Small Businesses Turn to Digital Engagement: Three Essential Points of Interest to Mark on Your Journey

Posted by
Sivan Raam
Mobile Product Manager
09/30/2014 - 13:56

Brand engagement is something that should concern not only enterprise leaders but also small businesses. Customers desire—or perhaps demand—meaningful connections across multiple channels. And despite the emergence of social media, company websites remain the number one channel for brand engagement.

Small businesses that understand how to leverage digital engagement generate better outcomes than those that do not. Indeed, according to a study by Deloitte, digitally engaged small businesses are more than twice as likely to be growing than those with low levels of digital engagement.

There are a number of different reasons for the above. McKinsey & Company conducted an eCare survey around 11 different touch points—both traditional and digital—and found that a pure digital journey drives greater customer satisfaction than traditional or even hybrid approaches that combine both. The reality is that customers—most certainly in the B2C space but also with B2B—want to interact with brands anytime, anywhere, and on any device. In addition, they want personalized, omnichannel digital engagement that provides them with the right information at the right time.

But understanding where to start and the route to take to your desired destination isn’t always clear. Add that entrepreneurial organizations have limited resources and time, and simply planning the digital engagement journey becomes an arduous—and often overwhelming—undertaking for many. Based on interviews with several thought leaders, this article maps out several important points of interest that small businesses and entrepreneurial organizations should include on their digital engagement itinerary.

#1: Digital engagement where it counts

Just as small businesses want digital engagement channels with their vendors, their customers want to connect with them beyond phone and static websites. But filtering out all of the noise around digital marketing and social media and focusing on what makes sense for their businesses isn’t an easy feat, according to Stu Richards, the CEO of Bredin, Inc., a B2B agency specializing in helping the Fortune 500 sell to small and midsize businesses. Indeed, he argues that customer requirements are a foundational building block for small businesses.

“Figure out what your customers want to receive and through what channels,” Richards says. “For example, social media postings may not be the most appropriate channel for an accounting firm. Rather, its customers would find a quarterly newsletter highlighting IRA tax changes a much more valuable channel of engagement. On the flip side, the customers of a wine merchant would welcome notification via Twitter of the arrival of the latest Beaujolais Nouveau.” What each small business must remember, as time and resources are finite, is that they cannot boil the ocean. “Understand your customers and what ways are going to be most effective when engaging with them,” Richards sums up.

Jan Dawson, a project manager at Ask Ontario and a communications officer for the Ontario Colleges Library Service, concurs. The Ontario Colleges Library Service manages askON, an online research help service that allows patrons for 28 different public and college libraries in Ontario to request information, research assistance, or other library services via live chat and text. Dawson contends the starting point is to understand your users’ needs. “You need to find out what they want in terms of digital engagement,” she says. “Making it as convenient as possible to conduct business with you is a priority, whether you are a non-for-profit entity like Ask Ontario or a private sector organization.”

“If you provide the right information at the right time, then the likelihood of a customer completing the transaction via self service is much higher.”

Stu Richards, CEO, Bredin, Inc.

With the evolution of the web, Ask Ontario opted to implement live chat using LivePerson in 2008 and recently added texting to their live chat. “We’re also finding that users want digital engagement within the mobile apps offered by the individual libraries, and we’re looking to integrate LiveEngage APIs into some of those in the future,” Dawson notes.

 #2: Don’t forget content

Acquisition of new customers is the number one priority of small businesses, according to Richards. But figuring out how to achieve this goal is not as simple as it sounds. “There are a lot tools out there in both the B2C and B2B segments,” he says. “Sorting through the noise to identify which ones are going to be most effective is the challenge.”

An important starting point is to give customers the right content during the initial phases of the sales cycle. “Our research shows that customers in the initial stages of the sales cycle want to do research—understand the different options and what the competitive landscape looks like,” Richards says.

Live chat isn’t the most appropriate fit at this juncture. Oftentimes, the customer hasn’t progressed far enough into the buying decision cycle to warrant live chat, and moreover it isn’t the most cost-effective engagement model at this point.

“We want to engage with our users through multiple channels and on any device.”

Jan Dawson, Project Manager, Ask Ontario, Ontario Colleges Library Service

Content takes many different forms, and one size doesn’t fit all when it comes to organizations with limited time and resources. Social media and blogs may make the most sense for some, video or podcasts for others, and digital publications and newsletters for others. An important starting point, according to Richards, is for organizations “to identify the right CRM toolset or personalize their website experiences for each individual customer.” This creates a better customer online experience while reducing conversion cycles. It can also increase average order value and lower cart abandonment rates. 

“There are operational efficiencies as well,” Richards adds. “If you provide the right information at the right time, then the likelihood of a customer completing the transaction via self service is much higher. 

#3: Mobile: don't leave without it

Mobile is transforming how enterprises and mid-market organizations engage with their customers; the realities are just as salient for small businesses. “We’ve reached a tipping point with mobile engagement,” Richards says. “Take email communications as example: more than 50 percent are now opened on a mobile device.”

But most small businesses haven’t figured out how to connect with their customers via mobile channels. Early adopters, as a result, will gain a competitive advantage. “A starting point is responsive website design and email and electronic newsletters that are HTML-enabled,” Richards says. However, this should simply be the first step for small businesses. Those that are serious about mobile engagement need to look more strategically. “This includes everything from live chat to personalized banners, videos, and other types of content,” Richards says. And it isn’t simply e-commerce; service engagement is just as important.

Ask Ontario understands the consequence of the mobile engagement channel. “Constituents are increasingly accessing our services through their mobile devices,” reports Dawson. “We recently made a decision to engage with patrons via texting and are investigating mobile chat.”

Though still too early to tell what utilization rates will look like, Dawson anticipates they will be substantial. “We want to engage with our users through multiple channels and on any device,” she says. “Our decision to add texting and mobile chat using LivePerson’s LiveEngage platform gives us the ability to do so.”

Marking your itinerary for the digital age

In the new Digital Age or what many describe as Web 3.0, it should be no surprise to find that successful organizations are the ones connecting with their customers. Digital connections can take many different forms. It’s important to understand them and the ways in which they wish to engage. Simply throwing darts at the dartboard and hoping you hit something isn’t the right approach.

Rather, as Richards advises, you need to understand your customers, the content they find valuable, and the channels through which they wish to connect with their providers. Knowing the right places to mark on your itinerary will ensure your digital engagement journey is a successful one.

Find out how Ask Ontario improved research assistance by live chat using LivePerson in their success story.

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