woman shop owner
PHOTO: Remy Baudouin | unsplash

When COVID-19 lockdowns forced many small businesses to shutter their shops and transition to virtual overnight, the future looked rather bleak for a while. And while it’s disappointing to see many businesses never recovered, post-pandemic data shows that more than half of small-to-midsize businesses (SMBs) have bounced back. In fact, in my company's COVID Impact Survey for Business Owners, nearly 60% of SMBs reported company growth over the last 12 months, with key underserved demographics, like Black-, women- and veteran-owned businesses seeing great success.

As a result, the majority of SMB owners are feeling optimistic about the coming year, despite some lingering challenges. Across the board, SMB owners say they’re more hopeful, positive, optimistic and excited about 2022 and feeling less frustrated, pessimistic and burned out.

Perhaps it’s because they’ve learned these four valuable lessons about what it takes to connect with customers and succeed today.

1. Agility Is Critical

The data is clear: 70% of businesses who adapted their business model in some way grew over the last year, and those who failed to adapt did not. Among those who made changes, the most popular included moving all of their services online, targeting different customers or launching on an online marketplace. Many also pivoted to hosting digital events or creating offers specific to the pandemic, all of which prove that being willing to change and try new things is a much more successful strategy than staying the course. This proves that when times get tough, innovation is more important than ever.

2. Blending In-Person and Online Interaction Is Essential

While some customers may be eager to return to in-person shopping as life returns to some semblance of normalcy, others may remain hesitant or simply just prefer the convenience of online shopping. With ecommerce rapidly increasing its share of the retail landscape, up nearly a third over last year and expected to hit $1 trillion in 2022, SMBs have no choice but to adapt. Not only is offering online shopping a must, but integrating in-person and online interactions is also essential for delivering the seamless experience customers expect. This includes integrating sales data, communication channels and service options, like buy online, return in store or online ordering while in store.

Related Article: Online? In-Store? Get Ready for the Era of Phygital Shopping

3. 1:1 Experiences Give SMBs an Edge

With supply chain disruptions, labor shortages and production delays, SMBs have had to scramble to meet customer expectations. Not only is getting ahead of the competition essential, but helping customers get ahead of potential bottlenecks is, too.

For example, this holiday season is already tumultuous, so consumers are shopping early. This is where customer experience automation can help SMBs get ahead of the rush. Don’t wait for Black Friday to roll out the best promotions. Start now by connecting with customers 1:1 across multiple touchpoints, especially email and social media, and leverage context from previous interactions to cultivate connection and reinforce loyalty.

4. Cultivate Deeper Connection With Multichannel Conversations

Consumers today leverage a wide range of tools to get what they need: mobile devices, laptops, emails, social media, etc. And many begin their shopping on one channel but make the purchase on another. To compete, that means SMBs must create a seamless, consistent experience across all channels, to make customers feel connected and keep them engaged. That’s why democratization of data is essential. Data can no longer be siloed.

Instead, every business must have unified data visibility, flexibility, integration and actionable insights to work across channels. For example, using automated custom objects to leverage data from across the entire tech stack (CRM, sales engagement, support platforms, etc.) now allows you to use insight from multiple sources to build personalized messages based on the interaction history for every customer across every touchpoint. This allows even the smallest SMBs to deliver truly customized 1:1 interactions at scale.

Related Article: Getting to the Heart of Data-Driven Experience Optimization

Develop the Skills Today to Serve You in the Future 

While the pandemic has forced businesses to adapt in order to survive, it’s also given us the opportunity to be more creative and innovative in our approach to customer experience — skills that will no doubt serve us well into the future. It’s a strong testament to the resilience and tenacity of U.S. entrepreneurs that so many have come out on top after an extremely challenging year. And if it’s true that growth only happens in times of struggle, we are certainly well-positioned to take on whatever challenge comes next.