It can be hard being a small business today. How does one compete with industry powerhouses that offer millions of stock keeping units and free 2-day shipping? Amazon, for example, has over 370 million products listed and Sainsbury’s (including Argos) operates 34 distribution centres in the UK alone. The human and capital resources needed to deliver on this level is out of reach for the more than 5.6 million SMEs in the UK.
In fact, large businesses in the UK make up just 0.1% of the overall business landscape but equate to 48% of turnover – illustrating their market dominance and the challenge at hand for smaller businesses to face. So, in a world of Amazon, Sainsbury’s and John Lewis, is there room for SMEs anymore? The answer is yes. While smaller businesses may not be able to offer everything their larger competitors can, they are more equipped to offer something that today’s customers want and, in fact, are willing to pay more for – an exceptional customer experience.
SMEs: Great customer care is in your DNA
Providing personal, high-quality customer service is something SMEs have long excelled at. Consumers frequent their local coffee shops over bigger chains because of the feeling they get when they walk in the door. The baristas give a friendly greeting and their regular order is already waiting for them on the counter. With the right technology, we can take this feeling into the digital world, allowing smaller companies to provide a personalised, always-on experience for all their customers – no matter where they are located.
Customer service has become a bit of a dirty word
The stigma is so awful that when a company or employee delivers a great experience it often makes headlines. Solving a simple issue may mean waiting on hold for hours or watching an inbox impatiently for a message that may never arrive. And maybe, you’ve stopped doing business with companies because of it.
These terrible customer service moments don’t often sink bigger brands, but they can be enough to send smaller businesses packing. Great customer service is something that every company can deliver on and can be a powerful disruptor against industry giants. So what does great customer service look like?
While it’s not feasible for SMEs to have live customer service agents available day and night, the reality is customers don’t only shop between the hours of 9 and 5. This is where AI-powered agents can play a big part. While not all situations are right for a chatbot to handle, a good majority of the frequently asked questions that come in about a product or service can likely be handled through AI-enabled tools. This empowers customers to self-serve, keeps lines of communication open during off hours, helps take repetitive questions off the plates of the agents and gives businesses a much bigger and more attentive support staff.
It’s not easy for SMEs who may have customers in multiple regions to know who their customers are the moment they log onto an app, website or pick up the phone. AI is helping agents (real and virtual) quickly know who the customer is, their history with the brand, their preferences and potential questions or recommendations that could resolve the query. This allows businesses to spend more time on each customer’s individual journey – making sure every single customer can get that small-town coffee house experience.
Keep it Human
AI can certainly help companies serve their customers better, but it’s not a magic bullet. The one-size-fits-most experience that big box stores offer is what many customers are trying to avoid. By automating frequently asked questions, human agents are opened up to spend more time with customers that really need them, so they can provide the empathy and flexibility that bots can’t.
Exceptional customer experience
Exceptional customer experience will ultimately be what sets the most successful businesses apart. We live in a society that has been built on the ingenuity of entrepreneurship and the mantra that “the customer is always right.” It’s this attitude that will keep customers coming back for more, moving a one-off customer to a brand advocate, and growing SMEs into formidable competitors.
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