Half of small businesses say digital communication will be even more vital in 2021

Small business owners shifted their communication with customers from in-person to digital channels as a result of COVID-19 and the trend toward digital is projected to continue, according to a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB).

In fact, half of business owners (51 per cent) predict they will rely on digital communications a lot more in the coming year. 

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Since the beginning of the pandemic, two in five (41 per cent) small businesses reduced in-person communication with their customers and six per cent stopped meeting with their customers entirely. Video conferencing is the top communication platform adopted by businesses during the pandemic (15 per cent) and 46 per cent report they increased their use of email. 

The report also found customer-specific differences in the types of communication channels businesses pivoted toward: businesses that sell to other businesses (B2B) saw the biggest rates of adoption or increased use of video-conferencing, and app-based messaging, while businesses that sell to consumers (B2C) are more likely to have turned to social media platforms, like Facebook Messenger and Instagram Direct. 

“Small businesses thrive because of the relationships they have with their customers, but they have had to shift the ways they connect with customers,” said Mandy D’Autremont, Senior Director, Member Experience and Strategy at CFIB. “They have been forced to adapt to the pandemic and it prevented many from being able to see their customers in-person. Digital communication channels allowed many business owners to maintain their relationships with their customers, but this shift comes with its own unique set of challenges.”

The new communication methods have posed new challenges. For example, 46 per cent of business owners are overwhelmed by having to keep track of too many digital communication channels. Moreover, a total of 38 per cent of business operators forget to check for messages on digital platforms. 

“The rapid shift to digital communication has meant the difference between surviving and closing down entirely for some businesses, for example enabling customers to order curbside pickup over email or find new businesses over Instagram. Now, as we are seeing the start of a second wave in parts of the country, digital communication is going to continue being an essential tool for many businesses,” stated Marilyn Braun-Pollon, CFIB’s vice-president, Western Canada and Agri-business. “We urge any business owners who need help adopting new tools to call CFIB’s Business Helpline or visit cfib.ca to get free one-on-one help.” 

For more details, read the full Connecting with Customers during the Pandemic report. This is the first in the Transformation of Canada’s Small Businesses series of reports CFIB will release this fall.