Four Tactics for Rebuilding Your Client Base
Post-pandemic success will hinge on attracting both old and new customers
5 minute read
Despite the economic headwinds brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, business leaders contacted by Ipsos and Crain’s Content Studio see a bright future. According to a recent survey conducted by Crain’s Content Studio, Ipsos and Bank of America, 79% of business leaders interviewed are optimistic about their companies’ outlook over the next 12-18 months. That’s not to say they see business returning to normal anytime soon, however: 73% of business leaders contacted predict that the pandemic will lead to long-term changes in their industry.
For one in every five businesses surveyed, one of the main challenges in the COVID era has been the loss of customers. Even among those who have not lost customers, many are reevaluating their strategies either because customer needs have shifted during the pandemic or because they anticipate those needs shifting as the pandemic fades — or both. The array of customer-facing approaches business leaders have turned to over the past year offers a framework for businesses seeking ways to expand their client base for the remainder of the pandemic and beyond.
Here are four tactics to consider for businesses that want to bolster their existing customer base — and attract new customers as well:
Strengthen your digital presence
When it became clear in the early stages of the pandemic that travel restrictions would have a huge impact on the hospitality industry, Clark Twiddy, President of Twiddy & Company, a vacation rental company based on the Outer Banks islands in North Carolina, knew he’d have to make a big pivot. A central component of the company’s new strategy was stronger digital capabilities. For Twiddy, that meant hiring web-savvy employees and looking for innovative ways to connect digitally with homeowners and guests.
“The hospitality world has been historically rooted in personal interactions,” he said. “Now we’ve lost that home-court advantage, and we have to exist in a digital world.” Those changes have produced some positive surprises, however: attendance at the annual meeting of Twiddy’s homeowner clients more than tripled when the company changed its format from in-person to digital.
And Twiddy isn’t the only company expanding into virtual interactions: 94% of businesses contacted plan to become more digital, according to the survey. These plans range from introducing an e-commerce strategy to leveraging mobile technology, automating processes and digitizing receipts.
Evolve your product or services offerings
While the pandemic has dampened demand for certain businesses, especially in the service industry, it has also presented an opportunity to meet new customer needs. According to the survey, nearly 81% of companies interviewed have enhanced their product mix since the pandemic started, or plan to do so in the future.
Vertical Collective is a consumer products manufacturer that partners with lifestyle and fashion brands to make and deliver goods straight to consumers. Not long after the pandemic became a global concern, it started working directly with European governments, U.S. states and hospitals around the world to help supply personal protective equipment (PPE). “We got a really good amount of street credit pretty early on, and that carried us through the year,” said CEO Katherine Zabloudil.
Sue Duckett, Executive Vice President of Franklin Capital, which funds small and medium businesses, sees PPE maintaining a market presence for a long time to come. Still, she remains wary of overinvesting in any one product. “If we get too highly involved in PPE, as with any product, that’s a risk for our company,” she said.
For businesses to thrive in the long term, a diverse mix of products and services is key. However, it’s also critical to maintain enough flexibility to respond nimbly to ever-shifting consumer demands.
Enter new markets
Entering new markets, like introducing new products and services, can also help businesses reach new clients. Suburban Jungle, a real estate advisory firm that helps people move from urban to suburban and rural settings, has seen business boom since the start of the pandemic. Recent launches in Austin and south Florida have accelerated its growth. The company also has plans to expand to Nashville, Denver, South Carolina and Seattle in the coming months.
Finding new customers doesn’t require businesses to move to new places, however. Instead, it can mean zeroing in on a different kind of client. Overall, 80% of businesses surveyed have refined their client selection since the start of the pandemic, or have plans to do so. For example, essensys, a global SaaS and technology company that builds digital infrastructure networks to manage flexible office spaces, has seen a shift in demand from the flexible workspace companies, which it predominantly catered to prior to the pandemic, to landlords looking to introduce flex space into their portfolios in anticipation of a more hybrid workplace in the post-pandemic world.
Optimize customer service
Twiddy & Company, the vacation rentals company that plans to invest heavily in digital enhancements, has a second focus area in the COVID era: personal engagement with customers. These two tactics may seem contradictory, but Clark Twiddy sees them as complementary over the long run — especially once it becomes possible to return to in-person interactions with his traditional client base while reaching new customers via digital channels. “Our competitive advantage comes with combining those two things. It can’t be one or the other,” he says. The 91% of business leaders surveyed, who plan on improving or have already improved their client service, would likely agree.
For Twiddy, better client service includes making sure that the company has plenty of employees to take phone calls from customers, and that those employees take the time to understand customers’ needs and follow up on them with a sense of urgency.
“We’re going to listen ferociously to our customers and ask them how we need to be different. And then we’re going to do it.”
Ipsos and Crain Communications conducted the Bank of America Better Business Banking Report survey online between October 13th – November 20th, 2020 and January 4th – January 15th, 2021. Responses were collected using an online sample of business decision makers in the United States with annual revenue between $5 million and $99,999,999. From October 13th – November 20th, 2020 Crain’s contacted 73 business decision makers using a propriety list in Chicago, New York, Detroit, Boston, Minneapolis and Houston. From October 13th – November 20th, 2020 Ipsos contacted 751 business decision makers using a pre-recruited online sample of small business owners from across the country outside of the following markets: Seattle, Minneapolis/St Paul, Washington DC, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Charlotte, San Diego, Boston, Orlando, Phoenix, New York, Miami, Houston, Philadelphia. From January 4th – January 15th, 2021 Ipsos contacted 400 business decision makers using a pre-recruited online sample of small business owners from within the following markets: Seattle, Minneapolis/St Paul, Washington DC, San Francisco/Silicon Valley, Chicago, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, Charlotte, San Diego, Boston, Orlando, Phoenix, New York, Miami, Houston, Philadelphia. The final results for the study are not weighted.