A new normal is emerging in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic — it will impact everything about how small businesses operate, from payroll processing to marketing to customer service. While the effect on small businesses has been profound, it’s also had an impact on small business customers.
In May 2020, we surveyed small business consumers to find out what has changed for them, and what changes they expect to see from the small businesses they support. Here is an overview of what will be important to small business customers during the new normal.
Small businesses have begun to re-open along with their communities. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reported in June 2020 that nearly 80 percent of America’s small businesses were fully or partially open for business.
Correspondingly, consumers have begun to think about small businesses in the context of the wider economy. When we surveyed consumers in October 2019, respondents said the main reason they support small businesses is because of the customer service those businesses can provide.
In our May 2020 survey, however, respondents said the top reason they prefer to buy from small businesses is that “doing so is good for the economy.”
If nothing else, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us all that we’re in this together.
“We’re all in this together” extends to the digitization of life.
Quarantine and shelter-at-home orders forced many people to take their social lives and their work lives online. Remote work became a reality for many employers, and Zoom calls replaced happy hours and family get-togethers.
In fact, the number of people using Zoom rose from 10 million in December 2019 to 300 million in April 2020, Tom Warren at The Verge reports. Our survey data reflect that change. Among the respondents to our May 2020 survey:
Customers are moving more and more of their lives online, and they expect small businesses to make the move with them.
A majority of survey respondents (65 percent) told us they want small businesses to be more tech-savvy. And small businesses appear to be rising to meet that expectation.
A May 2020 survey from Digitally Empowered found that three-quarters of American small businesses were “relying more on digital tools during the COVID-19 crisis.”
Specifically, more than half of SMBs surveyed reported that they were using digital tools to communicate with customers, find new customers, and sell online during the pandemic.
According to Digitally Empowered’s data, SMBs are increasingly recognizing digital tools as essential to running a business. Among the businesses surveyed, 43 percent said they want to learn more about building out an online presence, and 37 percent want to learn more about using email to connect with customers.
Customer service is still a top priority among consumers, but the pandemic has changed what customer service means to people now.
The No. 1 thing consumers want in order for SMBs to keep their business is to feel safe when buying. According to our survey respondents, this means:
In other words, customers are looking for ways to support small businesses without compromising social-distancing requirements and within their current means, as household cash flows suffer during lean economic times.
Small businesses, then, should strive to meet these new customer needs. The business case for doing so is clear: Happy customers become loyal customers.
Looking for further insights into how your small business can meet your customers’ new expectations? Check out our full infographic below, or see a full-size image here.