Author: Margit Kaluza-Baumruker
Bio: Margit has extensive experience in the local search space as the former Marketing Director at Herold and as a Siinda Board Member. She continues to support Siinda with Content and Advisory Services
Voice of The Customer- How SME’s have reacted to the COVID-19 crisis
How have SME’s changed the way they do business during this economic crisis? After talking to SME’s all over Europe, we have recognized five significant trends.
When COVID-19 hit, and a lockdown was ordered in many countries, it completely changed our daily lives from one day to the other. Suddenly consumers were staying at home, searching and shopping for goods online, and companies had to and still adapting to these altered habits.
At Siinda, we wanted to know how SME’s were dealing with these difficult times. How they are navigating shutdowns, lockdowns, and dwindling foot traffic. Therefore, Siinda with Mono Solutions launched the project “The Voice of the Customer”. We asked SME’s from all over Europe and from a variety of sectors how they were coping with these difficult times
After analyzing customer statements, we identified five significant trends regardless of business models or location.
#1 A NEWFOUND BELIEF IN DIGITAL
The COVID-19 lockdown forced SME’s to re-think their customer journey. Those who mostly relied on personal relationships and walk-ins had to improve their digital presence quickly and to provide online shopping and home delivery services.
Adapting to new digitalization might have been difficult for many business owners, most say. it will probably stay long after COVID-19.
Martina Bottini, Owner Krazy Playdays in England, stated:
“I’ve always liked the idea of face-to-face contact […] instead of going through an app. But you know the downside, the queueing, […] taking time etc. So if this digitalization proves to be useful, yes, it would be something that would stay.”
The usage of messenger-apps and video-chats have substituted personal client conversation with many SME’s. Jessica Klossas, Owner Restaurant Lekka in Germany, experienced how her clients changed the way they go in touch with her:
“We quickly noticed that many guests don’t want to use the phone, but rather write messages via e-mail or Facebook or Instagram. They wanted to communicate with us non-verbally. And we were thrilled that Suttervery quickly created an order form for us, which made it much easier for us to communicate.” (translated from German)
Most of the other Siinda interviews were in-line with the results of a survey among German SME’s conducted by the Berlin-based company Vimcar April – June 2020.
The majority of participants confirmed the necessity to adapt to the “new normal “and to speed up the digitalization of their business especially regarding customer relations, customer retention strategies and programs as well as the way of working.
In Hungary, we saw a similar result. A survey released on 23 June, indicates that where 24% of SMEs intend to return to their pre-COVID business method, 41% would instead continue with the business model developed during the pandemic.
#2 – ONLINE AND OFFLINE WORK HAND-IN-HAND
Although COVID-19 is a persuasive argument to take care of digitalizing an offline business marketing strategy, finally, offline is still very important. To get the best results, online and offline strategies should complement each other. Siinda’s “The Voice of the Customer “-interviews showed that SME’s still believe in offline marketing.
Shauna Kilduff, Owner Shauna’s Pet Shop in Ireland, experienced the value of a special kind of outdoor advertising: “Another thing that helped with advertising was: I have my own bag, so it’s a Shauna’s PET SHOP, it has a shop logo, our address, our contact details, Instagram Facebook, and YouTube. So the advertisement for having the bag has been a perfect way of drawing people’s attention and then from there also creating a product and a logo for the store.”
Carole Verilhac, the owner of Carole Conciergerie in France, also saw the need for digital marketing but still relies on the traditional ways to get in touch with her customers:
“I hope to create a website, so maybe this is will also be a way to communicate differently with my clients. But for now […] we work a lot by phone and SMS which works well. Knowing that, I will not change right away; on the other hand, I must find ways to be present on different platforms, for example, on social networks or on a website.” (translated from French)
#3 – ANALYZE, ADAPT, SELL!
An in-depth analysis of the status quo is the first commandment for marketeers – every time, but especially in difficult situations. The pandemic has forced SME’s to thoroughly examine their situation and find new ways of reaching their clients.
Doing this has not only helped them retain their customer base but in many cases, expand it.
Jessica Klossas, Owner Restaurant Lekka in Germany, boiled it down in this statement:
“I think the most important thing is, no matter what the circumstances are, we must analyze them, and then not to be discouraged about them, but to say: Okay, these are the facts, what can I do?” (translated from German).
Monica Landshadlova, Owner BlondiM Beauty Salon in the Czech Republic, used the lockdown to prepare the opening of her new beauty salon thoroughly:
“I have signed a contract with a location where I can do my business, two weeks after the coronavirus situation started. I had to wait three months until after the coronavirus was gone, to open.[…] That was quite a long time – three months – I had to prepare the place before I could start, so I started all my business on Facebook and other media.”
Analysis and quick adaption pay off – this is what Shauna Kilduff, Owner Shauna’s Pet Shop, confirmed from planning her Google campaign:
“Yesterday, we checked Google, and our store is now number one on Google when you search pet shop in Ireland. I’m gobsmacked by that because I kind of overstepped a few bigger companies.”
#4 – USING PROFESSIONAL SERVICES
Watching soccer games on TV does not qualify you to become a soccer trainer. What seems simple is sometimes complicated when it comes to marketing. Far too many SME’s think they can do their campaigns without hiring a real professional. In the end, they often experience firsthand bad or no results and recognize those wrong marketing decisions can be very costly and damaging.
The SME’s taking part in the Siinda “The Voice of the Customer”-interviews were much smarter. They were not shy to seek out professional help, taking advantage of digital agencies knowledge and experiences. This made their marketing efforts more professional and left them time to focus on their core business.
Jimmy Jensen, Owner Illux in Denmark, reported:
“We have an external company who are helping our digital marketing. We have excellent cooperation with them – and we are focusing on our products ready and then actually focusing on the customers. ”
Bo Lindhardt, Owner Ejby & Lindhardt Gastronomi in Denmark, confirms:
“Marketing is where an agency would come in handy. If you could schedule something, make one a general plan together with an expert and ask them, would you please take care of this, then you wouldn’t have to wonder if you have a digital presence? You. would be on all the social media relevant in terms of our business – this I think would be very very helpful. ”
Ousmane Sow, Owner I’m Coffee in Sweden, recalls:
“I think it was two years ago, maybe three years ago, our website collapsed because it was small and we got a lot of views on it. This was when I said: No I cannot have it like this – it’s better to invest in something better, so now we have digital agency cooperation that said “let’s get updated, “so they helped me with that.”
#5 – THERE IS NO ONE SIZE FITS ALL
Although the COVID-19 pandemic hit businesses worldwide, everyone had to find their way out of the crisis. During “The Voice of the Customer”-interviews, it became clear that there is no one size fits all. The ideal marketing strategy highly depends on the industry, the target audience and the business’ location. What may work for one SME may be the wrong choice for another.
Shauna Kilduff, Owner Shauna’s Pet Shop in Ireland, for example, swears by the mix of Social media and offline marketing:
“Facebook and Instagram and […] we had a YouTube channel already, that’s something we want to focus more on in the next year. Another thing that helped with advertising was: I have my own bag.”
Terry O’Brien’s, Owner Red Parka Steakhouse and Pub in New Hampshire, found his ideal marketing approach:
“We have our social media, obviously with Facebook, Instagram. We also use Constant Contact, so I send out e-newsletters. Our website – they can sign right up on that, our menu is on there as well. And we have a loyalty card.”
Jimmy Jensen, Owner Illux in Denmark, also relies on PR besides digital Marketing:
“We use a lot of Facebook and traditional Google Adwords and SEO – that’s the main parts. And then we do some PR and marketing in Denmark.”
Listening to all the statements of SME’s in SIINDA’s “The Voice of the Customer”, it becomes evident that COVID-19 did not shake the very foundations of Marketing but accelerated the pace of necessary changes towards digitalization. Sometimes something terrible results in something good.