How small businesses can solve 4 of the biggest customer engagement challenges

Time to read: 5 minutes

With a brand new calendar year comes a changed landscape for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in Australia and New Zealand. But a few common focuses remain steady: improving experiences and meeting customer expectations in an increasingly digital-first world.

It’s little surprise that so many SMBs are looking for smarter ways to address new customer expectations -- the pandemic has accelerated digital habits and customers’ appetite for online conveniences. To compete, SMBs need to keep making customer experiences easier and more personalised, while also balancing employee expectations and ensuring internal processes are sustainable.

In the 5th edition of the Small and Medium Business Trends Report, thousands of SMBs told us some of the biggest barriers to addressing these issues. The top three have remained consistent since March 2020, suggesting that these are persistently tricky issues -- but one challenge has risen to become the fourth biggest customer engagement challenge.

Customer Engagement Challenges
If your SMB is facing similar barriers but is ready to make the most of a new year, check out solutions for each of the top four challenges -- including some Trailblazer examples along the way.

1. Responding to customer enquiries quickly

In the State of the Connected Customer report, 83% of customers expect to engage with someone immediately when contacting a company. That’s a small jump compared to 2019, when 78% of respondents said the same.

It makes sense, then, that more SMBs are listing timely responses as one of their biggest challenges. And, to meet growing customer expectations, 42% say they’ve expanded the ways customers can reach them, according to Trends Report responses. But it’s not just about expanding the channels in which customers can reach you, it’s about ensuring customers can get the information they need as quickly as possible -- whenever and however they choose to seek it.

One part of the solution is to empower customers to find information on their own, or through AI-enabled assistance like chatbots. This helps customers get what they need, when they need it, while freeing service professionals to focus on more complex enquiries. In fact, nearly two-thirds of service professionals say self service helped ease case loads during the pandemic.

Another big part of the solution is equipping employees with the information and tools to resolve issues faster. The right CRM solution can provide a 360-degree view of your customers and help teams access that information more easily. Whether it’s quick access to a customer’s transaction history, a system that automatically captures voice conversations, or an interface that minimises toggling between multiple screens, the right digital technology helps your people address customers’ issues faster.

As an example, Australian start-up and hospitality tech company me&u took a multi-faceted approach when the growing business realised it needed to scale its customer support -- especially since many of its customers required support outside of traditional working hours.

Using automation through Service Cloud, cases were automatically closed if customers indicated they were fully satisfied via a survey. Along with a more integrated view of each customer, the business is also leveraging Salesforce Knowledge and Chat with Einstein Bots to further automate its customer support.

2. Personalising customer engagements

Customers don’t just want businesses to react quickly, though. They also want businesses to tailor and personalise their engagements so that they’re pre-empting customers’ needs and desires. In the State of the Connected Customer report, more than half (52%) of customers say they expect offers to be personalised.

SMBs consistently say that meeting this expectation is a top challenge. Just like responding to and resolving customer enquiries, many solutions will depend on the right CRM solution. That 360-degree view we mentioned earlier is critical for understanding each customer as a unique individual -- but in a way that’s actually scalable for a business.

One example is Living Edge, a Sydney-based furniture retailer, who launched a new ecommerce site through Commerce Cloud, creating different browsing experiences for customers shopping for home furniture versus customers shopping for commercial purchases. Not only can customers easily toggle between these experiences, but Living Edge uses transaction data to personalise customers’ in-store experiences, too.

To stitch together these sorts of personalised experiences in any channel, businesses need a platform that can break down silos and empower different functions with centralised customer information. This includes everything from a lead’s first interactions with your marketing, to their first conversation with your sales team, straight through to any onboarding or post-purchase support.

The right solution and first priority will depend on your business, but it’s likely driving many SMBs’ investments in technology for customer service, sales and marketing -- investments that are more likely to be made by SMBs with growing revenue, compared to their declining or stagnant peers.

Percent of SMBs that have accelerated tech investments

3. Keeping up with demand

With social distancing measures in place, many SMBs shifted operations online.
Percent of operations moved online

But moving online only tells one piece of a larger story, since the pandemic impacted almost every business in various uncontrollable, unforeseeable ways. This meant that some industries and regions felt the squeeze and needed to keep up with demand despite significant hits to budgets or headcounts. Others encountered spiking demand for offerings they hadn’t forecasted, or found demand ebbing and flowing at unpredictable times.

This is where flexible, customisable technology is key, since solutions need to be able to scale up or down rapidly. Health education company Medcast experienced this first-hand when the pandemic sparked a tenfold spike to their web traffic. Not only did they have to quickly pivot most of their in-person learning to digital courses, but they had partnered with the government to address a critical care shortage through online learning. This meant there were simply more customers needing greater support and access to digital courses.

Medcast had already established an online learning platform before the pandemic, allowing them to shift almost all of their courses to a digital format. They were also already using Sales Cloud, which meant they had greater visibility into the sales cycle and were able to provide vital reporting during the critical care project. Meanwhile, their employees were already proficient in collaboration tools like Slack, helping them address the influx of customer needs despite social distancing.

The spike in demand stress-tested Medcast’s Salesforce instance as well as their internal processes, helping them adjust the business to be even more efficient in the long run. But they were able to handle the quick pivot and high-stakes project due to flexible technological foundations that were already in place.

4. Bringing innovative offerings to market

Since August 2020, this is the issue that’s topped SMBs’ list of customer engagement challenges. And it’s not surprising -- when you’re focused on keeping the lights on, there’s not much time left over to think about innovating current offerings.

But SMBs proved as resourceful as ever during the pandemic, using new imperatives and customer needs to pivot in fast-changing circumstances. And many of the technology solutions we’ve already discussed can help -- particularly those that offer greater visibility into sales processes and a more integrated, data-informed view of customers. Especially during challenging times, knowledge is power.

This has been the case for Auckland-based hospitality technology company STAAH, whose industry has been massively impacted by travel restrictions and other consequences of the pandemic.

Already a digital-first business, STAAH consolidated some of its internal systems via Salesforce and streamlined processes across five very different markets. By integrating Sales Cloud with Xero and other platforms, they have much greater visibility into what money is coming in and out of a highly distributed business. They’re also using their tech stack to monitor changes in each market’s domestic travel and automating reactivation processes to help their customers adapt to changing circumstances.

Regardless of your SMBs’ specific customer engagement challenges, many solutions will depend on flexible digital solutions and removing customers’ most significant pain points. So what changes will you make to your business that will help you meet -- and exceed -- new customer expectations?

See the rest of the findings in the 5th ed. Small and Medium Business Trends Report

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