The ways that SMES can perfectly balance high tech and high touch in today’s global village

By Patrick Saundry, Head of Small and Midsized Enterprise on

The past few decades have seen enormous change in the way we do business, due primarily to innovation in the digital space. These changes have in turn automated a vast majority of business processes, and opened up a whole new international market of customers in many cases.

Businesses are reaping the rewards that include increased productivity, profits and sustainability. However, the question to ask is whether this digitalised way of doing business has stripped out the personal touch when it comes to customer experience? Is there a way to seamlessly partner the two competing concepts of high tech and high touch so that your customers have a rewarding and personal experience doing business with you?

Creating a tailored customer service experience was traditionally something that SMEs were able to do extraordinarily well in the past, and created a major point of difference with the large corporate giants, who have always been more competitive in price. There is a lot that can be said about the “village life” of yesteryear, where customers would form a relationship with their local butcher, pharmacist, and baker. Nowadays, when requiring some assistance with your bank account, a simply enquiry could involve at least 30 minutes on the phone, talking to a computer that will not recognise your voice requests. With the increase of automated and digital processes and customer service, customers started to really desire that personal touch in this global village.

More often, people are choosing to shop locally to support their neighbours in business. They want to feel like a valued customer, and have an experience that is rewarding – even for something simple like buying a loaf of bread. Big businesses and corporate enterprises traditionally were never leaders in a truly personalized customer service experience for this very reason. Customers would be lucky to deal with an actual employee of the business, let alone the manager or owner of the business – who would no doubt be locked away, high in his glass tower and having as little actual contact with his customers as possible. This is where SMEs typically had the advantage. They were small enough to be able to be on the ground with their customer base, to provide a real experience and form a relationship with their customers. This was the reason why customers chose to do business with SMEs, even if the big corporates were more cost effective.

However, the need for technology and digital processes in order to survive eventually arrived for SMEs too. Small businesses trying to operate without digital support found they were being left behind and struggled to stay competitive. Eventually they started to adopt automated processes to streamline their business functions, and possibly even had to send some of their business operations overseas. Without that competitive edge of a truly personalised customer service model, how can SMEs differentiate themselves from the corporate giants, who have a larger marketing budget and offer reduced prices? Is there a limit for automating processes to ensure that the personal touch is retained?

The great thing is that, rather than simply stripping your business of its customer service, technology can actually add to it. The term is ‘experience design’ – in other words, creating the experience your customer will have at all contact points, using a mixture of different digital platforms and human contact. There are a number of methods available to SMEs to help them provide the best customer experience, and not all of them are expensive or complicated to operate. Social media is probably one of the most basic, and most effective, ways to communicate with your customers and maintain top of mind awareness. Whilst Facebook and Instagram are perfect platforms for branding and marketing exercises, consider it primarily as a tool to provide customer service. That includes answering enquiries, providing useful information and responding to feedback, rather than selling, selling, selling!

Other important digital platforms directed toward customer service include your website, your blog, and automated email campaigns. Consider investing in one of the many affordable applications that can provide statistics on your customer database’s purchasing behavior. This can help you direct your marketing efforts more precisely and also give you the information on your clients’ wants and needs to help provide a personalised customer service experience.