How digital innovation will add ease to doing business

Has Covid-19 been your crash course in digital innovation?

At the beginning of 2020, small businesses of all kinds prepared for a new year much like they had in the past. Unfortunately, as we all now know – it didn’t take long for strategic planning to transform into a crisis response. 

Many times, being forced into a change is the easiest and most effective way to get it done. Looking for a positive side to the pandemic? Consider how it’s already helping small businesses improve (and streamline) customer service in new ways.  Today, we’ll take a look at three areas this is happening for the hundreds of thousands of small businesses in our network:  communication, payment, and hiring.

Communication has evolved

For many small businesses, one of the first challenges to overcome when Covid-19 hit was communication. The simple truth is that many businesses weren’t prepared to operate as flexibly as they thought, but before long – websites, social media, and online stores made socially-distanced operation safe (and in some cases, productive).

For some – websites, signage, and hours hadn’t changed in years. So laying the groundwork to effectively communicate took some time. For others, new ways of doing business had to quickly be implemented with little testing or trial. With changes ranging from new software and processes to entirely new vendor relationships and product adjustments. Across the board – flexible small business owners have been opened up to new opportunities and a new mindset.

Before the pandemic, it was hard for many small businesses to adapt to the rapid technology-driven changes affecting our marketplace. Now – as so many small businesses adapt to overcome, it’s clear that while digital may be more important than ever – small businesses can still use it to keep their local edge sharp.

Focus on humanizing your digital communications

Because users and customers are people, too

In “normal” times, you can expect a majority of consumers to research a purchase by going online, finding providers, and reading reviews. Today, amidst a global pandemic, this hasn’t really changed. But as more small businesses have been forced to go digital to stay safe, it’s even more important that your digital channels are as human as possible. Your reviews and business listings are one location where you can reliably start. 

For small businesses, it’s easier to control your reviews and business listings than a giant retailer because you are small and nimble. Right now, this gives you the opportunity to be honest and human about how your business has changed and what your customers can expect.  Your online business listings give you the opportunity to share these details in the first place many customers look. 

It is important to clearly state your operating hours and any information on how your business is operating differently, and this information should be placed where customers can’t miss it such as your website homepage.  This way, they can adjust their customer service expectations and be satisfied with the interaction with your business.

Think about how you’ve humanized your digital touch points with customers. From sharing your efforts on social media or in email to adding more information to business listings – this will only serve to strengthen your bond with customers moving forward. Where can you continue to be more transparent and communicative? Which questions can you continue to answer proactively?

Customer loyalty and customer service go hand-in-hand

Which enhancements will stick around for good?

The synergy between customer loyalty and customer service is no secret, but how will your approach to customer service evolve by 2021? Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve seen small businesses of every kind adapting to create new and improved approaches to serving their customers. 

Quick pivots to online shopping, curbside pickup, apps, and virtual meetings are just a few examples of how the Coronavirus reminds us that customer service is much more than the way you answer the phone, or the leniency of your return policy. It’s all encompassing – and it needs to be able to turn on a dime.

When the world returns to normal, creative changes to accommodate customers and support businesses won’t be forgotten.  With this in mind, which measures implemented out of necessity will you implement for good?

As more customers turn to your digital channels to interact with you – use right now to start building your email list to provide helpful information now, while making a plan for how to use that list in the future.

Flexible payment options are the future 

Encourage sales & satisfaction beyond the register

Whether it means eliminating cash or enabling mobile payments, the Coronavirus pandemic proved that payment options are essential

On top of this, when you combine the economic downturn and its impact on household incomes with a growing appreciation for subscription programs, it’s easy to see why customer financing is on the rise.

One example of this comes to us from Synchrony financial – a provider of consumer financing to numerous industries, including to member businesses in organizations such as The Bike Cooperative. Since COVID-19 hit, retailers using Synchrony financing have been able to offer peace of mind and safety through a mobile apply program. With mobile apply, customers interested in making a purchase with promotional financing can do so from the comfort and safety of their car (or within a mile from the retailer), get the same approval rate as applicants in-store, benefit from promotional financing, and get what they want with an easy monthly payment.

When offering consumer financing, include promotional messaging in all steps of the buying process. Dedicate a page on your website, talk financing in emails, train staff to include financing in conversations and have POP in your store or office.

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Consider a customer loyalty program with rewards

Small businesses thrive on promoting and rewarding their customer base. Though some customers may not want to give out their email address and personal information, they are more likely to provide accurate information if they will be getting something in return. With a customer loyalty program, not only will your customers appreciate the ability to rack up points to redeem later, but it gives you a simple reason to reach out. 

Your options for reward programs are extensive and pricing can range drastically from one solution to another. Often your point of sale (POS) system has one built in, or you could use one of many add-ons. Be sure that, whatever  solution you choose, it’s simple and straightforward for staff to understand and easy to promotable to customers.

  • Consider your overall goal: Do you want to drive higher ticket sales? Increase the average item per transaction? Use this goal to craft

  • Determine the reward type: Will customers receive dollars back on purchases? What is the threshold? 

  • Make rewards information visible: If possible, allow customers to check their rewards balance online. If you have an online shop, allowing them to use rewards online is huge.

  • Keep data accurate: Loyalty programs introduce opportunity for mistakes. With syncing systems and user error, a loyalty system can complicate things. Test and troubleshoot all changes to ensure customer data stays accurate. Having inaccurate and unreliable customer reward information can be worse than not having a loyalty program at all.

  • Use reward data for insights: The point of a loyalty program is to drive sales and capture customer analytics. Look at reports to see the impact of customer loyalty programs on sales and customer retention.

Add new, updated processes to the way you do hiring

Take advantage of cleaner, more streamlined processes to handle a revised recruiting process

Did you know?

84% of recruiters are in the process of adapting their hiring processes to facilitate remote exchanges.

(Source: CNBC)

Another area that has changed greatly over the last few months is hiring. Gone are the days of face to face interviews as an only option. Businesses are now administering phone and video interviews with applicants to fill open positions. In cases that companies are hiring from a local pool of applicants, they may still have in-person interviews but instead of the setting of a conference room within the office they are meeting in a local park or open space.

While vetting applications and selecting stand-out candidates that will continue onto the interview portions of the hiring process, recruiters are now focusing on a new skillset that wasn’t top on the list of consideration before Covid-19. The position you are hiring for may have normally been sitting next to you or the team for 8+ hours each day where you could openly talk face-to-face. Now, with work-from-home becoming more widespread, one may only get 15-30 minutes to speak. When considering a new hire, recruiters are looking for:

  • Self Reliance

  • Expert Communication

  • Technologically Competent

  • Flexibility

  • Emotional Intelligence

Match your recruiting and hiring process to match how the job will function. If you will be requiring the new hire to report to the office everyday, have the candidate physically come to the office for interviews. If the job will be split between office and home (or on the road), utilize the technology components of remote work (video conferencing, phone calls, etc) to get a better feel for your candidate

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