Over the last year, the consumer landscape changed significantly. Regulations like the new Consumer Duty and proposed Data Protection and Digital Information Bill are pushing customers into the spotlight more than ever. It’s not just regulations that are changing – consumer expectations are also on the rise. More than ever, modern consumers expect companies to anticipate their individual needs and preferences, and shape services and communications accordingly.

As the consumer landscape evolves, SMBs are re-shaping their priorities and recognising exceptional customer communications as critical for success. Here are three steps they can take to make sure communications are reaching the right customer, in the right way, at the right time.

1. Respect customer communication preferences

As a customer, it can be incredibly frustrating when businesses ignore requests or preferences you have shared. Some customers will always want all communication from businesses to come through the post, perhaps so they can take time to review together with their partner. On the flipside, some people place letters in a big pile to open weeks after delivery. These customers are likely to prefer timely messages to come through email.

As the ICO says, it’s absolutely paramount that businesses respect people’s preferences to maintain good relationships with customers over the longer term. If the message could be classified as marketing, the regulator can even fine businesses that ignore customers’ clearly expressed wishes. This ramps up the pressure to get it right – mistakes could prove costly. Businesses can avoid these risks by using automation to ensure they only communicate through channels customers have explicitly requested.

2. Use technology to ‘do more with less’

Delivering high-quality, hyper-personalised communications is no small feat, but SMBs can use technology to reduce the level of resources needed. As the cost-of-living crisis continues and many SMBs have less income than ever before, they are being forced to do ‘more with less’. This challenge is further compounded by widespread staff shortages, with four-fifths of SMBs grappling with the difficulty of hiring new personnel.

To meet this standard over the coming year, SMBs need to take advantage of technology – for instance, by embracing automation. Automating their personalised communications will make the process of sending out digital and physical documents much faster and easier, and reduce the burden of repetitive manual tasks on employees. Document automation also largely reduces the risk of human error, making sure digital documents are delivered on time through whichever channel a customer prefers. In this way, SMBs can keep pace with larger businesses with the limited resources they have.

3. Prepare for new data regulations that offer greater flexibility

SMBs should put processes in place that allow them to take advantage of customer data when new regulations come into effect. 

The introduction of GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018) placed limits on how customers’ personal data could be accessed by businesses. In Spring of 2024, it is expected that new regulations will come into force that revise the Data Protection Act, loosening the shackles around consent and impact. These revisions could potentially offer businesses greater flexibility in using customer data for more personalised and proactive communication. SMBs need to be ready for this change, as it could enable them to be much more proactive with direct marketing.

SMBs can prepare by putting processes in place to swiftly create and distribute communications. For example, implementing the right technology stack – whether it’s advanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, marketing automation tools, or data analytics platforms – can help companies prepare now rather than when the laws come into force. The companies that are ready to strike whilst the iron is hot will be the ones to gain the market advantage.

A strategy to survive and thrive

Customers today view personalised communications as the default – and if organisations don’t deliver, they’re likely to fall behind the competition. By taking advantage of technology like automation, companies can deliver hyper-personalisation with limited resources, benefiting from improved customer satisfaction, as well as huge time and cost savings. With loosening data restrictions on the horizon, the time to act is now.

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