Amid all of the struggles small business owners are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic, it comes as no surprise that more than 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed since March. (This is despite emergency loan programs and other Hail Mary responses to prevent 44% of U.S. economic activity from drying up.)
Especially if your business relies on in-person services, a key component of survival is using technology to reach customers despite social distancing restrictions. Pivoting your business strategy to accommodate a new or shifting business model may seem like a daunting task, but thankfully there are a few tactics that may help you keep the doors open, even if only digitally for now.
Prioritize content creation as a way of reaching new customers
COVID-19 is preventing people from connecting in person, but a recent study shows an average increase of 61% in social media engagement and 70% in web browsing since stay-at-home orders were implemented. As such, consider paying greater attention to opportunities for content creation. Whether it’s an Instagram post or a longer-form blog, many forms of content can be implemented as a low-cost way of reaching new customers and educating existing ones from a distance. If you're not already out there as a problem-solving expert, now's the time to start or ramp up those efforts.
How technology can help: Social media management tools have made it possible to organize and schedule content and interact with customers and followers from a single platform. Most of these tools have a free plan with limited features, allowing you to prioritize online engagement without cost being a barrier to entry. Similarly, many multimedia content creation tools offer a robust library of graphic design and video templates if you're not a designer but still want to strengthen your brand.
Social media management tools include:
Multimedia content creation tools include:
Lean into e-commerce
In recent months, business owners have seen the shift to e-commerce jump ahead by four to six years, according to some estimates. Indeed, the convenience of online shopping—or even the option to buy online and pick up in-store, particularly curbside pickup—has allowed many businesses to continue serving customers while maintaining COVID-19 precautions. While it may take some agility to create a brand-new online shop or add e-commerce capabilities to an existing website, doing so will help you solidify a path forward and preserve business continuity.
How technology can help: Some content management systems (CMS) have out-of-the-box e-commerce functionalities that can be activated with the flip of a switch. Other e-commerce tools come in the form of a plugin that can be added to an existing CMS. Regardless of the direction you choose, these tools enable online transactions, help you manage inventory, and make order fulfillment a seamless experience.
E-commerce tools include:
Brainstorm ways to provide services to customers at home
If you have a service-based business in an industry like financial management, fitness coaching, or personal grooming, you might not be able to adapt your business to support e-commerce, but you can still institute some changes to maintain social distancing standards. Examples of this include offering remote workouts or virtual self-care appointments. At a minimum, offering online scheduling or reservation capabilities instead of relying on first-come, first-served policies will give your patrons peace of mind ahead of their appointment while simultaneously easing the burden of ensuring limited-capacity compliance.
How technology can help: Many remote business tools are specific to different industries. However, if any part of your business requires you to meet with customers or employees in person, it's likely that there's a tool that will help you stay in touch or manage your interactions from a distance.
Remote business tools (and their functions) include:
- Zoom (video conferencing)
- Google Meet (video conferencing)
- Calendly (appointment scheduling)
- Vagaro (appointment scheduling)
- HoneyBook (appointment scheduling)
- Resy (table management)
- Tablein (table management)
- CommunityPass (recreation management)
Simplify customer service responsibilities
Amid the chaos that the COVID-19 pandemic has created, your customers' confusion about your policies, hours, or other adjustments should not be one of them. As such, you might want to consider posting the most recent pandemic-related content at the front and center of your website to grab your customers’ attention. This not only minimizes negative customer experiences but also prevents missed business opportunities from a customer accidentally assuming your business is closed or otherwise inaccessible.
Additionally, instituting chatbots might seem like an impersonal approach to customer service, but streamlining the answers to frequently asked questions can point frustrated customers in the right direction without requiring valuable time you could be spending elsewhere. But don't overlook the value of good customer service, which was already something of an anachronism even before COVID-19 made customer service even harder to deliver. Responding cheerfully, helpfully, and quickly to customers will always set your business apart.
How technology can help: Most chatbot solutions can automate responses to simple customer service questions across a number of platforms. Some customer service tools also use an integrated approach that allows a human agent to step in if a customer inquiry requires special attention. Even simple call center applications can streamline customer service operations and make it easy to respond quickly and effectively from home. Similarly, keeping Google My Business pages up-to-date is a cost-free way of putting the most relevant information front and center for customers seeking information about your business.
Customer service tools include:
Using technology to pivot your business
Despite the day-to-day challenges posed by COVID-19, you can leverage technology to adapt or reinvent your business model and keep your doors open. Some of these technologies include social media management platforms, e-commerce content management systems, communication tools, appointment/reservation software, and chatbots. You may not be able to reinvent your business in a way that completely satisfies previous demand, but you may be able to adopt some new practices and technologies. Hopefully, these will improve operations when business eventually returns to normal—and may result in permanent new lines of business even after the old ones have recovered.