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During Uncertain Times, SMBs Can Rely On What They're Best At: Talking to Their Customers Online messaging and conversation can enable small businesses to effectively build relationships with their customers

By Ankur Prasad Edited by Frances Dodds

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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I grew up in India, a country which has nearly 50 million small and medium sized businesses. Some of my fondest memories involve visiting the neighborhood toy store with my grandparents and returning with the latest action figure to add to my already burgeoning collection. Looking back, I remember how the store owner knew everyone in my family. He would always talk to us and make us feel welcome.

This is a familiar story for many small businesses who have special relationships with their customers. They play an important role in key life moments and are an integral part of many communities. What sets this experience apart from our shopping experience today? What makes it special?


Be it the kindly toy store owner who would talk to me about the newest toys, the local grocer that would call us when mangoes were back in stock, or just casual conversations with the pharmacy owner about an upcoming festival — conversation has been at the heart of commerce since the very beginning of trade itself. It's natural and something that has been ingrained in us over thousands of years. People want to ask questions and get advice before they buy something because it makes them feel better and more confident about their decisions.

Related: Market Smarter, Not Harder, with Automated Messaging

However, the pandemic has completely upended the lives of millions of small business owners who have had to partially or completely close their doors. This new reality has driven more consumers to shop online and forced many small business owners to scramble to grow their online footprint, or in some cases, go online for the first time. While small businesses may not have the resources to compete with giant ecommerce companies, they have the ability to adapt quickly and have easy access to powerful yet free technology to help them. So how can small businesses owners best take advantage of this? Through online messaging and conversation.

Conversation is moving online

We've known for a long time that people want to talk to businesses they love. They like to be able to ask questions and actually get a response. Traditional methods like phone and email are too slow and unreliable and don't offer the convenience of online messaging. According to a study by Facebook IQ, 61 percent of people said that messaging is the easiest and most convenient way to contact a business. And 65 percent of people surveyed across generations said they'd be more likely to shop with a business they can contact via chat.

Since the lockdowns, we've seen messaging between businesses and people skyrocket. Over the last year, total daily conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grew by over 40 percent. It isn't hard to see why. Both people and businesses want to be able to reach each other in spite of the circumstances, and chatting online is a familiar and instant medium that ensures both parties clearly understand each other.

Related: 3 Chat Automation Tools That Accelerate Sales Growth

Immediate response is key, even if its automated

Additionally, chatting online brings the natural, interactive way of shopping to the online experience. It makes the interaction feel more human, more personal, and it's more convenient than scouring help pages on a website. It's more reassuring to receive prompt responses than wait for an email. Even when businesses use automation in messaging, like when responding to commonly asked questions such as store hours or directions, the interaction is immediate and personal, which is important for the customer. In fact, according to a survey by Hubspot, 90 percent 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 and effort to answer simple questions. It lets the business focus on more complicated inquiries and do what they do best — build relationships and sell. Messaging also offers the convenience of keeping a persistent record of the conversation so customers and businesses can pick up where they left off without searching for details of past conversations.

Small businesses are not only the backbone of the economy, they are also the glue that keeps countless communities together across the globe. I'm confident that the entrepreneurial spirit of small business owners everywhere will drive a full recovery from the damage we've seen done over the past year. I have so many fond memories of businesses like my neighborhood toy store — it brings me great joy to know that we're building the right tools and services to help small businesses all over the world and maybe create lasting memories for future generations.

Related: How to Use Business Text Messaging to Reduce Customer ...

Ankur Prasad

Product Marketing Director

Ankur Prasad is the Director of Product Marketing at Facebook Messenger. He oversees strategy and go-to-market efforts for Messenger’s suite of products designed to help businesses, large and small, easily connect with customers in innovative ways.

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