by Mark Ungerman
It would be difficult to find a small business that has not been adversely impacted by the current pandemic. And to say that most small business have been negatively impacted is putting it mildly. Recent findings from National Federation of Independent Businesses (NFIB) show that the three leading causes of small business decline is due to 1) lost sales, 2) disruption in supply chain and 3) disruption in workforce due to employee illness. Furthermore, nearly 70% of surveyed business say, that unaided, they do not have the financial resources to survive more than four months.
In response to these dire conditions, government and private-sector leaders alike are coming to the rescue with small business funding and other useful tools. But equally important, many small businesses are evolving to survive by re-inventing how they do business. And like mammals of the pre-historic Cretaceous period, many of today's small businesses will evolve and survive this modern cataclysm.
Buried deep in the DNA of many small businesses are valuable traits which give them a survival advantage. Some have mused that surviving one crisis after another is “business as usual” for small companies as they fight to survive and grow. So, what traits do many small businesses possess that give them a fighting chance to emerge from this current pandemic?
Resiliency. Many small businesses rise from the chaos of disruption. They exploit disruption. They are the ones with the new idea or better solution and who often confront established competitors. They are the ones who scrap and claw for every new customer and who celebrate every hard-fought victory.
Culture. Many small businesses have a connection with the founder and the founder’s passions. They have a shared culture built upon entrepreneurial traits like vision, work ethic, resiliency creativity and drive. In small businesses people must work collaboratively and do so without rigid org structures.
Customer Obsessed. Small businesses often have personalized, one-on-one customer relationships. They know their customers by name and their businesses intimately. Customers have a big say in the direction of products and services. Everything is done with a customer in mind. Where some companies rely on advertising, small businesses rely on relationships and word of mouth.
Adaptable and Agile. Small businesses don’t have complex organizational silos or layers of bureaucracy. Employees often wear multiple hats and have direct interaction with customers. Good ideas are quickly identified and implemented. While some companies focus on cookie-cutter efficiencies, small businesses focus on what’s right for their customers. Many small businesses also do not have legacy IT technologies and practices that can slow them down. For cost, convenience and even foresight, many have chosen to use the power of the cloud.
Focused. Successful small businesses are focused on developing specializations. They differentiate and compete on expertise and exacting execution. With some businesses, customers may feel like a commodity; with small businesses customers feel special.
These traits are necessary to navigate adversity and to grow. Celebrity entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, a strong small business advocate advises small businesses to tap their unique strengths, and do the following:
Anticipate the Market. To use a sports metaphor, “skate to where the puck will be”. Don’t join the fray of trying to take a whack the same puck everyone else is. Rather, skate to where you think the puck will be. Create the next new opportunity by expanding your influence toward where you think the market will go. The pandemic is forcing a change with customers. Social distancing is putting more people online and changing the way we buy and transact. Consumers yearn for comforts. Buying patterns have changed. New market demographics have emerged. What advantages can be created out of this “new normal”?
Partner. Ask for help. Great new ideas can come from employees, customers, suppliers and even other complimentary businesses. Solicit ideas and accept available help. As you create a crisis cohort carefully think about these questions:
Is there a way to make and sell what we have to a new market?
Is there a new product or service we can make and sell to our existing customers?
Is there a better way to make and sell what we have?
Stay connected with customers. Invest now, more than ever, in relationships. What your customers need in the moment may not be solved with a product so find new ways to deliver value. Identify ways to relate with your customers with empathy. Allow your customers to influence tone, objective and delivery based on what they need most at that moment.
Invest in tomorrow. Use the lull to improve your business. Audit critical operations and make impactful changes now. Look for ways to lower costs by automating processes. Invest in marketing that will also serve to build and keep your brand alive.
Resilient small businesses possess these traits and follow these practices. Survival demands an ability to stay in lockstep with customers. This requires both situational awareness, and an ability to adapt and execute. A salient intersection between customer awareness and customer execution is a customer experience (CX) platform. A customer experience platform creates a bond between you and your customers which provides valuable customer intelligence and a delivery conduit for personalized services.
Consider the following. Business who were either already using a cloud CX platform or who rapidly deployed NICE CXone@home were able to immediately adapt and transition their customer care teams to a work-from-home environment. This allowed then to continue providing valuable and uninterrupted service. And when buying needs change and new opportunities are identified, a CX platform will allow these businesses to rapidly pivot and promote new products and services with new customers.
The Covid-19 pandemic is disruptive and even perilous. But for many scrappy small businesses, it’s the messy, primordial goo of opportunity. Embrace those qualities that make your small business survive. Embrace customer experience and make your small business thrive.
Mark Ungerman Mark has worked in technical product management and marketing for 20+ years. In his current role as Director, Marketing CX for NICE, he is responsible for conducting primary research to understand how business leaders use customer experience solutions to increase profitability through improving productivity and customer lifetime value. Prior to NICE, Mark held influential roles helping technology companies build and bring products to market.