As years of lockdown restrictions are eased in Australia, how can SMEs build on the legacy of creativity and innovation that secured customer loyalty throughout the pandemic?

Customers shopped more frequently with local suppliers and showed strong support for their high street, but now merchants need to secure their business as economic activity resumes.

We gathered an expert panel of industry leaders to discuss the role technology will play in retaining SME customers for the future and how digital loyalty programmes, powered by customer data, could influence 9 million Australian consumers who want to support local loyalty initiatives.

Panellists Ana Marinkovic, executive general manager, business direct and small business, NAB, Linda Minassian, managing director APAC, Pollinate; Joshua Harrison, VP of hospitality, APAC, Lightspeed HQ; and Simone Joyce, CEO and founder at Paypa Plane and chair of FinTech Australia, discussed the issue during an online debate.

Read key takeaways below and watch the full debate. To obtain a global perspective on Making Loyalty Work for Small Businesses, download our free full report, containing insights on Australia along with Brazil, the UK and US.

The report explains how banks are ideally placed to support SMEs. Consumers trust banks much more than technology companies when it comes to transactional data; they also trust banks to operate digital loyalty programmes that allow for tailored and personalised experiences across multiple small businesses.

Linda Minassian, managing director APAC, Pollinate 

The loyalty that has been developed through the pandemic has had an enduring effect. Consumers want value and they like to see a nexus between taking an action and receiving a reward, but that is hard to manage for an SME. If data is used appropriately, the customer doesn’t need to even claim their reward because the SME automatically knows they qualify for one. Consumers feel valued and loved and go back for more because the merchant has been able to demonstrate they are rewarding loyalty. 

SMEs adopted technologies and platforms they might not otherwise have considered during the pandemic, but these will help them optimise their costs and drive insights, offers and loyalty. Over time you can measure the ROI of different initiatives, and this will evolve as new mechanisms for driving loyalty emerge. 

Ana Marinkovic, executive general manager, business direct and small business, NAB 

We look after 500,000 small businesses across Australia and there has been a turbo-charging of the transition to digital. It has been an opportunity for creativity and innovation for many.

However, SMEs may not collect the data they need in a user-friendly way to be able to run their business. When they do collect it, they may not have the time or expertise to interpret the data and then make the changes needed to their business. One of the key issues for any small business is to be able to gain insights.

The voice of the customer consistently tells us, ‘I want my bank to know my business’, ‘I want my bank to know my industry’, and ‘I want my bank to provide me with insights and data to be able to sustain and grow my business’. I hope to see a lot more resilient balance sheets for those SMEs that have reviewed their operating models and embraced digital opportunities to manage their businesses more efficiently. 

Joshua Harrison, VP of hospitality, APAC, Lightspeed HQ 

How do we go beyond the transaction and create personalisation and experiences? How do you build agility into your business with technology that is just plug and play? How can we connect the card and the merchant and the consumer in one transaction and expose that in a safe way to merchants to then drive their loyalty programmes?

People want to feel a connection with a business through personalisation. When we look at loyalty, it is not just about rewarding the customer for coming back, it is understanding what the customer really wants, being able to leverage that to improve their buying experience and connecting them with products they might enjoy more or combinations of things that serve them better. So, it’s tailoring your business to them, rather than just giving them free stuff. We have to look at loyalty as more than just ‘You shopped here before, here’s 10% off’. That’s very 90s; I think we can do better than that.

Simone Joyce, CEO and founder at Paypa Plane and chair of FinTech Australia

Sometimes customers don’t come to you, sometimes you need to go to them on a platform where they are already. Where are the next shopfronts or the next marketplaces we will see? 

We will start to see a really connected ecosystem that will be driven by the digital tools that are available, along with new payment types, with data layered on top to bring an even richer experience for everyone involved in that ecosystem.  

Using scheduled subscription payments can create loyalty and recurring revenue. A study indicated that by 2025 80% of SMEs could have some components of a membership base to their business model. SMEs are changing how they sell to their customers, pre-booking the distribution of the product or service and driving loyalty at the same time. That is a trend that is certainly happening in America and Europe, with recurring revenue creating a circle of loyalty and keeping the customer within the business. Our financial institutions and our banks have a big role to play in supporting that new type of desire, to capture those types of payments from consumers.

Pollinate works with global banking partners including National Australia Bank (NAB), NatWest and CIBC to make better use of the wealth of data they own to transform merchant acquiring solutions for business banking customers. Check out our solution or get in touch with our team.