Why it’s time for Aussie SMEs to up the quality of their automated experiences

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Was yours among the thousands of businesses forced to suspend in-person trading and pivot to digital during last year’s COVID shutdowns?

Across Australia, the pandemic triggered the extraordinary, overnight launch of online products and services, by companies of all sizes and stripes. They included the likes of Pilates studio Love Athletica, which began hiring out equipment and offering ‘at home’ classes for members, and market research company McCrindle that switched from in-person seminars and events to adapt to an ever-growing virtual world.

Each of these resourceful enterprises, and many more like them, had one thing in common. They’d built brands and businesses on the back of the sort of inimitable personalised service.

But while they may continue to offer that service, come hell, high water or global pandemic, doing so in person may no longer be enough to guarantee their long term success, in the much changed business landscape the crisis has created.

Instead, they’ll need to augment it with automated 1:1 experiences; experiences that leave online customers feeling as well served as the shoppers who stroll in to their bricks and mortar outlets.

Unpacking the shift to digital

Why the need to do so, given the economy continues to re-open and the roll-out of a national vaccination program (albeit at glacial pace) appears to presage a return to normal life and business as usual?

The answer is simple. Over the course of last year, Australian consumers’ habits and expectations changed and, after months of shutdowns and social distancing, they’re unlikely to change back.

Whether they’re in the market for groceries, furniture or clothing, millions of former bricks and mortar shopping stalwarts are now accustomed to letting their fingers do the walking. Their willingness to do so has seen the country’s collective annual online shopping tab increase by 49 per cent between January 2020 and January 2021, according to the NAB Online Retail Sales Index. During that period, Australians spent an estimated $45.61 billion on online retail.

Even customers purchasing services that can only be delivered in the flesh – think haircuts, cinema visits and the like – are spending more time online before they commit. They’re making bookings digitally and asking questions via Messenger live chat before they put their money down – and their expectation is that those automated interactions will be as warm, responsive and frictionless as their real-life equivalents.

Tools to make the task easy

For many businesses, responding to that need will call for an investment in automation tools that can help them to create directed customer journeys and experiences that are seamless, satisfying and efficient.

Fortunately, this technology is no longer the exclusive premise of big business, as it was five or 10 years ago. Rather than having to make a heavy upfront investment in software and services, today’s growing enterprises are able to access user-friendly cloud-based tools on monthly subscription, to automate their sales, marketing and customer service functions. ‘Plug and play’ automation recipes can enable them to craft personalised and compelling customer experiences without having to do a spell in coding school first.

That means they’re able to remain in the race against larger and better resourced competitors with sizeable budgets to spend on digital transformation and automation initiatives to strengthen their relationships with customers.

Embracing growth opportunities in a post-COVID world

Last year’s COVID crisis forced many local business owners to take the digital plunge. If you’re one of them, investing in high quality automated experiences will allow you to keep delivering superlative service online, as well as in the flesh.