How to maintain customer relationships that outlast uncertain times

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By Viresh Harduth, Vice President, Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East

Viresh Harduth, Vice President, Small Business, Sage Africa & Middle East

Uncertain times present a myriad opportunities for business owners to re-evaluate and develop new ways to fine-tune their operations. Many small business owners are thinking about developing fresh strategies that will hold up during turbulent times and beyond.

One thing that remains top of mind is how entrepreneurs can create closer, future-proof partnerships. The key to getting this right goes beyond communicating effectively, efficiently, and empathetically while using every channel at their disposal – ensuring that what they promise is aligned to the customer experience.

Here are four good practices that small business owners are using to navigate this time of health and economic crisis:

  1. Under-promise, over-deliver

During uncertain times, trust is one of the most valuable assets any business can develop. It’s difficult and time-consuming to win a customer’s trust, and their faith in your business can be shattered instantly when you fail to meet expectations. For this reason, it’s wise to communicate messages that are genuine, believable, and can be upheld by what they experience.

If you can reliably fulfil the expectations you create for your customers, you will build their trust and loyalty. Given the fluid reality of COVID-19 regulations and the way it disrupts business and supply chains, this is not a good time to write cheques you cannot cash. Keep in touch with customers and set realistic expectations – then exceed them when you can.

  1. Turn customer empathy into a superpower

Few people will come out of the pandemic completely unscathed. Some have their lost jobs or income; others have experienced severe illness or the loss of loved ones to the disease. At this time, when emotions are heightened, and people are vulnerable, your customers will remember what you said and did. As such, small business owners are looking at ways they can improve their customer empathy.

Some tips include:

  • Understand the customer journey and the pain points people are encountering. How can you make it easier for them to get services or support when they need it?
  • Look at the messages and information on your website and other marketing materials. Do they reflect your care for and understanding of what customers are going through in these difficult times?
  • Is your organisational culture and your workforce primed for empathy? What could you do to help train customer-facing employees to assist customers right now?
  1. Re-evaluate the relevance of your messaging

The world has changed in the past 18 months, and many small business owners have needed to scramble just to survive. But as we become accustomed to the ebbs and flows of COVID-19 waves and as accelerated vaccination programmes gives us a new tool to manage the virus, small businesses can begin to envision what the future may look like.

With that in mind, it’s worth looking at your channels, brand messages, and value propositions so you can align them with what comes next. In some cases, you’ll be able to stick with what you’ve done before. Some people might be comforted that your core proposition and the brand values haven’t changed when so much else in their world has.

In other cases, you may want to evaluate how permanent the changes in some customer behaviours will be. For example, if you’ve moved most sales and services online, you may find that a large portion of your customers prefer to remain digital. You may need to be agile to keep up with changes in customer sentiment.

  1. Offer channels that make it easy

As a small business owner, you know it can be difficult and expensive to offer consistent, personalised service and experiences across different channels and touchpoints. It’s not viable for most small businesses to offer services across every online channel.

However, it is important to cater to different customer needs and styles. For more digital customers who want to help themselves, you can offer self-service via a web chatbot or a simple FAQ page. You can provide a more personal touch by providing phone numbers during office hours. Ensure customers know which channels to use and when you’re available to help.

Communication remains key

While social distancing, masks, and other COVID regulations are still in place, most entrepreneurs have needed to master new channels for staying in touch with customers. We can expect digital communication to be the norm in this new reality, but customers will still value the human touch. This is an opportunity to rethink how you market to and service your customers, with a view towards building lasting relationships.

In conjunction with government efforts, small and medium business owners should strive to look to the second half of the year as a time for recovery. Those that put customers first will be best positioned to succeed in late 2021 and beyond.

About Sage:

Sage is the global market leader for technology that provides small and medium businesses with the visibility, flexibility and efficiency to manage finances, operations and people. With our partners, Sage is trusted by millions of customers worldwide to deliver the best cloud technology and support. Our years of experience mean that our colleagues and partners understand how to serve our customers and communities through the good, and more challenging times. We are here to help, with practical advice, solutions, expertise and insight.