There are over 5.7 million SMEs in the UK, and none of them can function, let alone succeed without access to proper business banking services. And just like the retail banking customer, hardworking small business owners have also come to expect a seamless digital banking experience.

Yet, research has proven that, time and time again, the same is simply not being delivered to SMEs. Avoka’s recent research into How Banks Can Win New Small Business Customers, in partnership with Vanson Bourne, found that a significant two-thirds of SMEs across Europe have at some point abandoned a digital banking application before completion: that’s 3.8 million potential missed business opportunities for banks.

And it doesn’t stop there. The research identified a clear disconnect between what banks currently offer SME customers and what business owners need for their businesses to thrive. For instance, 83% of SME respondents said they want to be able to apply for banking products more quickly and easily, yet only 18% said they were satisfied by the overall service currently being provided by their banks.

But, it isn’t all doom and gloom. These results provide a learning opportunity for banks to better service their SME banking customers by providing a quick, easy and frictionless digital onboarding experience. It is only when banks optimise the digital customer journey that they can boost acquisition rates, increase revenues and, most importantly, win SME customer loyalty.

Skating on thin ice

By failing to adapt digitally, banks are taking a huge gamble on both business and reputation. According to the report, upon having a poor online banking experience, 20% of SME respondents said they would be extremely likely to communicate their experience to their peers, and worse, 10% would seriously consider switching banks. But don’t just take my word for it: in September of 2018 alone, over 2,000 small businesses switched banks, according to a recent report by BACS. In the often tight-knit communities of small business owners, that’s a serious consideration for banks to take.

Thawing out

So, how can banks ensure that their SME customers don’t jump ship? The answer is actually quite simple – they must focus on making their lives easier by delivering an engaging and optimised digital experience.

To avoid losing SME banking customers not only to fellow banks, but also to challenger start-ups that are getting more and more attention for their focus on customer service, banks can take the following steps to make their offering work for the small business owner:

Derek Corcoran

Derek Corcoran
Chief Experience Officer, Avoka

Go digital or go home – In order to achieve a seamless customer journey, banks need to make sure that every step of the banking process can be executed digitally by the end user. Ensuring all documents and signatures can be provided electronically via desktop, mobile or tablet may seem obvious, but one stumbling block along the road can send abandonment rates flying. Indeed, 82% of respondents in the Vanson Bourne study said it would be helpful if they could submit documentation for business banking applications electronically.

Convenience is key – Small business owners are busy people. To keep the plates spinning, it’s essential that banking processes fit in around their other tasks. From reducing the number of questions on applications to the minimum required, to eliminating the need for repetitive input by pre-filling information already held, banks can take small but significant steps to make the SME banking customer’s life easier.

Adopt an omni-channel approach – Allowing multiple users to work on applications simultaneously or interchangeably is vital to ensure the customer’s experience is consistent, regardless of the device being used. Activating a ‘save and resume’ functionality affords small business owners the luxury of being able to complete tasks on the go when it suits them most.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Ultimately, European banks have an invaluable chance to become trusted allies for their SME customers. But first, they need to shift their focus from the volume of transactions to the customer experience journey to deliver a seamless digital banking experience. After all: what’s the point in having a robust set of business banking products if the process that gets customers to apply for them isn’t effective?