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The Increasingly Confused World of SMB-Customer Communications

We need a pipe on our property replaced; the job may be worth up to $3,000. My wife has repeatedly emailed and called a plumbing company we previously used and liked, but they haven’t responded after more than a week. So much for customer experience — and customer loyalty.

A recent survey from SaaS company Broadly, conducted by Harris, found that 60% of SMBs “say customer loyalty is their most valuable asset.” That was more than 46% citing revenue and sales (multiple answers permitted). Yet, when it comes to acting in ways that support customer loyalty many SMBs fall short, as my anecdote suggests.

In its report Broadly also presents consumer data that argues 84% of consumers won’t wait more than six hours for a response from an SMB before moving on to a competitor. Of that group, 33% said “small businesses have an hour to respond to get their business.”

All this leads to the topic of SMB-consumer communication channels. Multiple surveys, including Broadly’s, indicate that most SMBs see the phone as their most important channel. Despite this, large percentages of local businesses often don’t answer the phone. One analysis (2016) found the number was as high as 62% — hence the launch of Google’s virtual agent CallJoy.

Broadly SMB survey communication channels

Beyond the phone, surveys show that consumers want to be able to talk to businesses in multiple ways: email, social, chat and messaging. The Broadly data above show that SMBs are in fact adopting non-phone communication channels. (Chat was apparently not one of the available choices here.)

Something of an outlier survey, BrightLocal found that consumers preferred the phone to other communication tools when contacting SMBs by a significant margin. Asked how they wanted to make contact with a business, 60% preferred the phone. Email was next with 16%:

  1. Phone call
  2. Email
  3. Visit the business location
  4. Message via contact form
  5. Contact via social media

Regardless of the findings of any specific survey, it’s clear that there’s a discrepancy between the myriad ways that consumers want to be able to communicate with small businesses and the perceptions and behaviors of SMBs themselves (i.e., over-reliance on the phone, failure to respond in a timely fashion).

This is a challenge of both education and technology. The local business needs to fully understand that its customers are using multiple platforms and tools to communicate, and many increasingly do. But it’s not just a matter of understanding. Business owners also need a technology solution to respond in a timely way to all inquiries across multiple channels and avoid frustrating or alienating existing customers and losing potential new ones.

Getting back to a potential customer faster than competitors frequently makes the difference in getting the job. This seems like a matter of common sense but SMBs often don’t act as though they “get it.”

Finally, the issue of customer communications is a microcosm of the larger fragmentation and complexity of of marketing as a whole. Unfortunately, it will take time before business owners fully match and mirror their customers’ communication preferences and expectations — if they ever do.

Hear SMBs in their own words on day 1 of Localogy: Engage (June 3 – 4). On day 2, SaaS providers and SMB digital marketing companies will debate the future of SMB SaaS and offer new insights and best practices for customer acquisition, onboarding and retention. This is a must-attend event for anybody selling services or software to SMBs. 

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