One of the challenges facing small businesses today is trying to deliver the same experiences as larger competitors. However, the same digital disruption and widespread innovation that’s impacting big business, can make small businesses more competitive.
This year, the NFIB Index of Small Business Optimism reported that “the percentage of small business owners planning to make capital expenditures in the next three to six months reached its highest level since 2006,” with small business owners reporting they’re open to investing in machine and technology upgrades.
But the jargon surrounding emerging technology can be intimidating — and can overshadow the promise.
Here are a few emerging areas where business owners are investing to improve business performance and the overall customer experience.
As technology evolves, more tasks can be handled online and more traditional devices are connected to the internet and the cloud. In 2005, there were just 500 million devices connected to the internet; today there are 8 billion. By 2030, it’s estimated that there will be 1 trillion.
Part of this growth can be attributed to connected devices moving from the home into the office. Business owners are learning that adopting these digitally connected devices can streamline operations that bring new value. Through internet connectivity, these devices use apps and software to “speak” to each other, which offers capabilities outside their original intention.
In a business environment dominated by ever-changing consumer preferences, data-driven insights are key to serving the needs and securing the business of today’s hyper-connected consumers. By utilizing data and analytics, businesses can be better equipped to deliver superior customer experiences, support product and service innovation and optimize business processes. For example, using data culled from website visits or previous purchasing history allows businesses to offer more targeted marketing to its customers.
Conversational chatbots that can schedule meetings and manage email accounts represent a new frontier of personal computing, especially for small businesses. For small business owners in need of administrative assistance, but who may not have the resources to take on a new employee, virtual assistants could be a saving grace.
VA’s can also serve as a new communication channel between small business owners and consumers. Technology built for ecommerce automation or consumer-facing support opens an avenue where users can interact with businesses in a fast and intuitive way.
Implementation of artificial intelligence (AI) can yield efficiencies and savings for small business owners, particularly in their engagement with customers and marketing efforts. According to Salesforce’s 2016 Connected Small Business Report, “when thinking about AI, small business owners said they are interested in automated email marketing send-times based on when those emails are most likely be read (33 percent), automatic recommendations for customers (30 percent) and predictive audiences for marketing (19 percent).” By automating marketing and customer communications, such as emails and even social media, businesses can improve engagement with customers while still focusing on the core offering of their business.
Implementing new technology in a workplace can be highly beneficial, and is often essential- however it can also engender resistance from your team.As we discussed last week, often the source of resistance is not the new technology or the new process: resistance stems from the fear of the unknown, of learning something new, of uncertainty in how the technology will work, or even of new ways of working.
Technology is expanding at an incredibly fast rate and the speed of growth is astonishing. If your business isn’t keeping up, it may get left behind. Being unable to move with the times could cause the untimely death of your business. Here are some clever tech additions you can make to your business that your employees will love.
Providing mobile optionsMany clients will now expect your business to at least have a mobile responsive website and ideally an app; that way they can access your business services from anywhere. Providing them with the ability to book online whether that be for a table at a restaurant, an appointment at a hair salon or getting a quote for a job – enables instant access to a service which will increase customer satisfaction and, in turn, revenue.
With recent figures showing that over half of all searches are now performed on mobile devices, the upwards trend of mobile-friendly websites shows no sign of slowing down. The logical next step in that process is to allow your customers to access services they want directly. This level of direct automated contact with your business may make some of your team members nervous regarding their role in these new processes, but reassure them by explaining how much easier it will make their jobs, and in turn, how busy you will now be with increased bookings! You’ll need them more than ever.
EcommerceSimilar to implementing an online booking system, opening your business up to an ecommerce shopping solution for your customers will allow them to browse online and buy from the comfort of their homes, work commutes or anywhere else the fancy takes them, rather than losing them to a competitor retailer or business that does provide that service.
You can purchase many ‘out of the box’ solutions that have features allowing you to integrate an ecommerce site with your current business;.
Making sure your staff are fully versed in how software works will facilitate a smoother transition period, and having your staff fully trained and able to step in and fix issues or get stock online quickly will be essential. This level of training will make your staff confident and invaluable to the team.
Inventory softwareHaving a form of inventory software will help you to keep a tighter handle on your stock levels and; in turn, that will save you money, enabling you to make sure that you aren’t over-ordering on expensive stock. It will also help you track trends in sales so that you can anticipate times of high activity and plan ahead, placing you one step ahead of the pack.
Choosing dedicated members of your team to administrate and maintain this system will be key; that way you can keep a few dedicated people fully trained and minimize the avenue for human error.
Contactless paymentsMost card machines allow contactless payments now, but some smaller independent retailers haven’t caught up with the trend. Swapping card machines for new contactless versions will keep customers happy, leaving them marveling at what a smooth experience it all was. Not only will this small swap keep customers happy, but studies have shown that it increases spending too, especially for bars and restaurants, where the ability to buy food or a round of drinks quickly means that fewer people leave your establishment ‘to go to the cash machine’ and never come back.
Geo-locations or taggingThis is an easy and cheap one to implement, in a small way. Use Snapchat, Instagram or Facebook to add Geo-filters to your location and allow customers to show loyalty; you can reward them for posting selfies in your shops with small discounts or freebies. All press is good press after all! This form of geo-filtering can boost your social media presence too, helping spread the word about your business. The simplest way to manage this is to appoint a social media coordinator who is trained in the ways of each media and understands the importance of the channel. Empower them to manage and maintain your business presence online and you will boost your brand awareness in no time.
As larger competitors adjust to increasingly more experience-focused consumers, small businesses are not far behind. By adapting emerging technologies such as the cloud, analytics, virtual assistants and/or AI, small businesses can close the consumer experience gap between them and their competitors.