Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy, making up more than 99% of U.S. businesses in 2019, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration1. With so many small businesses vying for attention in the marketplace, success or failure depends on how well they serve their customers.
That’s why customer experience remains a key factor for small business growth in 2020 and beyond. Attracting new customers, retaining existing ones and increasing overall customer engagement are essential in helping small businesses grow and expand into new markets and new environments.
Strategies for providing meaningful customer experience at every step of the customer journey and all touch points should include a mix of people, tools and services. The right technologies can help small businesses reach customers more easily and engage with them more effectively and efficiently, earn trust and build customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Finding new customers can be a daunting task for many small business owners, especially those with limited time and marketing budgets. The key is reaching the right audience through a mix of technologies and services that can make the connection easier—without breaking the bank.WiFi
Many small businesses bring in new customers and keep them longer by offering onsite convenience. Free WiFi is perhaps one of the most obvious ways to do this, and with good reason: multiple studies and anecdotal evidence have shown that customers who visit locations with free WiFi tend to stay longer and spend more money.2
Free WiFi can help in small business marketing efforts while customers are in the store. For example, when a customer logs on to the network, the business can include a coupon or other promotion on the login portal to boost sales. Or, the business could encourage the customer to sign up for a loyalty program or email list to be alerted to private sales or special offers available only to program members.On-Demand TV and Mobile Workstations
Helping customers pass their idle time is a great perk and a way to demonstrate that the small business is thinking of convenience to their customers. On-demand television for businesses with waiting rooms or dining areas can make the experience more enjoyable. Another perk for businesses with busy waiting rooms, such as auto mechanics or small car dealerships, would be to offer small cubicles or kiosks with outlets and free, secure WiFi for customers who need to work while they’re waiting.Mobile Apps
Mobile apps are another tool that can help small businesses attract new customers—they’ve been proven to increase customer loyalty among businesses of all sizes, providing customers quick access to customized loyalty perks and offers. A mobile app can also enhance convenience through added functionality features like cashless payments.
Additionally, mobile apps allow small businesses to learn about their customers via the data provided, such as age, gender and location. That information can then be used to tailor targeted marketing and promotions, such as a discount or free gift on the customer’s birthday.
Many of the strategies a small business can employ to retain existing customers are natural extensions of their strategies for attracting new customers.Loyalty Programs
Loyalty programs are one such example. Where a small business can attract new customers by offering perks or discounts when they sign up for their loyalty program, they can also keep their customers coming back for more by providing valuable incentives to existing program members. And, by encouraging the customer to interact with the loyalty program, the small business can continuously collect data about the customer, enabling personalization and promotional efforts for even greater interaction.CRMs and Marketing
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and other sales and marketing platforms can help the small business owner collect and keep track of valuable customer data and provide insights for higher quality customer interaction. Many of these technologies are available as cloud-based subscriptions, allowing even the smallest of small businesses to take advantage of this technology for a small monthly fee. These platforms can aid in sales and marketing beyond retaining customer data—many offer templates for emails, newsletters and other marketing vehicles to enable businesses to stay in touch with their current customers.
For those businesses that offer free WiFi, the data collected by customer logins can be integrated into the CRM or marketing platform for targeted marketing. For example, using geolocation services, a business owner could push out a coupon to a customer’s mobile device when they get close to the business. Or the business could enable automatic WiFi login for repeat visitors, saving the customer from having to fill out their data for access each time.Customer Service
Ensuring the customer can reach the business is critically important in customer retention. Businesses that make themselves available to answer customer questions or address their needs are more likely to have a loyal customer base; a business with a spotty or unreliable voice system won’t keep its loyal customers for very long. Having a backup for communication outages, such as 4G LTE Internet backup to keep information flowing, can help businesses stay online.
All customers want to feel valued and appreciated, regardless of whether they are new to your business or have been around for years. Small businesses that recognize the importance of customer engagement will see greater loyalty from their customers, who will share their positive experiences with their friends and colleagues.Social Media
Social media is an easy way to reach customers and provide a platform for engagement through product and service reviews, promotions and stories that help highlight the business, such as case studies or community outreach. Using Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, a business can showcase its offerings and answer comments or questions from its followers, promoting personalized interactions. Followers also can share posts from the business, helping to spread the word when they have a positive experience.Communication
A website can extend personalization and convenience with the use of chatbots to answer basic questions such as hours of operation or the status of an order. Bots eliminate the time customers might spend waiting on the phone for a customer service agent to get the information they need.
Bots may save time, but some customers prefer to speak with a human being, while others prefer to see whom they are talking to. If possible, small businesses should try to make as many avenues of communication available. A reliable communications and collaboration platform that supports audio and video can go a long way to enhancing the customer experience by promoting interaction regardless of method.
In 2020 and beyond, customer experience remains a critical catalyst for small business growth. Attracting new customers, retaining existing customers and increasing overall engagement with all customers are the three pillars of customer experience for small businesses.
While every successful customer experience requires an effective strategy for finding and keeping customers, technology is a major enabler for effective customer acquisition, retention and engagement. For small businesses, especially those with limited time and resources, technology can help in the efforts to work smarter and gain valuable customer insights more quickly and efficiently.
Small businesses that put an emphasis on their customer experience will see greater success in the years ahead from a loyal customer base that continues to grow and thrive.
"2019 Small Business Profile,” Small Business Administration, April 2019 https://cdn.advocacy.sba.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/23142719/2019-Small-Business-Profiles-US.pdf
“Why businesses need both public and private Wi-Fi,” Houston Business Journal, Sept. 9, 2019, https://www.bizjournals.com/houston/news/2019/09/09/why-businesses-need-both-public-and-private-wi-fi.html