The pandemic hit countless businesses due to lockdowns and reduced consumer disposable income. The National Bureau of Economic Research cites that there was a decrease of 3.3 million business owners from February to April 2020 alone, cutting across almost all industries. To survive the pandemic and the post-pandemic world, businesses must creatively find ways to remain relevant and top-of-mind for their consumers.
In a time when people have grown accustomed to doing things indoors or online, how do small businesses continue to build and foster relationships with their communities and consumers? With a bit of out-of-the-box thinking and a lot of flexibility, there are many avenues to connect with your customers, no matter where you or they are.
Fostering Digital Relationships in the Age of COVID-19
1. Lean into Video
Video empowers brands and marketers to tell complex and in-depth stories in ways that static photos don’t. From your traditional television commercials to short-form ads on social media, videos have long proven themselves to resonate with consumers. In fact, 85% of millennials have stated that they bought a product after watching a marketing video.
One of the best things about videos is their versatility. You can convey different types of messages, build brand affinity, and even address consumers’ concerns depending on the video type. And don’t worry about making professional-level videos. Most smartphones are capable of taking high-resolution videos that, when taken under sufficient lighting, look great on most screens. There are also many free or affordable video editing software programs online, for those who are not familiar with using complex video editing suites.
Here are some examples of videos you can develop to connect with your community and target market:
- Promotional videos to launch new products or announce upcoming sales.
- Product demos to showcase how to use certain items. This is particularly useful if you have products that are not selling well, or if a common consumer barrier in the comments is that they don’t understand their relevance or usage.
- Consumer testimonials to verify brand authenticity and quality of products or services. This is helpful for small businesses and start-ups who are looking to prove to potential customers that they are worth a try.
- Informational videos to educate consumers on relevant topics. For example, a furniture company can do a video series on cleaning different types of furniture materials like wood versus leather. This type of content is more about building a community and enforcing your expertise, and not about hard-selling a product.
- Brand identity videos to drive affinity and loyalty. Be proud of your awesome company culture, introduce the wonderful (and real!) people behind every product or service, or share the company’s CSR and sustainability efforts.
2. Engage Via Live Streaming
Live streams have been gaining traction in previous years, but their growth and integration in consumers’ purchase journeys were fast-tracked by the pandemic. It has proven effective, as 82% of viewers say they prefer watching live streams over standard social posts. Many live-streaming sites have also garnered positive platform-specific stats. On LinkedIn, live streams gain 24x more comments. On Facebook, live streams make up one in five videos.
The beauty of live streams is that they offer audiences a real-time human experience. Viewers can associate the brand with a real person’s face and voice in a medium that is unedited and unfiltered. Unlike a video post, live-streaming enables brands (the live streamer) to engage with the consumers (the viewers) in real-time and vice versa. For example, if a company is doing a how-to workshop, consumers can ask questions and expect an answer shortly as if they were attending the session in person.
Many social media platforms have a free live-streaming feature built-in, including Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
3. Use Chatbots for Easy Queries
Sometimes, customers have basic queries that don’t necessarily warrant the effort and inconvenience of calling or sending an email. Chatbots are a simple solution to FAQ-answer concerns, give consumers a 24/7 resource, and help reduce the number of inquiries that the brand’s customer service team must attend to.
More and more businesses are using chatbots, such that the market size is forecasted to grow from $2.6 billion in 2019 to $9.4 billion by 2024. The artificial intelligence for chatbots is also increasingly becoming more sophisticated. Some can be linked to the brand’s store consumer database to provide the customer with a more personalized experience.
4. Provide Real, Human Support
While chatbots are increasingly being used by companies, many customers still prefer to resolve their concerns with a human. Before the pandemic, research showed that 75% of consumers would rather engage with a person instead of an automated machine. Furthermore, 59% of consumers feel that companies have forgotten the human aspect of the customer experience.
There are several ways to add a human touch to customer engagement and relationship building, such as via SMS, live chat, and phone or video calls.
Many companies use SMS like email: to advertise promotions and upcoming sales. In the time of the pandemic, it was a useful way of letting patrons know that your doors are still open, or that you have begun offering new services like pickup or delivery options.
But take it a step further by adding SMS support as part of your customer service strategy. 72% of adult consumers say that texting with a live agent helps improve their overall experience with customer service. Furthermore, customers appreciate having an option to communicate with the brand without having to email or call.
Live chat (instant messaging) works similarly to SMS. While chatbots can cover basic inquiries, have someone monitor the brand’s social media inboxes to answer concerns coming in through DMs.
For small businesses that rely on meetings and conversations to build strong customer relationships, phone and video calls offer virtual spaces for these to thrive. Some businesses have transitioned to telesales to gain new clients, while others have explored ways to assist customers over the phone.
Depending on your business type, you may consider having someone on-call during non-traditional business hours to handle incoming communication. Plus, having an actual conversation allows your business to check in with your customers, not just as a company but as people. A simple “How are things?” can go a long way in making consumers feel like you genuinely empathize with them and you’re not just trying to get into their wallets.
5. Offer Experiences With New Technologies
One of the biggest epiphanies brought on by the pandemic is that people can transpose experiences and activities indoors, and still enjoy them. Brands can leverage various technologies to provide consumers with interactive experiences from the comfort and convenience of their homes.
AR, or augmented reality, has enabled retailers to digitize some activities that were previously only done in-store. One of the biggest benefits of AR is empowering customers to “try” the products at home, so they can decide whether they want to proceed with the purchase without having to visit the store. 75% of customers now expect businesses to provide an AR experience, while it makes customers 11 times more likely to purchase. From the brand’s side, it helps reduce the location barrier and adds to brand differentiation.
You may also consider mixing physical and virtual by holding digital events but sending out the event kits or gift bags ahead of time so that attendees have souvenirs to hold on to and feel as if they attended the event in person.
To make your business more efficient, regardless of whether you’re running a brick-and-mortar store or an online-offline hybrid, TruePOS is here to support you. We offer diverse solutions for different industries, so get in touch for a free quote today.