The perseverance of small businesses has been on full display during the COVID-19 shutdowns — they’ve pulled off sudden pivots, retooled customer experiences, and changed the way they do business.
As a result, 80% of small businesses were back to being fully or partially open as of June 2020. Much of that came from the love customers have for small businesses, but a big part of it is also how small businesses have taken into consideration the paramount concern of the year: the health and safety of friends and loved ones.
In May 2020, we conducted a survey to learn more about customers of small businesses in light of recent health and economic challenges. We wanted to know what’s changed for these consumers, how the shutdown affected their feelings about small businesses, and what they expect from small businesses in the new normal. These are the three insights we found especially telling — read the results to find out more.
With various government relief programs and local support programs, a lot of effort has been put into awareness regarding the impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns on small businesses. Customers have been following suit — 66% of our survey respondents believe small businesses are more important than ever before. According to them, that importance is driven by:
The positive effects small businesses have on the economy
The level of customer service small businesses offer as opposed to large companies
The unique and general better products and services offered by small businesses
Although more than half of the surveyed customers felt confident small businesses can adapt quickly to the pandemic’s difficult circumstances, 65% of them believe small businesses will need better technology moving forward.
Why is that? It likely has to do with how customers are shifting to digital interactions.
The societal pivot to communicating over video chat (with a record 62 million downloads of those services in a single week in March) introduced us to new ways to socialize, educate, entertain, and conduct business. We found that 60% of small business customers started using video chat at least once a week, with 7% of them claiming to use it every day.
Social media usage also spiked — 54%of consumers noted spending more time on social media services, some with an increase as high as 25% as compared to pre-COVID times.
These stats are important considering how customers typically interact and learn about small businesses. For example, we discovered word-of-mouth was the preferred way for customers to learn about small businesses — if interactions are happening over video chat, then word-of-mouth likely is as well.
Similarly, we also discovered 48% of consumers prefer to learn what their favorite small businesses are doing over social media. With increased usage as a result of the pandemic, it may be a more effective sales and marketing channel for small businesses in the new normal. And, while social media is effective for keeping in touch with customers, it's worth noting that when they want to learn about updated open times and new safety procedures, 60% typically look at the business’s website.
While our surveyed data came with interesting inferences, we also flat-out asked customers what they want from small businesses now. The answer above all else: safety.
Fifty-five percent of respondents noted the top priority they want small businesses to focus on is to make them feel safe. While most state mandates have issued safety guidance for small businesses to follow (keep those masks on!), customers appreciate seeing small businesses go above and beyond to ensure proper sanitation and responsible social distancing.
When asked what’s the number one thing that small businesses can do to make customers feel safe, a 38% majority said they should offer more transactions and customer services online. Many have accomplished just that by reimagining how they sell their products and learning to be more nimble on digital platforms. This has led to an increase in online customer service interactions — while mostly positive (respondents typically rated small business customer support during the pandemic a four out of six) — there’s certainly an opportunity for improvement.
If you’re a small business wondering how to serve customers in the new normal, these findings can help you adapt to what customers want considering today’s challenges.
Check out our infographic on the Salesforce Essentials site to see the full results of the survey.
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This post originally appeared on the U.S.-version of the Salesforce blog.