The majority of communication between customers and small-businesses now takes place digitally: 60% of customer interactions took place online last year, up from 42% in 2019. And while COVID-19 was certainly a factor, the trend is expected to continue well beyond the pandemic.
To win in today’s competitive, on-demand marketplace, small-business owners need to be accessible 24/7 and meet customers where they are — online. Almost 90% of customers said they expect companies to increase their digital initiatives post-pandemic.
That’s why video conferencing, social media, text messaging, and chatbots are four of the biggest communication trends helping small and midsize businesses improve customer experience and increase revenue.
1. Meetings now taking place virtually instead of in person
The web conferencing market (including tools like Zoom, Webex, Skype, Microsoft Teams, and more) grew by 500% during the first two months of the pandemic, and the medium isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the market is expected to reach $75 billion by 2027.
Remote work and social distancing requirements sent in-person meetings online — for both internal and external communication — but businesses and their customers quickly realized savings both in time and travel costs, and there’s no going back. According to Webhelp, more than a quarter of European consumers surveyed said they would switch companies to do business with one that offered video chat as a communication channel.
Video calls aren’t just replacing in-person meetings. In some cases, they’re taking the place of phone calls, too. Being able to make eye contact with and read the body language of the people you’re talking to makes video conferencing an effective communication tool and a more personal and engaging experience. This is particularly important for small business communication in health care, legal, and financial services, where customers are sharing some of their most sensitive information.
While video and web conferencing platforms can be pricey for small business owners, Zoom offers a basic service that enables one-to-one calls for free — all you need is a computer and an internet connection.
2. One-third of consumers are connecting with businesses on social media
Today’s consumers are using social platforms to discover new products and services, and one-third of customers say they have contacted a business through Facebook or other social media channels (not including Twitter). If your business hasn’t been leveraging this affordable communication channel as part of your digital marketing strategy, it’s not too late to start.
More than half of business executives surveyed expect their social media marketing budgets to increase by over 50% in the next three years, and for good reason: The number of social media users increased by almost 10% from 2020 to 2021, and in 2020, users spent an average of 145 minutes a day on social platforms.
Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram enable direct and instant communication, which can help make consumers feel more connected to the businesses they interact with. Engaging with customers on these platforms also increases a business’s visibility and can improve public opinion: 47% of U.S. consumers have a more favorable view of brands that respond to customer questions or complaints on social media.
Studies show that people expect a business to respond to a social media message in less than an hour — and 6% expect a response within five minutes. So if you don’t have someone actively monitoring your social media channels all the time, you’ll want to set up automated messages that let customers know their inquiry has been received.
3. Businesses are text messaging their customers — and customers want more
During the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, more than a third of businesses started text messaging as part of their communication strategy. Small businesses can — and should — use text messaging to communicate with their customers by sending appointment reminders, sharing special offers and sale alerts, and asking for feedback.
SMS messaging is a convenient way to reach the 97% of Americans who own a cell phone. According to a survey conducted by Reviews.org, Americans check their phones an average of 262 times per day, and 52% say they’ve never gone more than 24 hours without looking at their phone.
And it’s not just that texting is an effective way to reach your customers; people want to communicate with businesses via text:
- 73% of all consumers say they wished more businesses used text to communicate with them (for Gen Z, the number jumps to 83%).
- 58% say texting is the fastest and most effective way to reach them.
- According to a text communication report, 54% of consumers say they want to receive business promotions and correspondence via text message — yet the same report says just 11% of businesses do so.
Providing a good customer experience starts with being easy to reach!
Related reading: “A curated list of the best customer service tips” — The CallRail Content Hub
4. Consumer interaction with chatbots has increased by 81%
According to Zendesk's 2021 Customer Experience Trends Report, customers care more about quick resolution than anything else (24/7 support also ranked high on the list), which explains why interactions with automated chatbots increased by 81% in 2020.
This small-business communication tool is an affordable way to scale your customer service without adding ore employees to your payroll. If you haven’t added one to your website yet, you should: If a potential customer reaches out to your business and doesn't get a response, they'll quickly move on to a competitor. As a casual analysis of your competitor's website will likely show you -- chatbots (or virtual assistants) are present to answer visitors' questions whether the site is staffed or not.
Chatbots — software applications that rely on artificial intelligence (AI) to communicate using natural language understanding (NLU) and natural language processing (NLP) — automate tasks and serve your customers even when your business is closed. During operating hours, chatbots can free up your employees to do more complex work that requires a human touch, reducing the number of inquiries that need to be handled by staff by 70%.
Not only are your customers accustomed to interacting with chatbots — close to 40% prefer chatbot interactions to those with online agents — the chatbot market is expected to more than double between 2019 and 2022.
Simplify small-business communication with a unified inbox
Between social media, SMS messaging, and chat — not to mention phone calls, email, and web forms — it can be difficult for a small-business owner to keep up with all of their customer communication.
Unified business communications software like CallRail Lead Center helps you simplify customer correspondence by consolidating your incoming messages from different channels into one inbox. c.
See how Lead Center works for your business by starting a free trial today.