Companies want to be where the people are. But, while large companies are speeding ahead, using their bigger budgets to invest in the latest omnichannel innovations and meet customer expectations, SMBs-though slow and steady-are taking technology to new levels in an effort to win this race.
"To compete and win in today's connected and borderless world of commerce, SMBs should be working toward omnichannel," says Bill Borrelle, senior vice president of brand strategy and integrated marketing communications at Pitney Bowes. "The benefits of omnichannel marketing far outweigh the potential risks. The longer SMBs stay on the sidelines, the greater the risk to be left behind."
Traditionally, SMBs are perceived as laggards because they lack the time, money, and resources necessary to invest and grow as their larger counterparts do. Leaders and employees focus on the tasks required to run the business, with little availability for endeavors outside the bare minimum. Yet, while many remain constrained by limited budgets and minimal expertise, smaller companies refuse to stand still as significant shifts in technology, mobility, and information continue to present new business opportunities. Emerging, affordable online tools are game changers with regard to customer acquisition, client retention, and business operations overall, for they will enable SMBs to expand their sales and marketing efforts via the Web so they may better target and engage customers and prospects. But with more power comes more responsibility.
Thus, because SMBs are constantly plagued by budget issues, these small companies must understand that they can't do everything they'd like-at least not initially. SMBs must run lean and mean, for they don't have the freedom to throw resources at their problems, as team members are already juggling a large number of responsibilities. SMBs must focus on integrating the tools and strategies necessary to put them on the right path.
"Confucius once said, 'A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step,'" says Dennis Shiao, director of content marketing at DNN. "The journey to omnichannel success can be long and complex. Your first step revolves around data consolidation and integration. Create a single view of the customer before you walk any further."
With regard to tools, Shiao suggests SMBs look no further than their internal CRM system as the central, authoritative repository for storing customer touchpoint data across Web, mobile, social, and more. By working to bring all this information together, companies can quickly and easily discover behavioral patterns and pain points that must be addressed immediately in order to preserve customer loyalty. Successful execution, however, requires said SMBs to strategically allocate at least one employee who will project manage the implementation of this data integration. Data often exists across a number of siloed systems. Therefore, project managers should look to CRM as the glue that will inevitably link these separate sources of data together as they take this small, yet essential, step toward omnichannel success.
Once SMBs lay the foundation for their future omnichannel efforts, they must then begin to build outward. "Omnichannel customer service involves technology, process, and people," says Ann Ruckstuhl, senior vice president and CMO at LiveOps. "You need technology to achieve a cohesive omnichannel presence, a process to standardize everything from customer interactions to reporting, and finally, you need people-IT, management, and agents-to successfully implement the program. Historically, few SMBs have had the know-how or resources available, financial and otherwise, to develop a truly functional and professional contact center." Cloud solutions, however, are poised to revolutionize the way companies of all sizes conduct customer service.
Heads in the Cloud
Up until recently, SMBs have been hampered by the lack of cost-effective, flexible technologies. The introduction of IT and Web-based cloud solutions, however, now affords smaller companies access to the agile functionalities that were previously priced out of their reach or required extensive expertise to operate and maintain. SMBs no longer have to worry about systems that require a tremendous capital investment in infrastructure or process development, for the Web's "spend-as-you-grow" capabilities enable vendors to offer ready-made, all-in-one packages that are easy to manage and expand over time. In fact, SMBs are in an optimal position for adoption, as they are unencumbered by the legacy hardware their larger counterparts have already invested in, thereby permitting smaller brands to take advantage of the latest tools swiftly and easily.
According to Stijn Hendrikse, CMO of MightyCall, said tools are just as powerful as the more expensive legacy systems one might find within larger companies, but these Web solutions carry an added layer of convenience, for they are easier and more affordable than their predecessors:
- Cloud technologies don't require expensive hardware equipment that's difficult to set up and maintain. Instead, such solutions offer ease and a richness of functionalities.
- Companies can bring all customer conversations together, creating one single view of the customer so they may better understand and engage with their client base.
- Cloud-based solutions provide scalability, which offers a level of elasticity that legacy systems don't, thereby allowing SMBs to grow and evolve alongside their customers.
Because these technologies don't require lengthy implementation processes, SMBs can enact quick deployment periods, ultimately achieving their omnichannel goals in record time. With short-term goals satisfied, SMBs can also focus upon finding solutions that provide business insight simultaneously. Logically, smaller companies wish to fine-tune their presence and glean insights on the brand overall so they may make constant improvements and achieve long-term goals, Ruckstuhl adds. By extracting interactional data and feedback, SMBs can determine the current level of customer satisfaction, identify unfulfilled needs, and boost revenue gain in the process.
When implementing cloud-based marketing services, however, SMBs must adhere to the following steps, as outlined by Scott Bowen, general manager of Webs, to enhance loyalty and boost engagement:
- Ensure consistent brand experiences across channels. Be sure that each touchpoint matches one another in terms of logos, imagery, tone, mission, and message.
- Engage customers consistently across touchpoints. Develop marketing campaigns are designed and executed to create similar experiences on each available channel.
- Employ tactics from one channel that drive engagement on another. Allow each touchpoint to support other routes of communication in order to facilitate conversations.
Ultimately, when it comes to creating an omnichannel service and support system, SMBs must focus upon improving customer communications by using behavioral data to understand where and why consumers interact with the brand. Cloud technologies remove the burden of integration, allowing SMBs to focus on employee training and best practices for every contact channel. Educating employees enables each worker to do their job well, thereby empowering these individuals to improve the customer experience. Happy employees result in happy customers, improving retention, loyalty, and lifetime value and growing the brand's reach and reputation on the road to SMB success.