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Why 2021 Is the Year To Transform Small and Medium Business Customer Support

Female service agent takes a call at desk smb customer support

SMBs are investing in enhanced training for their support agents in response to growing customer expectations.

2020 rewrote the rules for how small and medium businesses (SMBs) interact with their customers. As customers faced challenges with shipping delays, troubleshooting products, and more, SMBs had to quickly adapt to the growing number of support tickets, seeing an average monthly rise of 20%.

Customers continue to expect higher levels of service and support even as budgets and resources are tightened. So how can your small growing business deliver exceptional customer service even during times of change? We partnered with the SMB Group to survey 200 SMBs in order to better understand how the experiences of SMB customer service teams have changed in light of the pandemic.

So let’s take a look at what customer support trends are here to stay for 2021.

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(Digital) engagement is everything

No matter how much customer service transforms for SMBs, phones remain the most popular channel for customers reaching out for help. It’s easy to use and allows for the most complex issues in the first call.

SMBs’ current use and plan of customer service applications

However, in 2020, when customers needed answers to common questions, such as when a business was open, whether products were available, delivery status, or even basic post-purchase help, providing service via phone placed a big burden on customer support teams.

4 in10 SMBs reported an increase in the average number of support tickets during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Why? Because support teams are only able to handle one call per agent at a time. And according to our survey data, four in 10 SMBs reported an increase in the average number of support tickets during the COVID-19 pandemic. For SMBs that rely on traditional channels such as phone or email alone for support, their customers could be experiencing longer wait times leading to increased frustration and poor customer satisfaction.

One popular tactic to deal with growing case volume is to quickly deflect low complexity cases. For SMBs, this means moving to digital customer service. Tools such as messaging/chat and self service help support teams provide personalized support at scale.

ChowNow, a subscription-based digital food ordering platform, saw a huge increase in support tickets during the start of the pandemic. As more local restaurants pivoted to online ordering, ChowNow had to scale quickly to help support their growing customer base. So, ChowNow turned to Salesforce to provide chat and SMS support to customers. The result? Customer support call wait times have been cut in half, and case handle times have been reduced by a third.

It’s clear that the path forward is to have several digital customer support channels. Direct message support, bots, FAQs (frequently asked questions), self-service portals — enterprise businesses provide these, and customers have begun to expect the same from SMBs.

(Ro)bots are the new helping hand

SMBs look for ways to grow their businesses, even in the face of shrinking budgets and staff reductions. This is where automation comes in — tools like bots can help customers find answers to their questions quickly, reducing the need for customers to submit a case. The best part? Bots can support several customers at once, helping SMBs scale easily without requiring additional headcount.

Change in customer service application use before COVID-19 and now

This ability to do more with less is crucial for growing businesses, 31% of which said they had to reduce staff during the pandemic. At the same time, one-third of businesses have seen an increase in customer support expectations. So how do businesses juggle customers demanding faster response times with limited staff?

This is what Sun Basket, a San Francisco-based meal kit subscription service, had to solve during the first weeks of the pandemic. When restaurants and hospitality businesses around the country had to shut their doors in 2020, meal delivery companies like Sun Basket stepped in to help meet consumer demand.

For Sun Basket, this meant two things: existing customers began to place bigger orders while new customers flocked to sign up. During the pandemic, the company’s customer base grew by 200%, and customer support requests grew by 50%.

The company responded by embracing automation. First, Sun Basket infused its FAQ page with artificial intelligence (AI) to learn the top search queries of customers. The AI then refreshes the FAQs accordingly. When questions arise that are too complicated for self service, they escalate to agents, who began working from home during the pandemic.

39% of SMBs surveyed used bots for customer support. Among those businesses, half implemented bots during the pandemic.

Next, Sun Basket deployed chatbots to field incoming support requests. Before the pandemic, when a question needed to escalate to an agent outside of business hours, the agent would follow up via email. During the pandemic, the company adapted to meet customers where they were and began offering SMS as a response option. The new channel was a hit with three-quarters of Sun Basket’s customers opting to receive their answers via SMS.

As the volume of customer service tickets rises for everyone, automation provides a way for SMBs to manage their case volumes. Thirty-nine percent of SMBs surveyed used bots for customer support. Among those businesses, half-implemented bots during the pandemic.

By responding quickly to support requests and getting customers the information they need when they need it, SMBs can create better customer experiences and earn higher customer satisfaction scores.

(Dream) team work from anywhere

When it comes to planning ahead, our survey found that more than half of businesses felt moderately prepared to meet customer service requirements in 2021.

SMBs’ perceived ability to meet customer service requirements

So, how can your SMB customer support team — who is likely working in a remote environment — be prepared for an uncertain future? Tools that enable collaboration, productivity, and transparency are key. For example, knowledge bases keep everyone aligned on how to best support customers and give support agents quick access to information they need to know to solve a customer’s problem. The result is faster response times and happier agents.

SMBs that forecasted revenue increases are more likely to adopt self service and knowledge bases. They’re focused on adopting new technologies that help their support teams adapt to the new normal. As service continues to transform, SMBs are investing in new and better training for their support agents so they can quickly respond to growing customer expectations.

Pack Health, an Alabama-based health coaching company, had to find new ways to support patients with chronic conditions as its health advisors transitioned to work-from-home arrangements.They turned to technology to help them enable employees from anywhere.

Onboarding new employees can be tricky even without the added complication of training employees remotely. Pack Health took this challenge in stride and sent each health advisor a Chromebook with Service Cloud installed on it. They were able to compress the training program from two weeks down to five days by prioritizing the technical and job-specific training elements.

Pack Health’s health advisors were able to support customers on their preferred method of outreach without adding the additional burden of managing multiple technologies. Leveraging a single console, health advisors check in on each patient several times via email, SMS, phone, and even Pack Health’s app. They’re even able to automate some of that work with messaging templates and drag-and-drop formatting, which allows them to send more messages per day.

Of course, a centralized database is the foundation of work from anywhere solutions. As health advisors built their relationships with patients, Service Cloud gave those advisors a comprehensive view of each patient’s history and needs, as well as easy access to a knowledge base of useful information they could share with patients.

With these changes, Pack Health was able to shrink training times for new health advisors by 64%. This allowed the company to bring on more than 25,000 new patients during the pandemic.

These customer service trends are here to stay

Great customer support continues to set SMBs apart. In order to meet rising customer expectations, SMBs need to focus on enabling tools that better support customers and their support teams alike.

Growing SMBs have leverage these 3 strategies to help keep customer and agent satisfaction high:

  • Meet customers where they are. SMBs are embracing digital customer support tools to provide a better customer experience and it’s paying off with higher forecasted revenue. Looking to get started? Our research shows messaging will be a high-value feature in the post-pandemic economy.
  • Embrace automation. SMBs are managing increasing case volumes with the help of automation. From eliminating repetitive tasks to deflecting low priority cases with chatbots. Looking to get started? SMBs who enable chatbots are able to close 30%-40% of their tickets without an agent.
  • Enable remote support teams. SMBs are continuing to work remotely which means they need to be able to virtually onboard, skill up, and connect their teams. Looking to get started? Consider tools such as knowledge base, guided workflows, and internal chat to help keep teams on the same page.

Looking to keep up with the new standard of customer support? Download the Getting Started with Service Playbook.

Salesforce helps you find more customers, win their business, and keep them happy so you can succeed. Learn more about our small business CRM solutions by following us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Mala Ravi Sr. Product Marketing Manager

Mala Ravi is a product marketer at Salesforce. As a former solutions engineer, she is focused on messaging Salesforce's Service and Platform products to help SMBs create stellar customer experiences. Ravi is also a budding celebrity — spot her photos on the Salesforce channels.

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