In the digital age, no small business can afford to neglect the power of technology. If you fail to adapt, your competitors will come in behind you and eventually take your customers and market share.
Luckily, there are many ways to leverage technology to improve your small business and get an advantage over the competition. Here are five strategies you should consider implementing sooner rather than later:
1. Utilize Artificial Intelligence (AI) with Chat Bots
It can be challenging to interact with customers as you scale your business. However, people are more accustomed to great customer service and fast response times than ever before.
So how does a growing business keep up with the high demands of the modern consumer? AI is a great start.
Using AI and machine learning, you can train programs to understand the most common challenges, questions, and concerns that your target market has. This is particularly effective with text since the AI can readily pick up on repeated phrases, patterns, and resolutions from a finite set of text data.
For instance, you can use chatbots to message customers back and forth and give them answers to commonly asked questions. Using question trees, you can lead them through a clear, concise, and helpful path that often resolves the customer’s issue without needing to involve a human representative.
In fact, most consumers like using chatbots.
By doing this, you save hours upon hours of payroll. Technology works 24/7 without complaining, calling in sick, or doing anything other than what you have programmed it to do.
Therefore, you can save time and money and reduce mistakes in your interactions with customers (all in real-time). The result is having happier customers and a healthier bottom line.
2. Automate Repetitive Tasks
Learn to love the following philosophy: “If you have to do it more than once, automate it.”
Of course, you don’t need to take this mantra to the extreme. Commons sense, like usual, prevails. But imagine the myriad tasks in your business that must be done over and over again.
For instance, scheduling social media campaigns can be time-consuming and tedious. Your social media specialist may be spending too much time lining up and scheduling the posts instead of crafting new ideas to engage your market.
In addition, email campaigns are a great way to reach your audience at scale. You can automate certain aspects of your email marketing to make your message more effective and relevant for different segments.
Using built-in triggers and criteria, you can set up your email system to send timely, relevant, and incredibly persuasive emails. Imagine using email automation to send a followup email to each visitor who got to the checkout page but did not buy.
You can send abandoned cart emails to recapture potential business. Alternatively, you can create drip campaigns in advance and send them out on a weekly basis when someone becomes a subscriber.
Every time a user takes an action (such as clicking the email, clicking through to the site, or purchasing a product), you can send a different email to them.
You will eventually segment your subscribers so precisely that your message is hyper-targeted. Thus, you are more likely to get conversions, and your email team doesn’t need to manually go through every prospect’s account to decide what to do.
The beautiful part about email is that you only need to set up the system once. However, if you fail to utilize the automation aspect, you’ll waste opportunities instead of capturing them.
3. Embrace Cloud Solutions
Data security is a hot topic. With high profile stories being published left and right about data breaches, customers are right to be concerned. Today, people want to know that their data is secure, whether it be financial, personal, or recreational.
You can achieve higher data security by using cloud storage and encryption. There are numerous services available to accomplish this, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.
But there is more to the cloud than security. Cloud storage also allows your organization to enjoy redundancy for your data.
If one copy of your company’s data goes offline or gets destroyed, you have plenty of other copies to ensure that it is sustained. This is crucial to ensure you don’t lose years of progress due to a simple power outage.
Finally, cloud solutions bring greater speed to your business’s digital operations. You can host data such as images, text files, and media such as videos all in the cloud.
When someone from your team needs to access these assets, they simply connect via an API (Application Programming Interface) to achieve it in seconds.
If some of this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. But just like any powerful technology, you only need to hire the right people around you to implement it. The key to getting the most out of it is recognizing the need for it before the market passes you by.
4. Implement Mobile Technology
If you’re not using mobile technology correctly, you are missing out.
More than 50% of internet usage is now occurring via mobile devices, according to recent data from Statista. This means that if you don’t optimize your business for mobile, you will potentially lose half of your market.
There are various ways to make your company mobile-friendly. First, you should have a website that adapts to the size of different screens, whether it is a computer, tablet, or phone.
However, given that most users now browse on their phones, the best approach is quite literally to live in your customer’s pocket. And the best way to achieve that is to invest in a mobile app for your business.
With your own mobile app, you can enjoy a number of advantages:
- Customize the app to fit your unique business needs or brand’s design
- Control your communication with customers
- Collect valuable data about your market’s preferences and demographics
- Port your app to various devices and platforms for a cohesive digital presence
Your app is also another venue for sending out highly targeted and personalized messages. Ultimately, this allows you to enhance your customer service and increase revenue.
An in-house app can also have great benefits for your employees. You can streamline and simplify data exchange and communication, especially among mobile and remote teams.
5. Reliably Track Employee Productivity
Do you know how productive your employees actually are? If you’re using the old school method of “time in seat” to judge this crucial aspect of your business, then you are in bad shape.
Modern productivity is not judged by how long someone spends in the office or in front of their computer. Instead, you must use metrics that have a direct effect on your bottom line.
You can use time tracking tools to see how long an employee spent on a certain task. Then, you can compare their average time per result delivered.
You can even take screenshots of their computer on an incremental basis to ensure they aren’t browsing for personal reasons when they are on the clock. This way, you aren’t just looking at “time” but also what that time equates to in terms of the bottom line.
We live in unprecedented times. The ability to use technology to communicate, automate, and maintain high standards is an incredible opportunity.
However, if you don’t jump on it, the rewards will only go to your competitors.
Review the five approaches to technology above and consider implementing one, if not more, in the near future. It could be the difference between rapid growth or a steady decline in an ever-changing marketplace.
What tips do you have to leverage technology to improve a small business? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter, or Facebook. You can also comment on our MeWe page by joining the MeWe social network.
— Joe Peters is a Baltimore-based freelance writer and an ultimate techie. When he is not working his magic as a marketing consultant, this incurable tech junkie devours the news on the latest gadgets and binge-watches his favorite TV shows. Follow him on @bmorepeters