Small-business processes are colliding with digital tools at breakneck speed — and with good reason.
It doesn’t matter what your small business is, implementing digital tools in your processes can improve multiple areas of your business — from how you operate to how you provide value to customers.
But despite it being necessary to stay current, switching to digital tools can be overwhelming, to say the least. At Neat, we get it. After years of offering scanners along with our software, we transformed into a fully digital company in 2016. It was unnerving, and we faced a lot of challenges along the way.
Here’s the good news for you: because we faced those challenges, we have discoveries to share. Below are the top five lessons we learned from our digital transformation that can apply to any aspect of your business that you move from hard copy to digital.
1. Ask your customers for feedback.
Before going digital, find out what problem you’re trying to solve. Ask your customers about the problems they encounter while using the product or service you currently offer. Have open discussions, and request feedback about your product or service.
At Neat, we served for years as a software/scanner company focused on expense reporting. But after talking with our customers over time, we discovered that they needed automated bookkeeping solutions, a service we were well-equipped to provide. “We found that sole proprietors and small-business owners were using the tool to manage the documents in their business,” says Jeff Gove, VP of Customer Operations at Neat. “But they also wanted to be able to automatically parse the data from invoices or checks or bank statements.”
To gather this customer feedback, we completed customer surveys and interviews. We implemented an “ideas portal” on our cloud-based platform and app to continually collect feedback from customers.
These feedback-collection channels are a big part of how we developed, and continue to develop, our product. Thanks to the customer feedback we collected while Neat was still selling scanners, we revamped our software, and the new Neat was eventually born, moving into a cloud-based, automated bookkeeping app.
For your own customer-feedback collection, consider sending survey links to customers via email. Ask for feedback on social media. At Neat, we also pay attention to customer reviews on sites like Google and Trustpilot. We respond and try to close the loop on any negative feedback that we receive, as well as use the feedback to find out how we can do better. Register your business on top review sites. Make it easy for customers to find you and leave feedback. This approach shows them that you are listening and can make updates as needed to your product or service.
2. Get expenses in line quickly.
A key part of going digital involves investing in cost-effective tools and removing manual processes (e.g., manual data entry) that drain valuable time and resources. But as you’re purchasing and implementing digital tools, also look for other expenses that you can cut to maximize cost-effectiveness. The point is to save money, not spend it.
For us, that meant assessing unnecessary expenses as we downsized from a $100 million hardware company to an $8 million–$10 million software company — cutting out expenses like big office spaces and $100K phone bills to ensure that our processes were efficient. It also meant we could focus on building the Neat product.
According to Jim Conroy, CFO at Neat, “You have to be nimble when you’re small, and you have to have efficient tools at a low price point.” Remove the time-consuming task of manually going receipt by receipt to track your expenses (because, let’s face it, that’s not a task anyone wants to complete when closing their books).
Instead, use digital tools that simplify the process and allow you to see how your money’s being spent in real time, not months down the road. For example, Neat’s application lets you track transactions as they occur in one centralized location, whether on your computer or on your phone. All transactions are directed from your bank account into the Neat dashboard, so you’re always on top of your business’s financial health. You can also pinpoint where to cut costs and automatically complete your business’s bookkeeping every month (a major benefit).
3. Implement tech support for customers.
As with any new business endeavor, when you introduce digital tools to your processes, customers will likely need assistance. As such, it’s essential to up your tech support/customer service game. Our customer service at Neat had to be extremely accessible, especially as we removed the scanner from our product offerings.
Make it easy for customers to ask questions or troubleshoot by providing website chat options or by making your support number visible. At Neat, we put almost all of our support capabilities in the app. Prior to about three years ago, if a customer needed support, they had to go out to our website, go search our FAQ, or reach out for live support.
We’ve now put all of that into our cloud-based platform and app. Customers get context-based FAQ news, so they can search very easily for what they need. If that still doesn’t work, then they have a live chat option.
“We also measure what is called customer effort score, which is a one to seven metric,” Jeff Gove says. “And it asks the customer, based on your last interaction with Neat, how easy or how difficult was it for you to get an answer to your question or to get your issue resolved.” Add a support feedback option on your small business website to allow customers to rate your support and use the info to determine where you can improve.
4. Evaluate what your competitors are doing.
No matter your industry, knowing what your competitors are offering customers in terms of digital tools can help you determine ways for your own business to stand out. Identify their tools to identify gaps in your own digital strategy.
At Neat, when we were switching to SaaS exclusively, we took a hard look at what bookkeeping options were currently on the market — even the big names in accounting software. We assessed which steps in their processes were unnecessary (e.g., comparing business transactions with journal entries instead of just bank statements). We then turned an eight-part process into a simple three-part process within our software — to eliminate the dread that small-business owners feel when they traditionally approach bookkeeping.
Even if you’re not digitizing your entire product or service, there are areas of your business that would benefit from a competitor assessment. Visit your competitors’ website or social media pages. Read their marketing materials. Check interactive aspects of their site and how they compare to your own.
Determine what digital tools you can implement to remain competitive. For example, does your competitor offer a chat option on their website? Do they use a digital marketing platform to send out customer newsletters? Do pop-up pages encourage website visitors to download helpful resources?
Find opportunities for digital touch points (e.g., how you bill customers, how you support customers, etc.) so your business continues to stay relevant and competitive. According to Garrett Baird, CEO here at Neat, “As your small business evolves, you need to continue to look ahead and understand what’s out there. In the words of the famous quote by Wayne Gretzky, “Skate to where the puck is going, not where it’s been.”
5. Communicate with customers before you make changes.
As you digitize aspects of your business — whether with your billing, your website, or your marketing strategies — be transparent with your customers about any customer-facing changes (and the value that these changes will bring). When Neat made the switch from scanners to software, it was harder for customers to recognize the value of our business. We needed to walk them through the application to show how our features would add value to their businesses.
However, we were open and transparent with customers about what we were working on. We have continued that transparency as the product has changed. According to Andy Schaps, VP of Development at Neat, “We have a team that is responsible for reaching out and engaging with customers either in real time on our website or allowing them to schedule a walk-throughs or webinars or deeper demos of the system so they can up their comfort level with our product.” This communication is essential to the customer relationship, he adds.
“We’re not just handing customers a product over the wall and they’re throwing money back. We view Neat as a two-way partnership between Neat and customer.” – Andy Schaps
Before you make your changes, communicate to the customer that you will be changing and tell them what that will mean for them. Train your support team to have these conversations with customers. Send emails to inform your customer base about any updates. Write transparent blog posts that give the reason behind the changes.
Something that we also adhere to at Neat is to educate and teach customers in the way that they learn best. And sometimes that means you’re overcommunicating or creating unique ways to get the message across. For example, some people like to look at flip charts or watch a video. Others just want the “ABC 123” steps of how to do something. Provide a mix of educational options for your customers to understand your digital offerings.
Hint: The same concept applies to your employees. Get team members on board with any digital tools, and invest in the necessary training. Forcing employees to use new technology without the right context will only create resistance (bad news for both you and your customers).
Going digital doesn’t have to be painful
Maybe you want to improve how you send out invoices. Or maybe you want real-time data insights about your business’s health. Or maybe you want customers to be able to interact with your business through digital channels like Facebook or Instagram. Whatever the case, the process of going digital doesn’t have to be overwhelming.
Take it from us: the journey isn’t without its challenges, but by implementing the lessons above and being transparent with your customers, your small business can thrive in today’s digital world.
Want to learn more about the transformation at Neat? Check out our article, “The New Neat: How Neat Is Evolving to Help Small-Business Owners in the 21st Century.” You can also try our digital tool yourself for free here.