Getting Digi With It
Although adding digital channels to their business might have already been on the to-do list for many small and midsized business (SMB) leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the digitization of customer interactions in North America by three years, according to McKinsey & Company. Suddenly, small businesses were expected to deliver digital experiences that rivaled big-box retailers, including online ordering, curbside pickup, and remote work capabilities.
As we look ahead towards a post-pandemic world, it’s safe to assume there will be no going back as consumers like the digital interactions they’ve gotten used to. Therefore, SMBs have been transformed forever.
If you’re one of the hundreds of thousands of SMBs that added digital channels since the pandemic began, you would likely agree they helped you stay afloat in a quickly changing business landscape. Customers now have newer, safer, and oftentimes more convenient ways to connect with you. As such, digital channel additions will not only help retain customers, but improve their experiences, too.
Let’s explore how the rise of digital can benefit SMBs and the infrastructure needed to power it long after the pandemic is in our rear-view mirror.
Digital Helps Keep Customers Coming Back
A small business’s success relies on customer satisfaction, and consumers value meaningful brand interactions — perhaps now more than ever. Forrester predicts there will be a 40 percent increase in digital customer service interactions in 2021. Furthermore, its customer service predictions blog states, “The pandemic created a trend — an increased reliance on online shopping, digital financial services, and telehealth (virtual care) options — and that genie ain’t going back in the bottle.”
To accommodate this growing online interaction with customers, companies will likely add more channels to their digital presence this year, such as a branded app, curbside pickup capability, QR codes to transact business touch-free, or even a growing social media presence.
Salesforce’s Small and Medium Business Trends Report, released in October 2020, found that more than half (55 percent) of the companies surveyed said technology drives their customer interactions or customer base growth. In fact, of younger shoppers, 63 percent of millennial consumers and 61 percent of Gen Z consumers said they're more likely to support smaller organizations with a digital presence. Gen Zers reported that since the pandemic started, they’ve either written a positive review for or engaged with social media content from small businesses.
Technology Relies on Adequate Connectivity
Small businesses are turning to technology so their teams can stay productive — whether on-site or at home — and continue to serve their customers. From client interactions to workflows and internal communications, digital transformation is on the rise on Main Street. In fact, growing SMBs are 65 percent more likely to have accelerated their pace of technology investments due to the pandemic.
SMBs should carefully consider their Wi-Fi and internet services’ investment since an increase in digital channels could require an increase in bandwidth to meet their evolving needs. With the proper bandwidth and speeds, small businesses can continue their digital transformation efforts and make the most of their digital presence in 2021. Robust connectivity is yet another key element that helps bring SMBs up to speed and keep them driving forward to make digitally included customers happy.
Take, for example, Emerald Republic Brewing, in Pensacola, FL. The area was hit hard by both COVID-19 and Hurricane Sally, and the local brewery needed high-speed service and secure internet access to take care of business as usual and offer a variety of local beers to go during lockdown. It also relied on the internet to create awareness of its community outreach efforts to get clean water to neighbors in need. Without its connection, the Emerald Republic team couldn’t process payments or take online orders. As we look ahead, these digital capabilities will continue to remain a key part of its business, as will its connectivity.
Just Digitize It
In sum, digital interactions with consumers are here to stay, even once we’re all vaccinated and back to something resembling a more normal life. Consider adding online channels that make your small business more viable or serve customers in new ways. Finally, consider whether your Wi-Fi or internet connectivity is up to par and can keep up with the newer digitally enabled ways of transacting business with your customers.
Digital’s not going away — it’s here to stay and can help you retain the customers you’ve worked so hard to serve.
Catherine Mitchell is the vice president of product development and management at Cox Business, trusted business solutions provider.