offer better customer experiences from the start. For managing sales opportunities, email (39 percent) and spreadsheets (24 percent) top the list for small business owners’ go-to technologies. While these can be useful tools, they aren’t the most effective for sales. That’s because customer information can get outdated quickly, making it nearly impossible to provide a personalized and seamless customer experience. Small businesses can take customer experience to the next level by implementing a customer relationship management (CRM) solution. With a CRM solution, every sales rep will get access to the latest customer information, from anywhere and on any device, empowering them to put their best foot forward, right from the start.
CRM helps small businesses improve experiences throughout the entire customer lifecycle. Many small business owners still rely on email (44 percent) and spreadsheets (41 percent) to track customer information across other parts of their business as well, which makes it difficult to ensure every employee has a complete view of every customer interaction, such as purchase histories or service requests. In fact, many (34 percent) still use a written customer ledger! Small businesses that upgrade to a CRM solution will have the ability to equip everyone in their company with the most up-to-date customer information and complete 360-degree views of customer relationships. This will enable every employee, across sales, service and marketing, to personalize their communication, predict what their customers want, and maintain the kind of 1-to-1 relationships that are key to offering a superior customer experience.
Automating processes can also improve customer relationships. According to the survey, not having enough time is one of the top business-related issues keeping small business owners up at night. Yet, less than half (49 percent) of small business owners are taking advantage of business process automation. What does that mean? It means that owners and their employees are often stuck doing menial, repetitive tasks — like paperwork — that take them away from more strategic, customer-oriented work. Small businesses that use automation for sales or marketing can work smarter than the competition and focus their teams on activities that move the needle with customers and improve long-term relationships.
The cloud can help small businesses scale so that customer relationships aren’t disrupted as they grow. While the majority of small business owners (62 percent) say they trust the cloud, fewer are actually using cloud-based technology services to their full potential. In fact, on average, only 14 percent of a small business’ technology is cloud-based today! Maintaining infrastructure can be a big headache for growing companies who are trying to get ahead. Not only does the cloud eliminate that hassle, but it also gives small businesses the flexibility to easily and immediately increase the level of customer service they need. Small businesses often have sudden, sharp growth spurts and the cloud can ensure that they can scale without any impact on customers.
Business analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) can help small businesses get a leg up on the competition. Only 21 percent of small business owners are using business analytics or business intelligence software to measure their businesses. And when it comes to AI, 61 percent of small business owners said their business is not ready for the cutting-edge technology, citing that it’s too complex for what they need (51 percent). The thing is, analytics can help small business owners take the guesswork out of running their business. And AI can help them uncover insights to make smarter decisions, anticipate outcomes so they know where to focus their energy, and suggest best next actions to take so that everyone in the company can be more effective in their jobs. AI isn’t just in futuristic things like self-driven cars. It’s also in the recommendations that you get everyday on Amazon.com. It’s the future of customer experience, but small businesses can get started now.
Curious about the opportunities for your own business to deliver an exceptional experience? Check out the Connected Small Business Report. Or learn more about Salesforce’s small business solutions that can help you find, win, and keep customers so you can grow your business faster than ever.
Jamie Domenici is the vice president of product and small-and-medium business marketing at Salesforce. In this role, she is responsible for driving product marketing and go-to-market strategy for Salesforce’s small- and medium-sized business organization. Jamie has worked at Salesforce for five years as a senior leader in product and campaign marketing and previously led operations at Ingres Corp., an open-source database company, and OSIsoft, Inc., a real-time performance management software manufacturer.
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.