The effect of the pandemic on small businesses worldwide has been catastrophic. Large corporations and companies may have been able to weather the storm, but the little guys have suffered. Why has it been so bad for smaller companies? Many haven’t been able to trade for a full year because of the pandemic. Those who have continued trading have experienced a considerable reduction in turnover due to less traffic or limits on opening.
A survey carried out of 5,800 businesses showed a massive dislocation of small businesses very early on, with complete closures and job losses amongst the many consequences. For those that have stayed afloat, staying in touch with clients and customers has proved challenging with the financial circumstances of many people affected. But with hope on the horizon and the vaccine rollout well on its way, how can we rebuild our businesses and relationships with customers? And why is it so important?
The Personal Touch
Customers are the crux of any successful business. Without a solid client base buying our products or service, we would not have a profitable company. It’s likely that customers who have used your business before will use it again. It’s been acknowledged that 20% of your clients will be loyal and contribute 80% to sales and profits, so it’s critical you look after them. However, we’re all human, and it’s easy to forget. Sending reminders is a crucial way to alert past customers to the benefits of your service or product.
People like to feel special, and showing you care and value your customer’s support by sending personal emails or a Facebook message may be all that’s needed to encourage someone to use your service again. Better than that, a phone call adds a personal touch and enables you to communicate effectively with specific customers. You can even use a fully integrated communication system such as Voco to enhance customer relationships and connect in reliable and secure ways. Now is an ideal time to invest some extra effort in customer retention. Of course, depending on the size of your business, it may be impractical to phone everyone individually, but recording a heartfelt message and sending it out via a communication system, is a great way to keep in touch.
The world is moving a little easier, and fear is lessening; this means that many people will think about resuming past behaviors such as getting their hair done, booking a holiday, or attending some events. It’s crucial you use this time to your advantage to get the business moving again. Treat your customers like friends, and they will repay you by recommending you to others, and your business will grow.
It’s vital to get the balance right and not to tell customers what to do. We live in an age where people want autonomy, so the focus should be on empowering customers. They want relationships based on reciprocity, transparency and authenticity, so it’s vital you concentrate on what they want and help show them how they can get it. We also live in a world that provides instant solutions to problems, so it’s important to answer customer enquiries as soon as possible if you want them to use your service or buy your product. If you don’t, you risk losing the sale as they will talk to someone who is available to them.
Many businesses have found different ways of maintaining contact with their valued customers during the pandemic. Digital communication has been a lifeline for some businesses. In the absence of face-to-face interaction, one business owner has utilised digital communication to her advantage. She used Facebook as a way of updating her existing clients before COVID-19 but has doubled her efforts with more time and no traffic into her shop. She is using Instagram stories to keep her business alive and is a tool that has been used by many during this turbulent time.
For those businesses lucky enough to stay open during the pandemic, communicating information on how they plan to keep their premises, shops or offices Covid free has been crucial for customers to feel safe. Customers like to feel valued, and many will feel vulnerable and uncertain; reassuring them will go a long way to help them feel able to venture out again.
Collecting the Feedback
Another reason to keep interacting with your existing client base is the vital feedback they can provide. Many customers will be happy to tell you why they choose you over another business owner. They will also tell you what you could do better, what product they would like introduced or service that could improve. When you talk to several clients, you can identify any patterns that will help you make adjustments to your provision.
The key to good business is flexibility and the ability to change things that aren’t working and introduce new things according to business demand. For example, if you own a restaurant, spending some time chatting to visitors allows you to ask if there is anything they would like to see on the menu. If you ask enough people, and there is a demand, you should explore and consider adding it to the menu; this will add value to what you provide and encourage existing customers to return. Many small businesses gain success through ‘word of mouth’, so maintaining loyal customers is crucial for acquiring new ones.
If you sell a product or a service, engaging with customers allows you to find out how successful it is. You can also get vital information about any competitors as they may share information on any similar product or service they have used. Whether positive or negative, this information allows you to make adjustments in order to keep or obtain customers.
There are many reasons to stay in contact with our customer base. Now more than ever, it is critical that you gently guide people back and focus on providing what they need in order to recover your business and move forward in this time of uncertainty.