If you work for a bank or other small business lending institution and you’re responsible for customer relationship management, it’s critical that you have a clear view of small business owners’ needs and expectations at all times.

But tracking customer expectations can be a daunting task. In today’s world, the path to customer satisfaction is full of twists, turns and digital detours. You need to be ready. Next month’s “best customer experience” may not resemble today’s. In particular, customer concerns change as technology enables small business lenders to provide new and different services online. If you’re a lender serving SMB customers and think your old ways have customer service covered, you may want to think again.

So here’s how banks can combine digital and human touches to serve their small business clients.

What differentiates great bank customer service from poor customer service?

It’s a complicated question. That’s why many small business lenders invest considerable sums of money in launching customer surveys into the field and developing their unique customer service strategies.

There are important questions you should ask about your bank’s strategy for measuring small business customer service. Does your bank undertake customer research regularly with business owners? What tools do you use and what kind of insight is your research strategy designed to uncover? How proactively does your company incorporate research findings into their overall operations? 

Market research into SMB borrowers’ top concerns has demonstrated:

  • While they’re generally loyal to their primary deposit institutions — great news if you’re a full service banking institution — having a prior relationship doesn’t guarantee customers will bring you their lending business. A quarter of borrowers will fill out between three and five small business loan applications. Another 40% will submit more applications than that. SMB borrowers are more than willing to shop around and comb through multiple offers to find the best deal.
  • Traditional banks are fighting an uphill battle against alternative lenders. About 60% of applications submitted went to non-primary institutions, financial technology companies, and other alternative lenders.
  • Interest rates matter, but they matter less to younger borrowers. A survey by PWC found that only 35% of millennials base their loan decisions on interest rates. Experience matters more to them.
  • A 100% online experience is the cost of admission for a large percentage of the population. Nearly 80% of Americans express a preference for online banking. Your branch offices may be less of a draw than you think.
  • Decision-making and funding speed play an important role in small business borrower  satisfaction. The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), launched to provide small businesses with economic relief during the height of the COVID crisis, showed small business owners how fast small business lending can be and there’s no turning back.

How can you deliver excellent customer service for small business borrowers?

It may sound obvious, but the place to start is with your customer service team. It yields a great deal of power, driving the acquisition of new customers and inspiring customer loyalty through their daily customer interactions. That’s why it’s essential to give your reps all the support you can. Ultimately, the customer service solutions you provide your team members will have a direct impact on your bottom line. 

By combining both digital and human touches, banks can offer a more comprehensive and personalized customer service experience for SMBs. Here are some specific ways banks can do this:

  1. Offer a variety of digital channels for customer interaction: In today's digital age, many SMBs prefer to conduct their banking online or through mobile apps. By offering a variety of digital channels for customer interaction, banks can make it easier for SMBs to access the services they need. This can include things like online banking portals, mobile apps, and automated chatbots for basic inquiries.
  2. Provide personalized recommendations: One way banks can improve customer service for SMBs is by using data and analytics to provide personalized recommendations. For example, if an SMB has a large amount of cash on hand, a bank could recommend investing in a high-yield savings account or CD to help the business earn more interest. By using data to understand the specific needs and goals of each SMB, banks can offer more targeted and valuable recommendations.
  3. Use technology to streamline financial processes: Technology can also be used to streamline processes and make it easier for SMBs to access the services they need. For example, banks can use digital onboarding processes to allow SMBs to open accounts and apply for loans online, rather than having to visit a branch in person. By using technology to streamline processes, banks can reduce the time and effort required for SMBs to access services, which can improve customer satisfaction.
  4. Offer live support for convenience: While digital channels are important, it is also important for banks to offer access to their relationship managers to support SMB clients. This can include things like hosting educational seminars or workshops, or providing one-on-one consultations with business advisors.
  5. Provide quick and responsive customer service: When SMBs have questions or concerns about their accounts, they want to be able to get a quick and helpful response. Banks can improve customer service for SMBs by providing fast and responsive customer service through a variety of channels, including phone, email, and social media. Banks can also use automated chatbots or other digital tools to help resolve common issues quickly.
  6. Use customer feedback to improve services: Another way banks can improve customer service for SMBs is by using customer feedback to identify areas for improvement. This can include conducting surveys or focus groups to gather feedback, or using social media to track customer sentiment. By using customer feedback to identify problems and areas for improvement, banks can make necessary changes and better meet the needs of SMBs.

Out of everything, one of the most important things for banks to realize is the need to offer customers a multichannel experience that encompasses all digital and physical touch points in the customer journey. Automation can put you in a position to deliver that all-encompassing, seamless service. The right customer service tools can empower every banker on your team to meet the unique needs of small business owners and nurture the high-value relationships that drive growth for your business and ensure customer retention.

Integrating multiple customer service channels

You never know how a customer is going to reach out to you the first time — or the next time, either. Some connect first searching for a branch location. Others want to see you present and reachable through the social media channels they frequent. Some prefer the immediacy of phone calls and others the less direct interactions offered through email. And some will walk through your door one day and speak to your chatbot the next. 

The important thing to remember is that customers get to decide how they want to carry on a relationship with your institution. Your bank’s job, as a small business lender, is to be the most flexible you can be across these channels.  

That’s why taking a multichannel approach to customer support is critical to successful customer relationship management. Your customer service technology — and your staff — need to be there in the right place at the right moment or opportunities will be missed. Rapid response time is the price of entry. But it’s just the beginning of your customer obligations.  

Don’t my current systems already have that covered?

Here’s the rub. Using multiple customer support software applications to gather data often means the information you collect winds up in disconnected silos. That doesn’t benefit your organization or your customers. Customers hate being handed off to a series of reps who have no insight into the history of their service interactions with your company. You know the feeling: “Are you kidding me? I need to explain this again?”

You need solid integrations among all of your data collection systems so that comprehensive and consistent information is available to your entire team in real time. Every member of your support team should be operating from the same knowledge base. Only then can they manage customer issues with a minimum of friction. 

And that’s where an automated lending platform can feel like a miracle to your team and also help you meet or exceed customer expectations. The right automated lending solution can streamline your workflow in ways that make a banker’s job easier and, just as importantly, make customers feel loved.

The costs of disconnected small business customer service

The disintegration of customer service functions can spell danger for your small business lending institution. It can lead to common customer annoyances like delayed response times and for one thing. It can lead customers to believe your sales support team is disorganized or, worse incompetent. Customers who contact your customer support team are likely already fired up, so they’re extra-sensitive to additional stressors, and their frustration mounts. Think about it. When your systems and data are not integrated, your customer support team has to toggle between apps, consult multiple databases, and pore over who knows how many spreadsheets before you can even begin to address customer issues. That’s if they even have access to these resources at all. For lenders, using help desk software that is disconnected from loan application and underwriting data, is a disadvantage on many levels.  

In the end, it comes down to added operational costs for your business. Second, third, and fourth calls to your customer support team make doing business more expensive. Then there’s the cost of losing customers entirely. Poor customer service strains customer loyalty, sometimes to the point of destroying it. According to a study by the Northbridge Group, 54% of customers will try a new brand or company in search of better customer service. Even more concerning is that 27% will stop doing business with a company on account of poor customer service. Great customer service, however, can have a positive impact on your revenue. More than half of customers are willing to spend more with a vendor when they can be guaranteed good customer service. Consider the impact that might have on your pricing strategy.

The impact of digital banking platforms on customer service

Having access to small business finance platforms that support your customer service effort can transform the way your bank connects with business owners. For example, consider how automated lending platforms can help your bank serve business owners. In the lending process, there are so many potential points of contact, including the digital loan application. A small business lending platform will help your relationship managers connect with the client over email, phone, chat or SMS, plus they can take an application live and in-person from a branch.

So, if you’re trying to grow your SMB finance business, the importance of customer service can’t be overstated. Excellent customer service is the way to build a loyal customer base and earn more business from your clients at the same time. And you will need to handle it through multiple channels to serve today’s brand of small business owner.

At Biz2X, we’re focused on giving small business lenders technology that simultaneously simplifies workflows and amplifies the power of the human touch at every stage of the lending process. On average, customers using the Biz2X platform see their loan volumes double. If you’d like your financial institution to benefit from that kind of accelerated growth, get in touch and schedule a Biz2X demo today.