Australian SMEs confidently face digital jungle

John Debenham

John Debenham

Being social media savvy and digitally driven are key to connecting with customers and driving business growth, according to research released today by Suncorp.

The Suncorp “Cost of Being Connected Report” reveals more than half of Australian small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) are spending half their time using digital tools to connect, collaborate and conduct their business.

The report also found while business owners are spending an average of $17,000 a year to remain connected* (from sole traders spending an average of just under $6,000 up to medium sized businesses spending an average of almost $175,000), more than half said the cost of providing their customers with the service they need and want continues to significantly increase.

Suncorp Head of Business Customers John Debenham said despite one third confirming their technology costs are higher than expected, the findings highlight the value SMEs place on their digital connections.

“Small business owners have a business to build, finances to manage and customers to attract.  Our research shows two thirds are using digital tools to keep pace a changing operating environment and reach new customers, while more than half measure the success of their business against their level of investment in technology and innovation,” Mr Debenham said.

“Technology has the ability to drastically expand a business’s reach, but at the same time, customer expectations for them to be responsive have also increased.”

According to nearly two thirds of respondents, customer expectations on speed and timeliness have increased – a trend which small business owner Nandi Preller said had influenced the way she engages with her customers.

“We receive customer queries all day and night through social media and other digital channels – it isn’t unusual to reply to a Facebook enquiry at 2am,” Ms Preller said.

“The cost of connecting is not just financial, it’s time consuming. If we are not available to quickly reply to a customer, we run the risk of losing their trust and sale.”

Mr Debenham said this around-the-clock service was not uncommon and highlighted some of the challenges they face.

“Our research tells us that attracting and retaining customers are two of the biggest concerns for SMEs. We also know that a business owner’s time is very valuable, yet is it the one thing they never have enough of. However, it’s important they allow enough time to work on the business, not just in their business.

“It was pleasing to see a third of respondents using accounting and productivity software to manage their financials. Digital software programs and business dashboards can remove some of the complexities of running a business, and ultimately alleviate some time pressures.”

*Being ‘connected’ includes spending on technology-related products and services such as computer hardware and software, telecommunications and the internet, IT support and digital marketing, all to maintain engagement with customers, partners and staff members alike.

Read the Cost of Being Connected Report here.

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