Small businesses must embrace digital trends to meet changing consumer preferences

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Since the coronavirus pandemic began over a year ago, Chicagoland’s small business owners have undergone incredible changes, essentially adapting overnight to a new world defined by uncertainty, the changes in consumer behavior and increased health and safety measures.

In many cases, digitization has allowed individuals and businesses to adhere to social distancing protocols that protected us while staying connected. But it has also accelerated and normalized a more digital world.

Consumers, many of whom have a new appreciation for convenience and ease of digital interaction, will expect continued and expanded digital access in the post-coronavirus world. In fact, according to the Bank of America Small Business Owners Report 2020, 73% of entrepreneurs believe consumers will be less likely to visit physical stores in the future.

However, digital innovation on its own won’t move the needle significantly. Instead, Chicago-area business leaders considering an investment in digital should determine its value by putting customers at the center of the equation. Below are some considerations from Bank of America’s long-standing commitment to digital and feedback from our Chicagoland customers.

Choose digital tools that improve the customer experience

First, prioritize digital tools that enhance the customer experience and facilitate seamless, on-demand interactions between your business and its customers. Whether it’s making products and services available on demand through a mobile app or offering e-signature options for contracts, digital tools can be a great way to help customers do business with you safely, securely and efficiently. Our clients are increasingly using digital tools to deposit funds, send money, make appointments and even apply for loans.

Look for flexible digital solutions in this changing environment

Protect your digital investment by choosing tools that can learn and grow with your business and stay relevant in an ever-changing environment. Last year, Bank of America’s virtual financial assistant Erica learned more than 60,000 coronavirus-related terms, ensuring the AI-based platform could understand customer concerns and provide relevant support and timely. Digital tools that learn and grow with your business are essential.

Use digital tools to free up time and grow your business

Internally, choose digital assets that work for you and your team (instead of the other way around), allowing you to focus on delivering products and services that generate value for your customers. Today, four out of five small business customers of Bank of America are digitally active, choosing to automate processes such as banking, payroll, accounting, and human resources so they can focus on business. creation and growth of their business.

Adopt contactless payments

Instant, contactless payments are becoming a preferred method for financial transactions – in person and virtually. About 13 million Bank of America customers, including small businesses, are now active Zelle users, an increase of 33% last year. These customers sent and received more than 517 million transactions totaling $ 141 billion in 2020. Businesses embracing contactless payments will have a leg up on their competitors as our economy evolves.

Today, approximately 70% of Bank of America household and small business customers are digitally active. Growth in digital engagement is expected to continue as people enjoy personalized experiences and enjoy the convenience of running their business and financial lives wherever they are.

For small businesses around Chicagoland, the expansion of digital tools and solutions focused on customer needs and goals can strengthen business this year and for years to come.

• John Scully is Managing Director, responsible for digital sales and services for small businesses at Bank of America. He is based in the Chicago area.

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