How Small And Midsize Businesses Create Customer-Centricity In Times Of Crisis

Paulo Almeida

In challenging and confusing times, often the end customers are most adversely impacted. While businesses try to be responsible and responsive with staff, they may not be as dedicated to keeping customers safe and informed.

To ensure companies maintain focus on customer experiences, I’ve put together five tips for ensuring customer-centricity during a crisis. Also, please note that many of these tips may apply to your staff and personal circles – after all, this isn’t simply an economic challenge, but a human one too.

1. Humanize and personalize your approach

The critical messaging here should not be to sell your product or service but to demonstrate empathy. Let your customers know that you understand the extraordinary circumstances we all face and that your business is here to assist.

Humanizing your approach is about showing how your brand can help solve customers’ challenges brought on by COVID-19, and being responsive and compassionate in your communications to keep everyone informed and safe.

Also, understand that people will be filled with questions during this confusing time, so ensure you dedicate (and potentially automate) the right resources to keep customers in the loop to let them connect with your business.

2. Build your online presence

A significant number of people are stuck at home – either working or due to current legislation regarding public spaces. This has created a spike in online use, including in e-commerce and social media, which are two vital domains for any modern business.

With COVID-19 shutting down or limiting public trade, online selling is currently the smarter, safer, more accessible option for many retailers. If your business did not offer a digital portal for sales and communications before, now is the time to adapt.

Social media has been an undeniable force in business marketing for years, but more than ever, audiences are engaged and hungry for content. A study of over 25,000 consumers across 30 markets showed a 61% increase in social media engagement over normal usage rates.

Following from my first tip, social media is the perfect place to humanize your communication to connect with customers (both new and existing) in a way that personifies your brand and demonstrates value during this difficult period.

3. Understand consumer sentiment

Social media also offers an excellent channel for understanding your customers’ demographics, preferences, and sentiments. COVID-19 has impacted everyone differently, and it’s critical to understand what people need and feel in order to adapt and anticipate further changes. Polls conducted through social media can be useful, but as I mentioned, a human touch is vital, so be creative with how you connect with online audiences to gather customer sentiment.

Your business’ social media presence is a valuable resource for demonstrating appreciation, particularly for your loyal customers. However, to truly humanize your communication, a phone call (with consent, of course) will show real compassion. Loyalty deserves personal recognition, and your return customers will be the best vehicle for recovery post-crisis.

4. Adapt your product/service offering

If there are any potential adaptations you can make in your products or services to cater to current needs, do it. There is critical need for medical supplies and products that can help ensure people’s safety and well being – for example, we’ve seen alcohol producers add sanitizer to their product mix and garment manufacturers shift to making face masks and medical gear. So, start innovating!

However, only those with extreme foresight or data insight can adapt rapidly like this, so the key now is to look beyond the immediate response measures. Understand what things will permanently change post COVID-19 and which impacts will be temporary. It makes sense to look more toward the medium horizon to gather the right data to anticipate customer behavior changes now and in the future.

5. Invest in intelligence

Businesses that invested early in digital transformation were better equipped to handle the impact of COVID-19, as their operations and communications had been centralized for better control and accessibility.

All the points I mentioned previously can be implemented or easily facilitated with the right technology solution to support your business during this difficult period. Data insights are helping businesses adapt approaches to managing staff, customers, financials, and inventory, which are paramount when news and changes unfold rapidly.

Customers are much like your staff, in that they need to be kept informed during this time and treated like humans rather than resources. Communication and compassion are so important right now because they connect brands to people, they humanize a business, and they focus on the experiences of others.

The customer experience is undergoing change much like the rest of the word, but the essential lesson is to never stop seeing customers as people, connecting with them as people, and sustaining that connection beyond the current crisis.

Paulo Almeida

About Paulo Almeida

Paulo Almeida is Global Head of Marketing for SAP Business One and SAP Business ByDesign at SAP. He is responsible for the product marketing strategy and execution of SAP BusinessOne and SAP Business ByDesign solutions for SAP partners. He has been with SAP for over 20 years, with extensive experience helping small and midsize companies to reach their business goals.