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 analog devices are connected to the internet and the cloud. According to the World Economic Forum, “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, which offers capabilities outside their original intention.
One example is our SendPro C Series, a device for sending parcels, letters and flats, which features an open platform and an Android operating system. It offers a range of apps, analytics and services with collaborators like Google G suite that help small business owners beyond just shipping and mailing.
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, conversational chatbots could be a saving grace.
Chatbots can also serve as a new communication channel between small business owners and consumers. Chatbot technology built for ecommerce automation or consumer-facing support opens an avenue where users can interact with businesses in a fast and intuitive way. Chatbots can now complete an entire online shopping experience from browsing to payment within a conversation. As part of the experience, the chatbot captures and analyzes purchase pattern data to better serve consumers in the future.
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.
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.
Jason Dies is responsible for Pitney Bowes’ SMB Solutions business and accelerating the reinvention of the mailing business globally.