Customer Engagement Critical for Local Business Survival During Re-Emergence

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Millions of SMBs and local businesses are now in a state of re-emergence following statewide shutdowns due to COVID-19, with some also experiencing a stalled re-opening. It has been an especially hard few months for small businesses, many of which will never reopen or will take months – if not years – to recover financially from the shutdowns and reduced patron numbers. 

Despite the challenges, there are very real opportunities for sustained growth during this time. To survive and thrive during this next period, local businesses must deepen their customer relationships despite having fewer resources available. While it may sound like a conundrum, this actually presents a significant opportunity to deliver a personalized customer experience and drive loyalty. 

Foster One-to-One Customer Connections

For businesses that didn’t have a formal program for nurturing ongoing customer relationships before COVID-19, there’s no time like the present. These organizations are competing for tighter wallet shares and must ensure that their offerings and customer service stand out. They should adopt a one-to-one engagement approach so their customers feel understood and valued.

This begins with getting to know existing customers and following up to ensure they are receiving a more personalized experience. With this philosophy as a key driver of business operations, SMBs will not only develop a consistently solid rapport with customers (who will be much more likely to return) but they will also prove to customers that they are committed to meeting their specific needs. For example, businesses should make it a practice to send a post-purchase email or call to check in on the workmanship of a product and/or to confirm that service was delivered in a timely manner. This should also include a promise for 100% customer satisfaction and any relevant offers for complimentary check-ups.

Local businesses can also strengthen their customer relationships by surveying customers to more accurately pinpoint their current and future needs. This includes asking them about product and service preferences as well as about how they would like to receive future communications and product delivery (in-person, curbside pickup or shipped). Some customers may prefer phone calls while others only want to receive texts or the occasional email promotion – and they may opt out of all communication if they receive the wrong ones.

Automate Personalization with SMB SaaS Technologies

Additionally, as many SMB SaaS technologies are embedding more customer engagement features into their platforms, SMBs and local businesses can better track and maintain automated, active communication with their customer base at scale. With customer information captured, as well as their purchase histories, local companies can take their level of customer engagement to the next level by connecting with individuals regarding personalized offerings and service on an ongoing basis. 

As an example, a local auto repair center can use existing customer data to proactively suggest service packages based on prior purchases. By using automation within SMB SaaS offerings, they can project when a particular customer’s tires may be wearing out or if an oil change is due. The business can set up automated alerts so the customer receives a message (in their preferred format) to remind them of which services would be most useful to them at the right times. Further, this information can also be used to refer customers to the business’s website for personalized recommendations on products – which can be purchased ahead of time for curbside or quick pick-up inside. This can also be helpful for clearly communicating new policies and safety protocols that the business is taking to protect customers. This level of data-driven automation, combined with proactively offered personalized options, allows SMBs to anticipate and meet the needs of many customers while maintaining lean operations.

Another way SMB SaaS technology helps drive customer engagement is by tracking customer participation in loyalty programs and using that data to encourage further customer engagement. As an example, when customers meet certain loyalty program benchmarks, e.g., make ten purchases, get $5 off your next purchase at a pastry shop, or are close to qualifying for a reward, they may receive an automated message encouraging them to make a purchase based on product or service preferences based on their purchase history. The result is that the customer feels valued and thus becomes more likely to patronize the business again – in the way that they feel most comfortable.

As SMBs and local businesses re-emerge with new ways of serving their customers’ needs, customer engagement is more important than ever. And as SMB SaaS companies continue to innovate around various engagement approaches, these businesses will help SMBs level the playing field and strengthen their customer relationships for the long haul.

Bill Dinan is president of Localogy.