Adapting to the new rules of customer connection - 3 digital tips to help SMEs go the distance
Published on 26th March 2020
When COVID-19 (coronavirus) first hit the headlines last year, no one could have predicted how quickly and how thoroughly it would change our daily lives.
For a majority of the UK’s growing businesses, the crisis has meant hitting the pause button on ‘business as usual’. It’s forced them to say a temporary goodbye to face-to-face contact with customers and co-workers. And in many cases, it has necessitated a shift of focus from growth to survival.
But the same grit, determination, and entrepreneurial spirit that brought these businesses to life in the first place is showing itself again now. With the nation in lockdown, SMEs are innovating, adapting, and just plain digging their heels in; to make sure they can reopen their doors and continue to serve their customers when this challenging episode is over.
We’ve all got a role to play in making sure that growing businesses can keep on growing after coronavirus. With SMEs making up 99% of our nation’s businesses and accounting for 60% of all private sector jobs, they truly are the lifeblood of our economy.
Staying in touch and afloat during this crisis
At it’seeze, we’ll have our own challenges to overcome - and we can’t pretend to have all of the answers. But one thing we do know lots about is how to create an effective online presence. And we believe that a well-designed, engaging website and thoughtful digital communications could help businesses stay in touch and afloat during the coronavirus crisis.
We know there will be some smaller organisations that have only ever operated in the real world, and others that won’t have given their website much attention in a while - and we’d like to support them as they adapt their digital approach.
With that in mind, here are our three top digital tips for connecting with customers during uncertain times. We hope you find them useful - and if you have any questions about websites, search engines, or emails we might be able to help you with, we hope you’ll get in touch.
1. Spend some time on your website
When you’re a growing business that’s running at full speed, creating and updating your website can seem like a chore. Right now, it has to be a priority. Your website just became the face and personality of your business, so take the time to ensure that it’s fresh, interesting, and easy to use.
If you’re staying open behind closed doors during the lockdown, your website will be essential for providing customers with up-to-date contact information and accurate ‘opening’ hours. Keep that information front and centre, so that your customers will always find it easy to stay in touch.
But even if you’re not open for business at the moment, it’s important that you don’t let people forget about you. Regularly updating your website with high quality content encourages repeat visits and lets customers know you’re intent on making a strong comeback. It also lets Google know that your website is active, which will push you up the search listings and give a boost in traffic to your site.
2. Explore your digital options
During these times of social distancing, we’re fortunate to have access to almost unlimited options for communicating digitally. Savvy businesses are using this to their advantage: by hosting everything from client meetings to training sessions and even conferences online.
If you usually provide a face-to-face service, whether that’s consultancy, training, therapy or piano lessons, it might be worth exploring how you could replicate this digitally. Your services remain valuable, so don’t feel like you have to give them away for free. Adding a simple payment button to your website will enable you to charge for your services in a straightforward and secure way.
If you do decide that digital contact with customers is the way forward, this can be achieved in a live format through an app like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, or Skype, or by providing on-demand video content that your customers can access through your website or YouTube. It’s easier to set up than you might think and could help to keep your business ticking over until normal service can resume.
For SME retailers, reduced demand, limited materials supply, and the forced closure of shops is making trading difficult, but if you can keep trading online and are able to uphold social distancing policy to safely produce, package and ship your products, it may be worth exploring options for adding ecommerce functionality to your website. Retailers can find more helpful advice and information here.
3. Make it personal
This third tip is perhaps the most important thing to remember right now. Everyone is experiencing the coronavirus crisis differently but the upheaval is huge right across the board. It’s time for businesses of all sizes to show their human face, to speak with compassion, and to acknowledge that things are in a state of almost continual flux.
This is about so much more than sending out a standard, ‘what we’re doing during coronavirus’ email. Think instead about ways in which you can make the entire customer experience more personal.
Could you add chat functionality to your website? Could you reach out to specific individuals or groups with information that’s really relevant to them? Could you introduce a ‘customer loyalty’ scheme or reward regular visitors to your website with exclusive content?
If things go wrong because of staffing or supply problems, are you properly set up to promptly reassure customers with an individualised email or phone call? Your transparency and approachability during this time could be all it takes to secure long term customer loyalty, even if you have to disappoint them in the short term.
It might also be a good time to think about increasing your presence on social media. Social platforms can be a great place to start informal conversations, find out what customers want, and get feedback on ideas. But remember, responsiveness is really important in social forums, just as it is with any customer communication.
So, wherever your customer can reach you, be sure to set realistic expectations about when you’ll be online and when/how they can expect to hear back from you if they raise a query.
There’s no single right way to stay connected with your customers, and every business will have a different set of objectives and concerns. The most important thing is to find a way that works for your business, and be consistent. Customers will value your consistency during these uncertain times, even if you’re unable to provide them with the products and services they usually expect.
If you’re refreshing your website and looking for inspiration, or want to start selling products and services online, why not start by taking a look at some of the examples here.
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