May 29, 2020

How to Engage Customers Virtually

A strong online presence for your business is increasingly a necessity, not an afterthought. Small businesses that rely heavily on foot traffic and word of mouth might have been able to avoid this outlet until now, but the coronavirus pandemic has sped up the shift and made it permanent. However, the reality was already coming: your business needs a strong digital footprint.

One of the biggest challenges and opportunities of virtual engagement with customers is the engagement aspect. This approach is more than marketing—it is building relationships. Forming these bonds when you can’t be face-to-face is challenging, but businesses have been adapting to digital life for over 2 decades now. These tested guidelines will help you create the best digital presence for your small business.

Have Clear Goals For Engagement

What are you trying to achieve? Remember: a website, Instagram account, or Facebook like is not in itself a goal. These are tools that businesses use to achieve goals such as increasing sales, gaining new customers, or retaining existing customers. 

Each of these goals would be pursued differently. For example, to increase sales, a company might push people to sign up for its email list and then convert users with content and offers there. To retain existing customers, that same company might focus on online response time (see below) and improving user experience. Knowing what your business needs or wants to do will let you determine how to get there.

Know Your Audience

Who are your customers? Who are the customers you want to reach? Both of these questions will tell you where you want to focus your efforts. You’ll reach a largely different audience on TikTok than on Facebook. You’ll speak differently to users engaged enough to sign up for your email list than those encountering your brand for the first time in sponsored content.

Create Quality Content

This step sounds like a no-brainer, but “quality” is subjective and varied. Fortunately for you, you’ve already followed the advice above! Since you know your goals and your audience, producing good content is easier. 

With some simple market research and a little trial-and-error, you’ll know what material best engages your audience. What kind of websites and accounts do your customers and potential customers seek out in their free time? What headlines get the best click-through rates in your emails?

Keep in mind that bad content will cause you to lose followers and even customers. Some of this fluctuation is normal: every email or tweet will remind a minimally-invested follower that they were not too interested in your company. But if your content is properly targeted, it will not even seem like marketing to your customers—on the contrary, they will look forward to it.

Be Reactive, Respond Quickly

Your small business missed the century when marketing was a one-way street, with businesses sending messaging out into the world and waiting for customers to come back. The immediate feedback of online engagement offers amazing rewards but at the cost of total investment in the client. 

A Harvard Business School study found pretty shocking differences between just a few hours of response time: “Firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly 7 times as likely to [have a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker] as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.” 

Despite this, only 37% of companies surveyed in a later study responded to online leads within an hour. Can your company afford 60 times less of a chance of landing a meeting with a decision-maker?

Use Video Chatting

In many ways, virtual engagement is like typical, face-to-face networking but on a different platform. Many of the same rules apply, like the importance of personal attention. So incorporate your video chat and virtual meeting skills into your existing sales practices.

This option is especially important for B2B. A video chat may never replace in-person meetings, but it can establish more connection than a phone call or email. Be sure to observe best practices for virtual meetings to make a positive professional impression. That setup includes a webcam at eye level, indirect lighting from the front, and no distracting environment. Remember to dress appropriately, even when it’s remote.

Hire Experienced Staff

While virtual and in-person engagement involve many of the same concepts and goals, using online platforms is a skill unto itself. So hire staff who are skilled at it. Video chatting and responding to online leads should be standard for sales staff now. Writers for print copy will likely know the ins and outs of content for all the major online platforms. If you’re not ready for a full-time social media team, many freelancers will be happy to help.

About the author

Ben Glaser
Ben Glaser
Ben has almost a decade of experience covering personal finance and business. From 2014–2017, he was blog editor and spokesperson for the shopping website DealNews.com, where he regularly appeared on programs like Good Morning America and Fox and Friends to offer consumer advice. Ben graduated from Harvard with a BA in English and lives in the Hudson Valley of New York.

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