Customer communication always has, and always will be, a critical and difficult skill for small businesses to master. It comes with no surprise that 89% of consumers consider customer service as the driving factor for repeat business. The consumer of today doesn’t tolerate lackluster communication and expects businesses to be accessible and available – always. In today’s competitive and hyper-digital market, businesses are now required to offer a variety of communication methods to accommodate their clients’ needs and preferences. The pandemic altered and expanded the way small businesses interact with their clients and ushered in new consumer expectations. So, as a small business owner, how do you go about meeting those expectations? Here are a few customer-centric communication tips and modern solutions which should help you attract and retain customers moving forward.
Customer Communication is Key
To be a successful communicator, small businesses need to rely on being flexible, accommodative and swift. Communication has evolved tremendously in the past decade and the need to adjust to relevant communication methods is as important as ever. One means of communicating which has gained in popularity is online communication. The days of having to rely on intimate communication methods are over, consumers want a swift response, whether that’s by phone, online or text. Keeping this top of mind, it’s imperative to establish what your customers’ preferences are when it comes to connecting and answering their questions. Let’s take a deep dive into different communication methods that exist, and which ones may make sense for your small business.
Customer Communication Channels
Channel #1: Phone Systems
In our digital world, are phones still relevant? The short answer is yes. If you meet a stranger on the street, odds are they own a mobile phone and know how to use it. Most businesses and customers, especially older generations, still consider phones their primary communication channel of choice. Which brings up the question, is your SMB using a phone system to its full capacity? Beyond letting you receive and make outbound calls; phone systems allow you to transfer and forward calls to your personal cell phone or other employees. Generally speaking, they come in two distinct categories.
- VoIP phone systems, a cloud-based solution, use your Internet connection to make calls (pay as you go). In addition to being more hands-on, it’s the cheaper option of the two and easy to set up. VoIP phone systems are typically paired with an application which can be downloaded on your smartphone or desktop that let you manage your phone features all in one place. In addition, “unified communications” platforms offer similar features including SMS and instant messaging. But more on that later.
- PBX systems (Private Branch Exchange) are much more difficult to set up and usually require an IT specialist. They aren’t easy to relocate either, so with the rise of hybrid work, VoIP systems are gaining popularity. Simply put, a private branch exchange is a telephone system that manages phone calls both internally and externally within an organization.
At the end of the day, what kind of phone features should small businesses be looking for? This will all depend on your business model, size, and needs. At a bare minimum, you should lock in the following features:
- Basic actions: Your phone system should have standard features such as call parking, call forwarding & routing, three-way calling, caller ID, etc.
- Hands-on & Scalability: With a VoIP system, you can add or remove users from an application without any help from your provider.
- Desktop and mobile phone compatibility: Yourself and employees can use and access your phone system from anywhere in the world.
- Visual voicemail: With virtual voicemail, you receive transcribed voicemails by SMS. Usually, you can follow up or forward these voicemails as well.
Channel #2: Text Messaging (SMS)
Implementing SMS capabilities alongside a sophisticated phone system can be a game changer when it comes to enhancing your customer communication experience. Better yet – it’s extremely easy to set up. As mentioned above, ‘’unified communication” platforms can be used to add SMS messaging to your array of channels. Offering both voice and SMS options will allow you to reach a broader audience and to compete against larger businesses.
Just like receiving a text from a friend on your personal phone, customers will be able to send personalized SMS messages to your business, giving you the ability to respond appropriately. Consumers crave convenience and efficiency when interacting with your brand. And if there’s anyone who likes texting these days, it’s Gen Z and millennials. Based on a study conducted by Open Market, 75% of millennials think receiving texts for things like payment reminders, delivery notifications, scheduled appointments, and last-minute announcements are useful. Here are a few additional advantages of using a texting services for your SMB:
- Mass-messaging: Deliver important updates or announcements to multiple customers.
- Speed: Deliver messages instantly to your customers.
- Picture-friendly: Send images or personalize your messages with modern features.
If your business deals with Gen Z or Millennial market segments, it’s to your advantage to play their game. Offer SMS messaging to satisfy their needs and watch as your customer communication experience flourishes.
Channel #3: Live Messaging
In the age of on-demand TV shows and having your favorite restaurants delivered directly to your door, consumers have become impatient and aren’t willing to go out of their way to obtain information, products, or services. Live chatting allows you to fulfill that need. Live chat is a real-time communication tool that lives on your website and enables small businesses to connect with customers instantly. Instead of waiting hours for an email or struggling to get through the phone line, customers will be able to connect with your brand in a matter of seconds. In addition to improving customer satisfaction, live chat has proven to increase sales, and is the preferred method of communication for many people. In fact, up to 44% of online consumers say that getting live support while in the middle of an online purchase is one of the most important features a website can offer. Live chats can also help you gather valuable insights on your products or services. What are people inquiring about? Any common themes? The benefits are truly endless.
Live chat software is often integrated with automation platforms, analytics and other communication channels mentioned in this blog, so that everything you need comes from the same provider. There are hundreds of CRM companies that offer live chat solutions and picking the right one for your SMB may prove to be difficult. Here are a couple of popular choices that may pique your interest.
- Zendesk: an all-in-one option, Zendesk lets you have conversations with customers on a multitude of channels such as email, chat and voice, while keeping all your interactions in one place. Desktop and mobile-friendly, Zendesk is a great option for any small business looking to ramp up their customer service and communication, in a budget friendly way.
- Hubspot: Another option which may sound more familiar to you, Hubspot offers similar services to Zendesk, but is a little more expensive and robust. They bring all your customer service data and channels together in one place and support you through automation and self-service. HubSpot is a great option if you’re looking to scale your company in a big way and to really improve your customer service experience.
Channel #4: Social Media Messaging
Finally – another preferred method of communication for younger generations is social media. As a small business, if you aren’t active on social media, then you’re doing it wrong. The success stories originating from social media are countless, and you need to hop on the bandwagon before it’s too late. Using direct messaging on channels such as Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, offers your business powerful tools to communicate with your customers instantly, all free of charge. Commonly known as an essential marketing tool for businesses, social media can elevate your customer service and communication with customers. There’s no way around it. If you’re active on social media channels, customers will want to interact with your brand. And if they do, make sure you do it well, or else it could damage your reputation and drive customers away. Individuals are much more likely to buy from the companies that they follow on social media channels. So, not only does it improve your customer service, but also increases your sales. If you realize that a large part of your customer base spends more time on a specific platform, then focus your engagement efforts there. And if you don’t have the time to be checking your messages on a frequent basis, then hire someone to manage comments and direct messages on your social channels. A successful customer communication strategy requires that a brand is present and available, always.
The customer of today has an average attention span of 8 seconds. When they’re ready to buy, they want to buy now. Any uncertainty that comes with their purchase can result in losing a sale. So, improving customer communication is crucial to your business’s success. To summarize, when you respond to customers, do it in a timely manner and have the necessary tools at your disposal to do so. Respond to all inquiries and make sure your customers feel seen and heard. Lastly, be available where your customers are. By implementing these tools and best practices, you will be able to improve your overall customer communication experience and attract or retain customers.