One year into the pandemic, and businesses have witnessed a significant shift to digital-first experiences, making it more important than ever to support customers where they are. From social messaging to chatbots, offering access to customer support through a variety of ways is the new norm. But some small businesses are struggling to navigate this new digital world and stretched thin in their efforts to offer excellent customer experiences.

Based on the latest research from Zendesk’s CX Trends Report, providing an exceptional digital customer experience will play a key role in helping small businesses do more with less to keep pace with customer demands. In fact, 71% of U.S. customers are willing to spend more with companies that give them a good customer experience, while a notable 78% say they will take their business elsewhere following multiple bad experiences with a brand. While many small businesses are working with limited budgets, there are still ways they can compete in the customer experience game — so long as they know where to focus.

It’s Time to Adopt Social Messaging

Customers are adopting new digital behaviors, and support requests sent over messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger soared 110% year over year during the pandemic. With the increasing popularity of messaging apps, small businesses need to ensure they are elevating their presence on these channels to address service and support needs quickly.

The benefits speak for themselves. Messaging provides more flexibility for customers because conversations can happen in real-time. Plus, when paired with automated responses (powered by artificial intelligence), small businesses can use messaging to point customers to self-help content. This frees up valuable time for (often limited) SMB support teams to focus on more challenging customer service issues.

There’s a real opportunity here. By engaging a new service channel to alleviate the volume of customer support requests, small businesses can set themselves up for success well after the pandemic is over.

Improve Collaboration to Increase Agility

Customers looking for support probably wanted an answer 10 minutes ago, which is why a big part of supporting the customer experience is ensuring employees have the means to be more collaborative to resolve issues faster. From CX Trends research, 40% of direct-to-consumer small business agents didn’t have access to customer profile information, the highest percentage of any segment and important in helping support teams inform responses to inbound requests. As the digital movement marches forward, and smaller companies adopt omnichannel experiences—phone, email, chat, SMS, and social—support teams need visibility into these channels to better serve customers, faster.

By equipping support teams with the tools to be successful, they can promote collaboration across teams and departments. The online interior design service Modsy, for example, needed a way to improve customer experience as well as the agent experience to increase productivity and efficiency. By opening up clear pathways to collaboration across multiple channels, Modsy enabled its agents, retail partner consultants, and design specialists to route tickets to the most relevant team member and meet customer expectations faster. Customers were happier, satisfaction levels went through the roof and agents could spend more time on what they do best: building up valuable customer relationships.

Create a Unified Customer View

We’ve all heard the term ‘digital first’ and with customers online more than ever, they also expect higher levels of personalization when they reach out to support. Creating a unified view of the customer with moments that resonate with them comes down to ensuring support teams have the information they need across channels. But according to findings from the CX Trends research, less than half of support agents have access to data to personalize conversations. It’s time to fix that.

For small businesses trying to do more with less, maintaining and nurturing customer relationships requires the management and interpretation of data on the back-end. To free up employee time to create those instances, smaller companies without big developer budgets or IT teams can engage the help of a workforce management tool like Tymeshift, for example. Using historic data to understand where support staff spends the most time, and when support volumes rise, can help managers to better predict and plan for the next wave of customer support needs. Using this type of data also goes a long way toward improving efficiency so support teams can act fast to address an issue, and maintain a holistic view of their customer to better address future concerns.

Embrace the Brave New [Digital] World

According to research from Gartner, a majority of customer support leaders are focused on advancing their digital capabilities for the year ahead. With so many companies looking to improve customer acquisition and retention, small businesses that invest in their own digital presence and employees by putting more emphasis on CX, addressing new engagement channels like social messaging, and adopting new tools to help support team collaboration will be better equipped to ensure longevity in 2021 and beyond.

Staying competitive as a small business has never been easy, but continuously delivering exceptional customer experience gives small business leaders a leg up in the race to grow customer loyalty.

Sharon Prosser is the SVP, SMB GTM and Global Sales Development of Zendesk.

Customer experience stock photo by Photon photo/Shutterstock