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How banks can build better engagement with business customers

With a new year just around the corner, December is typically a month in which people take the time to reflect and remember upon the year gone by. Dealt its fair share of political and economic twists and turns, it’s not surprising uncertainty has hung over the nation, denting both consumer and business confidence in 2017. In fact, in October the Federation of Small Businesses’ Small Business Index for Q3 2017 revealed a record proportion (13%) of SMEs currently expect to sell, shut up shop or downsize.

During challenging times like this managing and retaining relations with all types of customers can become increasingly difficult. They can become uncertain and in some cases, less loyal. In fact, according to a report by Infosys in 2009, following the 2008 global financial crisis, 36% of customers across the globe changed their main bank.

With this in mind, what can customer-facing businesses across all industries – banks and other financial services companies – do to boost the engagement and loyalty of their small business customers, as 2018 approaches?

1)     Embrace the omni-channel customer experience

Providing a seamless experience across multiple channels should be at the core of all business’ customer engagement strategies, regardless of whether it is B2C or B2B. A customer needs to feel confident that their needs will be met by their chosen provider, whether it’s through an interaction in-branch with in person or reaching out on online.

With the emergence of a tech-savvy nation, the role of face-to-face in the customer journey is dwindling. All types of customers, including SMEs, now expect mobile apps and want to be able to use products or services without talking to a single person. Never has implementing a omni-channel experience been more important.

2)     Invest in technology to nail personalisation

For providers working with small businesses, it’s important they understand that every moment of interaction is chance to impress and make them aware of other areas in which they can add value, which can ultimately drive further and long-lasting engagement. 

For example, a recent report by Strands, provider of financial management technology, found that while 91 per cent of SMEs feel that their bank “understands their financial needs well or fairly well”, 40 per cent cite a lack of personalisation as a major reason for leaving their current provider.

This highlights the clear opportunity that the rise of Artificial Intelligence presents for providers to enhance and personalise the customer experience for SMEs. Chatbots, in particular, could move beyond a customer service role to one where they offer real engagement with a small business’ needs. 

In Sweden, Swedbank has developed a web assistant called Nina, which has an average of 30,000 conversations per month and can handle more than 350 different customer questions. There’s huge potential for chatbots to really add value to the customer journey of a small business customer.

3)     Recognise the importance of customer retention

There’s an argument to be made that customers are more likely to remain loyal during times of uncertainty, as they seek reassurance with familiar businesses and brands they already know and trust. This represents an opportunity for providers to further engage with their existing small business customer base and lead them on a path to advocacy.

When you consider it can cost five times as much to acquire a new customer than retain one, it’s important businesses invest in their retention strategies, and looking after your customers can reap rewards. According to research by Bain & Company increasing customer retention rates by 5% can  increase profits by 25% to 95%.

Customers that are engaged with a business and happy with their experience are more likely to become advocates in the long term, which can help during challenging times.

Ultimately, when it comes to B2B customer engagement, banks need to make sure they’re interacting with their business customers at relevant, opportune moments. By taking advantage of the power of personalised, data-driven messages banks can demonstrate their importance in new ways and add real value that goes beyond what their customers typically expect of them.   

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