According to a study by Facebook IQ, 61% of people said that messaging is the easiest and most convenient way to contact a business


Over the last year, total daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grew by more than 40% (Credit: Pixabay)

James Bennett, a product marketing lead at Facebook, outlines how SMBs can use online messaging services to continue building relationships with their customers during Covid-19.

To put it mildly, the Covid-19 pandemic has been tough on small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs).

Business owners everywhere have had to adjust to social distancing mandates by reinventing their operations or shutting down altogether.

Many have turned to the internet to boost their online presence or, in some cases, create it for the first time.

SMBs have always thrived because of their ability to provide a one-to-one, personalised service to their loyal customers.

So as we are in the second month of a new year, how can these businesses continue that tradition in this new, uncertain environment? The same way they always have.

Through simple conversation.

That morning coffee run with a side of friendly banter, the familiar faces while you wait to order, or the lunchtime browsing have all become lifelines for people missing those all-important social interactions – the ones we probably took completely for granted before Covid-19 entered our lives.

Our new reality has driven more people to shop online and the knock-on effect has seen many small business owners rush to grow their digital footprint.

While SMBs may not have the resources to compete with massive e-commerce companies, they can be more agile and take advantage of the wide range of highly effective – and crucially free – technology that’s available to help them.

But how can small business owners maximise these tools and boost our feelings of social connection in the process? Online messaging is part of the answer.


Conversations SMBs are conducting during Covid-19 are moving online

In spite of the restrictions we’re all living with right now – or perhaps because of them – people still, more than ever, want to talk to the businesses they love.

They like being able to ask questions and get a speedy response.

More traditional methods of communication like phone and email are too slow or too formal, and don’t offer the easy convenience of online messaging – a platform we most often associate with talking to friends and family.

According to a study by Facebook IQ, 61% of people said that messaging is the easiest and most convenient way to contact a business.

And 65% of people surveyed across generations said they’d be more likely to shop with a business they can contact via chat.

Since we first went into lockdown back in March, we’ve seen messaging between businesses and consumers steadily grow.

Over the last year, total daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grew by more than 40%.

This makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Despite the circumstances, both parties want to be able to reach each other, and talking online is both a familiar and efficient way to do that.


Tone of voice is key, even if it’s automated

Chatting online also brings some of the camaraderie we associate with real-life shopping to the online experience.

It makes the interaction feel more human, more personal than scouring help pages on a website or waiting 24 hours for an email reply.

Even when businesses use automation in messaging, like when responding to commonly asked questions such as opening hours or directions, the interaction is friendly and accommodating – as well as immediate, which customers also value.

In fact, according to a survey by Hubspot, 90% of customers rate an immediate response as important or very important when they have a marketing or sales question.

There are even more benefits for businesses. Automation reduces the time it takes to answer simple questions.

It lets the business focus on more complicated inquiries and do what it does best – build relationships and deliver excellent customer service.

Messaging also offers the convenience of keeping an ongoing record of each customer conversation, so when that person visits you again, you can just pick up where you left off – and bonus, you’ll never forget their name!

SMBs are not only the beating heart of our economies, but the glue that keeps countless communities together.

I feel confident that the resilience shown by small business owners everywhere will ensure they manage to navigate these uncertain times and recover from the damage we’ve seen done over the past year.

SMBs are a cornerstone of our social fabric – it brings me great joy to know that we’re building the right tools and services to help them and make sure that despite the need for physical distance right now, we don’t lose that all-important connection.