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Small businesses have done a lot of adapting this year. The COVID-19 pandemic demanded changes to how small and medium businesses (SMBs) approach everything from safety to supply chains. SMBs are known for being quick on their feet, and they’re doing all they can to navigate the flurry of change 2020 has brought their way.

Evolving customer expectations in the wake of the pandemic are a big part of that change. Our latest research says 55% of consumers want small businesses to prioritize their safety. It also says that 63% of millennial consumersthe largest consumer segment —  are more likely to support small businesses with a digital presence. So how are small businesses adapting to so much, so fast?

We spoke with small business leaders across different industries – including retail, professional services, and manufacturing — to find out what they’re doing to successfully navigate change and prioritize customer experiences during this time.


Meeting Customers Where They Are

COVID-19 has made us all rethink when and how to be together in person. For small businesses, figuring out how to combine in-person and remote work — with both customers and clients — has been an ongoing challenge.

For ICS+, a small custom-solutions provider, technology made it easier to keep the business running while protecting team members from COVID-19. “The first thing we had to do was make sure our employees were safe, and had a good place to work,” ICS+ President Bernard Morgan said. Already having critical files and customer information in the cloud via Salesforce let them quickly adapt to working remotely when company offices weren’t an option.

Morgan’s teams have shorter windows of time to work at client sites now than they did pre-COVID, but they’re leveraging technology to get more done with customers over distance. “Quip allowed us to open up a more collaborative environment with our clients. The ability to share data quickly, reliably, and easily is one of the most important things during this time,” Morgan said.

Keeping Customers Close While Staying Safe

Safety remains job number one for the business leaders we talked to. From supporting employees shifting to work-from-home to re-opening retail outlets with new safety measures in place, SMBs are finding ways to keep operations running while protecting customers and workers from the virus.

Retail small business Brideside had to close its showrooms at the beginning of the pandemic. Co-founder Sonali Lamba said Salesforce made it easy to manage the transition. “When our customer appointments shifted from in-store to virtual, it was easy. There was no development work and we didn’t lose any insight into our data,” she said. Salesforce’s customer relationship management (CRM) technology let Brideside’s team keep track of which customers were engaging with them virtually, and alert them when showrooms in their area were set to re-open.

Lamba said attention to detail has always been one of the company’s North Stars. But now the details themselves have changed. Before, she said, those details were things like the music and flower arrangements that greeted customers. Now, the first thing most customers notice are the health check stations with masks and gloves that sit front and center in all of Brideside’s stores. “That’s the kind of fine detail customers are looking for now,” Lamba said.

Innovating Through Uncertainty

Innovation has long been a hallmark of small businesses and the entrepreneurs who run them. The pandemic has brought new meaning to the word for SMB owners who’ve drastically rethunk their business models over the past six months. For some, quick pivots have led to new opportunities.

For small luxury linens manufacturer, Matouk, a silver lining emerged amidst the health, safety, and supply chain problems posed by the COVID-19 outbreak. Within a span of three weeks early in the pandemic, Matouk reconfigured their operations to produce roughly 10,000 fabric masks per week. Soon after, leads were coming in from hospitals and other institutions all over the country who desperately needed masks and other personal protective equipment as they battled the pandemic.

Stuart Kiely, Matouk’s VP of Digital Strategy, pointed to technologies like Salesforce’s lead management functionality as key to making the pivot successful. “It really helped our teams organize, prioritize, and triage all of these requests and convert them into orders on the shop floor,” he said. Not only that, but Salesforce’s secure cloud technology meant Matouk was able to pull off the pivot while most of its employees were working from home.

“The silver lining around COVID has really been that a 90-year old small business can react, and be innovative at the same level of speed as a Silicon Valley startup,” Kiely said.

Meggie Palmer, Founder and CEO of PepTalkHer, a small business and professional services company on a mission to close the gender pay gap, said her team needed to find new ways to engage customers during the pandemic. The answer? Hosting daily live conversations with experts to help listeners become better negotiators, automate finances, and more.

The conversation series helped PepTalkHer gain more exposure, capture new audiences, and foster closer relationships with customers. To date, more than 50,000 people have engaged with the new content, and Palmer credits Salesforce technology for helping her team manage all of these new relationships that form the core of PepTalkHer’s business.  “I’m not quite sure exactly what the future will look like,” Palmer said. “But one thing I do know for sure is that relationships will continue to be absolutely crucial to our business.”

Planning to Evolve

The keys to adapting to COVID-19 the past six months seems to have been agility, the ability to listen to customer needs, and a willingness to adapt business models to fit demand. Sounds a lot like how many SMBs have found success in the past — and how they’ll continue to find it  going forward.

“We will remain a customer-centric company. So long as the needs of our community and the public change, we need to be agile to succeed,” Lamba said of Brideside’s journey through the pandemic. “We’re going to emerge a stronger, better, and more innovative company.”


Originally published on The Salesforce 360 Blog.

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