By Ryan Cantor, Chief Product Officer, Thryv, finalist of Best SaaS Product for Customer Services / CRM  at 2022 SaaS Awards

In the era of snail mail and landlines, communicating was pretty uncomplicated. Even when faxes arrived (remember those?) they simply combined the two.

Fast forward a few decades — only a few — and communication has become fraught with choices. Do I email? Or text? How about DMing on social media? Wait, people can send me Google messages?

The minute a business creates profiles in these essential applications (e.g., Google, Facebook, etc.,) they’ll start receiving messages from their customers and prospects there. Whether the business decides it wants to or not.

And so, while communications flexibility has flourished, it’s come at the expense of communications — and relationship — management. Who has the time and resources to monitor all these channels? For larger companies, that may not be an issue; they can generally afford to have an employee (or several) manage every customer communication stream.

But what about small businesses? They often don’t have deep enough pockets to spend their days managing multiple communication channels. So the Thryv product team set about addressing the issues that omnichannel communication presents to its small business users.

When more is less

No matter a business’s size, they all have a universal touchpoint: communication. How do you schedule appointments without some sort of communication? How do you share documents without communication? And every form of communication now — except for face-to-face — is digital.

Every application on the market, whether they originally were a communications app or not, has evolved to solve this core need. Facebook started Facebook Messenger. Google created Google’s Business Messages. Apple launched Apple Business Chat to help businesses communicate with iPhone users. The list goes on.

But that forces business owners into a conversational commerce choice. Do they just send emails? Or texts? Do they use a chat application? Or send iMessages? Is that going to be where all their customers are? How do they know?

And even if small business owners could check every messaging app with every spare minute of the day, timeliness becomes an issue. Prospects and customers expect to hear from businesses quickly.

No matter which choice they make, small businesses are automatically at a disadvantage. They’ve just limited themselves to messaging channels that don’t talk to one another. None of the platforms offer a continuous conversation thread from any other channel. Even web chats start over new each time, losing their context and thread; it’s as if you’re in the movie “Groundhog Day.”

Where do you see a 360-degree view of all these conversations? Shouldn’t you have a full communications picture as you nurture a relationship?

The “R” in CRM

If the issue were simply about communication channels, some of the options would fall away over time, and clear winners be decided. Small business owners could sit on the sidelines and wait for the victors.

But communication doesn’t exist for its own sake — it’s the foundation to a relationship. And relationships aren’t going to wait for a final cage match. If you’re not tracking all the interactions you have with your customers, then your CRM is just a customer list. Tracking them is what helps you add value.

And yeah, the idea of omnichannel communication isn’t new. But we at Thryv took this idea and asked ourselves how we could best implement it for small business owners. Small business owners don’t operate like enterprises. It doesn’t help our clients to simply unload a firehose of communications into a contact center they still need to sift through.

Early on we decided we liked supporting our small business owners. We understand them. We understand their needs. We knew what model we needed to be. So we built our entire platform with those economics in mind. Our goal is to stay nimble so we can prioritize the ideas that make life easy for small business owners.

After all, history is strewn with the remnants of innovations that began serving small business customers, then moved upstream to net the cost efficiencies of enterprise fish. But Thryv’s 100-year track record has always been connected to small businesses.

With that history and the right economics, Thryv was able to quickly leverage and adapt the omnichannel idea to benefit our audience. Developers deployed auto-responders to collect the necessary customer information to create an integrated communications infrastructure.

Thryv’s Centralized Inbox now collapses every conversation into a single thread, as quickly as the customer can switch applications. By maintaining each conversation’s context, communication technology has fulfilled its highest and best use: helping people respond in a human way.

As of this writing, Thryv is aggregating Instagram Messenger, Facebook Messenger, Google’s Business Messages, website webchat, email and text channels. More channels are being added as quickly as they can be developed.

Painting a transparent picture

Anywhere there’s a large cadre of consumers using an app as a centralized communication service, they expect the businesses they do business with to be communicating on the same channel. Businesses that do that well will gain a competitive advantage. They’ll get more leads. They’ll be easier to do business with. Case in point: customers who engage with a business on social media spend up to 40% more with them in the long term, according to Bain & Company.

However, as businesses grow, the omnichannel challenges compound. Business owners might be able to dedicate employees’ time to keeping tabs on every individual communication channel. But they’re still in their own swim lanes.

Do business owners really want one-to-one conversations between customers and employees they can’t observe? Sure, they could drop in on a web chat, but the minute that conversation moves to email, it becomes hidden. That’s where the Thryv Centralized Inbox comes in: connecting fully transparent message streams to customer touchpoint documentation. Creating an end-to-end picture of every customer relationship.

Whether the volume is heavy or not, this brings customers peace of mind. They know they don’t have to worry. Messages aren’t getting locked away in an owner’s cell phone.

And that means business owners are afforded the luxury of a break — or even a few days off — and the business can still function. That’s an important milestone in every small business owner’s lifetime: the point they grow from “business shuts down if they leave” to “it can run when they’re not there.”

Win-win instead of no-win

The choices facing small business owners are endless, and the stakes are only getting higher. As more and more messaging channels pop up, the more fraught the decision regarding the best way to communicate with customers.

Frankly, we believe most small business owners have been left behind. They didn’t get into business to run apps and technology — or, for that matter, parse messaging apps. But the exponential and fragmented growth of communication channels forces business owners to make an impossible choice.

If they use one platform, what about the messages their customers or prospects send to them from the others? Do they ignore those messages? Do they want to lose out on that business? Do they want to provide a bad client experience? Or, do they want to answer?

With Thryv, it’s not a choice they have to make. Small business owners can communicate on their own terms while allowing their customers to do the same. Everyone wins. And that’s how we like it.