Small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have a unique opportunity to connect with consumers and offer an elevated customer experience (CX) compared to their enterprise counterparts. A smaller business typically provides more intimate interaction between employees and customers and a more relevant, direct relationship with the product and service offerings. However, despite an SMB’s ability to be nimble and agile when it comes to technology adoption, they are also at risk of falling behind enterprises when it comes to resources in funding and implementing platform adoption. With communications technology an increasingly critical factor for consumers deciding where to shop and do business, this has left some small business owners struggling to compete with the big names.
Incorporating the right technology can level the playing field for SMBs competing with large competitors. While enterprises often have more employee resources and bigger budgets, empowering technology has the potential to close the gap for smaller businesses. But it’s not enough to just implement new platforms; SMBs must also understand how they work and how to be creative with integration to augment their strengths and use the technology to mitigate their weaknesses. Though the cost of implementing unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS) or artificial intelligence (AI) to seamlessly integrate employee- and consumer-facing platforms still exist, the days of fretting over accessibility and affordability are gone. A cloud-based UCaaS solution brings together a variety of collaboration and communication services and applications, including voice, video, and messaging that can be used from a mobile device, desktop computer or desk phone.
Below, I’ll discuss what SMBs need to know about consumer preferences and how to leverage technology to support both employees and customers while keeping pace with large enterprises.
Meet Consumers Where They Are
Today’s customers are constantly connected, sometimes even with multiple communication platforms simultaneously to interact with brands and each other. As of April 2023, there were more than five billion internet users worldwide, with 95% using a smartphone and 60% using a laptop or desktop to browse. At the same time, a recent Vonage survey found that in retail, however, 32% of respondents indicated they prefer email when interacting with SMBs, followed by nearly one-quarter who favor voice calls. This is critical data for SMBs to understand, as it proves that CX is not a one-size-fits-all situation, and consumer preferences are ever-changing. SMBs must regularly evaluate all communication channels to determine how to implement strategies to keep customers satisfied and returning.
In the same Vonage survey, 60% of consumers viewed SMBs without multiple communication channels unfavorably, and 16% said they wouldn’t work with them again. Meanwhile, 29% said fast response times are the top priority when dealing with SMBs through the use of AI, chatbots, and similar tools. For those using voice (27%) or video (25%), fast resolutions again topped the list. The bottom line: SMBs must meet consumers where they are, listen to what they need, and have the resources in place, whether through employees or technology, to quickly resolve issues.
The Power of Personalization
Today’s consumers crave personalized interactions. Vonage’s recent survey found that 42% prefer a communications channel, such as video, that provides the 1:1 nature of a traditional business to consumer (B2C) experience without meeting in person.
SMBs can adopt technologies like UCaaS or AI to uplevel their customer engagement through enhanced personalization. With UCaaS, all of a business’s communication channels, from SMS to chatbot to voice and everything in between, are streamlined and integrated with the customer relationship management (CRM) platform, so all previous conversation data and customer information is located in one place. AI can help augment the human capabilities of SMB employees by collecting this data to gain a 360-degree view of each individual to aid in further personalization to chatbots that can respond to consumers immediately, anytime, with quick problem resolutions.
Easing the Employee Burden
With fewer employee resources, SMB teams are often expected to do more with less, and that’s where technology plays an important role. Adopting tech that creates more seamless consumer interactions and reduces response time helps employees increase productivity, directly affecting CX. SMBs cannot afford to use lackluster or disconnected technology platforms that leave employees on an island and, in turn, leave customers wanting more. In today’s hyper-competitive, fast-paced business environment, opportunities can be missed, and SMBs can lose significant revenue that can impact the company’s long-term future.
With the right tools, SMBs can compete for the same opportunities and win in the same markets as larger enterprises. In the contact center, agents need reliable lines of communication with colleagues to address customer needs quickly. Beyond the contact center, UCaaS enables quick connections wherever employees are on whatever platform they choose, which is crucial for busy teams. UCaaS tools empower teams to collaborate smoothly and bring everybody together on the same page to find the right solution. Plus, with the scalability and resilience of cloud-based technology, SMBs can scale operations up or down on the fly to meet business needs as they evolve.
SMBs Are Better With Technology
Technology is everywhere, changing how we work, shop, play, and live our daily lives. Consumers want to patronize businesses that have the latest technology to deliver the best customer engagement experience. They expect that they can reach out digitally, without a trip to a store, doctor’s office, or any brick-and-mortar location, and get an immediate response. SMBs that want to compete with larger enterprises should look to new technology to help augment employee resources to better serve customers in a way that is personalized and available across the communication channels that consumers prefer.
Joy Corso is the CMO at Vonage.