Let’s face it, given the state of the economy in South Africa and the rapid change in the business environment, 2018 was a tough year for many SMEs. Unfortunately, this trend is expected to carry over into 2019.

Small business owners need to be acutely aware of the bigger economic picture as in these times customers might turn to ‘bargain’ stores and services in place of quality products or services. Uncertainty makes people ‘jumpy’ about spending money. This is where the battle to prevent this from happening and to hold onto your customer base is ON! But, it is also important to not let yourself as a business owner become a victim during this challenging period and instead focus on the fundamentals of running your business. At the end of the day, consumers continue to buy products and services irrespective of economic conditions.

As Albert Einstein famously said; “Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value”- a saying that still resonates powerfully today when it comes to attracting and retaining customers. It also highlights the necessity of keeping long term customers satisfied because retaining a larger percentage of regular customers who come back for a longer life cycle means building on a revenue foundation that is more profitable and predictable.

So, how exactly do you go about continuing to grow your SME in ‘tough times’? Here’s how:

Get connected and Stay connected

According to a Bain & Company study, 60-80% of customers who described themselves as ‘satisfied’, do not go back to do more business with the company that initially satisfied them. Why? A lack of connection. Customer satisfaction and loyalty mean nothing if you can’t remember small but essential titbits about your client. Remembering their name, sending out birthday mails, getting in touch to see how that operation went, congratulating them on exciting news. In this day and age clients have never felt as detached which means there is a craving for connection. It’s up to your business to fulfil that. The more personal and authentic the relationship, the more indispensable it becomes. Modern technology has made it possible to achieve person-to-person relationships with clients. For example, maybe it’s time to set up a texting system and using it in these ways:

  1. For the purpose of staying connected to existing customers and not to make sales to new customers.
  2. Communicating gratitude for your customers’ business more than once, not just when they buy your product/service.
  3. Validating your customers- their importance and value. Do this consistently.
  4. Making your messages personal to customers by using their first name and highlighting something special about them with each communication.

Just remember; if you don’t connect with a client, someone else probably will.

Stay Consistent

In times of economic struggle businesses often try to implement the ‘diversification’ concept where they attempt to switch things up, do a makeover, offer new products and so on to make their business stand out. But just adding new products or doing a revamp doesn’t necessarily equate to ‘diversification’ and may be a waste of time and money. It can also damage your core business by distracting you from what you do best. Drop the extras and focus on the most profitable and strongest aspects of your service/product. Customers like familiarity and consistency, which they will come to expect.

Focus on Wellness at Work

SMEs should be focused on how they promote a wellbeing in the workplace. This means ensuring that their employees are satisfied in the workplace and feel that they have a good work-life balance. It may be time to incorporate flexi hours or get that fancy coffee machine for the office. Your employees go on to engage and form relationships with the clients so if they are satisfied then this will spill over onto their work engagements. Remember, they are your sales people!

Zone in on your Target Market

Consistently analysing the demographic of your target market is important. If your business doesn’t know who it is offering a service to and why, this leads to confusion, blurred marketing strategies and a lack of client connection. Having a clear brand identity means clients of a similar nature will identify with your business. Your brand needs to make sense to a specific target market otherwise it will lack engagement. Be bold and daring but know who it’s aimed at. These factors include things like age, gender, location, marital status, culture, education, hobbies, status and so on. Once the market segment has been defined, attracting and retaining clients is an ever-evolving process that will require constant updating and refreshing.

Customer service is evolving from merely providing client-friendly solutions and services to engaging with clients and providing a customised client experience. This has, essentially, become a form of marketing in itself for businesses. Social media and public platforms have paved the way for company reviews and discussion. Now is the time to ask yourself if you will fall victim to the tough economic climate or step up and focus on how your business can find innovative ways of creating client loyalty and engagement.