There are upsides to having your business enter survival mode. Necessity strips away cost and drives innovation. On the softer side, it rejuvenates an appreciation for your people and customers.
All-in, those that do manage to skirt insolvency tend to come out the other side more resilient, albeit with a few bruises. This is where most small businesses in South Africa find themselves as the economic impact of the pandemic subsides – lean, a bit battered, but with the bit between their teeth. Now, though, they look determined not just to survive, but to thrive.
In our recent survey, there was consensus from participants that the secret to kickstarting their growth post-pandemic lay in technology. Specifically, technology that elevates customer service and payments, improves marketing and advertising efficacy, and drives sales through high-touch customer relationship management.
1. Elevate your customer service
The mass adoption of online digital technologies, catalysed by the pandemic, has caused a rapid step change in consumer expectations. Convenience with a personal touch has quickly become the hallmark of an acceptable customer experience, and a prerequisite for repeat business. This is perhaps truest for small businesses that don’t have a deep reservoir of brand equity to fall back on.
While creating a work environment where your employees are engaged behind a common purpose is, arguably, the foundation of great customer service. The efforts of your employees can be drastically amplified through technology.
To start, most consumers now expect businesses to be accessible via multiple channels. Give them the option to do so and ensure that each channel, be it your website, app, newsletter, or social media page, has the functionality to support a consistent customer service experience. Making use of tailored FAQs and real-time chat systems like Facebook Messenger can improve query response times and engender customer loyalty.
Next, the customer service professionals in your business need access to a centralised repository that records the details of customer engagements to ensure queries/complaints don’t fall through the cracks. Those records can and should also be used to help identify any repeat problems or bottlenecks in the customer journey.
Payment options are also important. Giving your customers a variety of ways to settle their invoices reduces the friction of doing business with you and communicates a subtle but powerful message: we value your time as much as you do. SnapScan, Zapper, or Mobicred are some of the more common alternative payment methods in SA.
One of the notable findings from the Sage survey was that many small businesses lack the time to implement tech solutions. Automation can help in this regard. Start by mapping your business processes to see which of them are amenable to automation. Tasks with manual or rote elements, like resolving common customer queries, invoice generation, payroll, and data capturing, will usually come out high on the list. Using tech to streamline these processes – via chatbots and accounting/payroll software, for example – will give your employees the tools and time to create memorable customer experiences.
2. Sharpen your marketing message
It’s not that we woke up one day and decided that we like it when businesses speak to us like they know us. We all want to be called by our name, we all want our preferences known, and we all want recognition. It’s just that we never knew businesses could scratch these itches.
But now we’ve seen it done. We know businesses can do better. And we expect them to. The starting point here is for you to segment your target market according to their preferences.
As an example, the 6th EY Future Consumer Index, based on a survey of 14,500 consumers conducted across 20 countries in February 2021, found that there are five broad categories that describe consumer spending behaviour:
- Affordability first (32%)
- Health first (25%)
- Planet first (16%)
- Society first (15%)
- Experience first (12%)
Imagine you knew which of your customers fell into which group. It would give you the ability to craft marketing campaigns for each cohort that would resonate more deeply and improve the chances of a sale. You can run your own, tailored customer surveys through the likes of SurveyMonkey or Typeform to help with your customer segmentation.
One of the silver-linings of the pandemic has been the heightening of consumer awareness around the impact of their buying decisions. As a result, purpose-driven businesses, whose actions speak loudly to their values, are becoming more appealing to consumers.
Those looking to position themselves for this trend need to understand the preferences of their customers and have a clear idea of what they themselves stand for. That combination will result in messaging that communicates whether you have what they want, and whether their values align with those of your business.
Only once your messaging has a north star should you begin to leverage the distribution capabilities of digital and social media platforms.
3. Drive your sales through better CRM
In theory, the more information you have on your customers, the easier it is to strengthen your relationship with them, and the more sustainable and profitable your business becomes.
Technology has an outsized role in collecting, storing, and analysing consumer data, the foundation of which is customer relationship management (CRM) software. For years, small businesses have ghosted the idea of implementing a CRM system because of the perceived cost involved. Many would do well to reassess this belief as affordability has improved markedly.
The key benefits of a CRM system include:
- Identify and prioritise your most important customers. This is a nod to the powerful 80/20 rule.
- Improve accountability within your sales team by monitoring their progress and performance in real-time.
- Reduce the resources and time needed to produce sales reports as most CRM software solutions offer automated reporting.
- Democratise customer interaction records to ensure continuity and transparency around the customer experience.
- Track project and/or customer profitability to identify inefficiencies and improve the accuracy of cash flow forecasting.
- Stay compliant with regulatory requirements, like POPIA, through built-in checks and balances in your CRM system.
The Sage survey found that there has been an overall increase in the number of small businesses that consider their operations to be ‘very digitised’.
This shouldn’t be surprising; there are clear cost efficiencies to be gained through technology and moving to take advantage of them is critical if resilience is the goal.
But perhaps more powerfully, tech can help to create strong bonds between businesses and their customers by fostering connection on a much deeper level than was previously possible. The digital tools on offer across the customer service, sales, and marketing and advertising functions are a boon for business, through the good times and bad.
White paper: small businesses and accountants are ready to try again
We surveyed 1,947 South African small businesses – the majority of which offer accounting and bookkeeping services – to find out how they’re coping in the new world of work. We were curious to know what they’re doing to strengthen their defences against the next disruption and how optimistic they are about the future – and we were pleasantly surprised.