A new report by Salesforce indicates that 43 per cent of Canadian small and medium businesses say financial support from the community has been vital to their survival and 90 per cent of them have moved a portion of their operations online this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tiffani Bova, global customer growth and innovation evangelist at Salesforce, said the pandemic put a spotlight on the lack of investment SMBs have put around things like ecommerce and digital engagement with customers.
“Because of that I think they were caught a little flat footed – and that’s a global statement. If you even look at restaurants, how many had their menus online or were set up to have delivery made or doing grocery store deliveries. Those kinds of things. Buy online, pickup in store. They didn’t have it,” said Bova.
“The need for that financial support from the community has been vital for business survival because of that lack of investment. What’s been great to see from it, the other side of the coin, is how many have actually made those investments in digital.”
The Salesforce’s Small and Medium Business Trends Report found that 72 per cent of Canadian SMBs feel operational shifts they’ve made over the past year will benefit their business long term. Also, 81 per cent of SMBs plan to offer contactless services permanently.
“If they had not had the help from the communities and from the government would they have been able to make those investments and making those investments is going to set them up for success in the future as well,” said Bova.
Was the pandemic a wakeup call for many small businesses who had coasted along for many years without investing in technology and other operational changes?
“They were caught flat-footed by not having made those investments,” explained Bova. “Sometimes they say we don’t need it, we have such a strong relationship with our customers, we’re a small retail shop, it’s a community store. Then when the doors closed, that very personal connection that many small businesses have with their customers was really challenged if you didn’t know in fact who those customers actually were.”
“What’s great is how resilient so many SMBs have been. Taking this as an opportunity to make those investments maybe they have not made in the past to make them now which puts them in a much stronger position going forward.”
“Early in the pandemic people were saying they wanted to get back to normal. They wanted to get back to the way it was. Well, I think we’ve learned that the way that it was was not as effective or as efficient or capable for especially small and mid businesses if they had not yet made those investments.”
Bova said customers today also have different expectations of small and medium businesses because of what’s happened due to the pandemic. So if those businesses don’t adapt and change, and continue to do things as they’ve done in the past, it will become harder for them to compete in the marketplace.
“It’s not about moving everything online. It’s not about completely eliminating the human interaction. This is about balancing technology and human and doing it in a way that your customers feel like they can control how and when and where they engage with you,” she said.
Bova said the trend toward offering more contactless operational features for businesses is not just geared toward customers. It’s also about recognizing the safety and concerns of employees.
She also said there is a growing trend to an ‘appointment’ economy.
“Customers are actually booking time with small businesses to come in. You have to book a time with your doctor. That’s very expected. But what about a retailer. Not just allowing people to show up but actually scheduling time for them to come in so you can control how many people are in your store both from a customer standpoint but also your employees,” said Bova.
“It will help you schedule time with your employees to know when you have a large demand for people to come in. Maybe higher on weekends and less during the week. I think looking at safety and wellbeing for your employees goes a long way and contactless is one of them.”
Bova said the resiliency in the small and medium businesses globally has been really inspiring. It’s been great to see how quickly they embraced the change and made decisions that perhaps they had stalled over time.
“That’s a great view into what the future would look like. Small and medium businesses are the heartbeat of communities around the world. So if they’re healthy and they’re thriving, their communities have places for people to work and they’re contributing to their communities as well,” she said.