Technology drives business. Whereas once IT was a function of business, it now increasingly IS the business.
This is definitely the case for many smaller firms, where adoption and mixing together different web services represent the core of a firm’s service offerings. Without technology, it all falls apart.
So keeping up with the latest tech trends is important. Here are five SMB tech trends to watch going into 2018.
1. All Customer Channels Flattened to One
Say goodbye to multichannel customer service. Most consumers now interact with the online with their mobile phone, so the many customer service channels businesses have been using have now all come together on one device.
This new omnichannel experience means that companies now must use many channels–text message, email, chat, phone, video, social media—and have them tie together as a seamless whole. This is what consumers do with their friends, and businesses also are starting to do it with their various channels.
Helping businesses manage this transition are services such as Salesforce’s Desk.com. It brings together the many support channels and unifies them into a single whole so customer service agents can work across multiple channels simultaneously and without missing a beat with what was said on another channel.
Desk.com also helps automate support.
“Using support automation to address customer issues results in faster resolution of the issue, costs less and is often more targeted than support provided by an agent,” says Desk.com’s Tiago Paiva. “Knowing this, startups and SMBs have been increasingly leveraging support automation to better meet the needs of their customers and decrease the workload burden on their support team.”
- Analytics for the SMB
Business is increasingly a data-driven enterprise. Whether it is web tracking and IoT or big data, there’s more information than ever for making adjustments and managing a business intelligently.
Smaller firms have been left out in the cold until recently, however.
That is changing thanks to a plethora of online services that now leverage artificial intelligence and application programmer interfaces for making sense of small business data.
Cien, for instance, helps SMBs gauge the sentiment of a potential customer by using artificial intelligence. Small businesses don’t have to pony up thousands of dollars on analytics platforms and big data computing to get the benefits of predictive analytics. They can now just subscribe to a service and plug in their data for better insights.
- Live Video Content
Every small business knows that video is hot. The smart businesses, however, are discovering that live video is even better.
With live video now easy to use and integrate thanks to companies like Agora.io and Facebook, small businesses are using streaming video to engage with customers in real-time and draw attention through live events.
“Live video engages much better than blog posts and static video in 2018,” says Agora.io CEO Tony Zhao. “The event-based nature of a live stream attracts attention from customers, and businesses have a much easier time generating content because attendees help set the agenda for the broadcast and create the content live with the business.”
Agora.io helps make live video easy to integrate by offering an easy-to-use API that businesses can leverage to embed live video on websites and apps. The best part is that the service includes quality of service guarantees so there’s never a Skype moment when the connection falls apart.
- Advanced Collaboration Platforms
The distributed workforce trend is in full force, especially at small businesses. The contractor model has meant that SMBs can scale up instantly and as needed, pulling in talent from anywhere.
The downside, however, is that managing and creating collaboration among these distributed workforces is not easy.
Technology is coming to the rescue again, however.
Solutions such as Asana are making collaborative project management much easier, especially for small businesses. Services like Slack are bringing together workers even if they are across the globe.
If you’re not taking advantage of today’s collaborative workforce solutions, you should.
- Online Brand Management
There are many ways to take down a small business. None is as cruel as negative comments online that trash a firm’s reputation.
All businesses are vulnerable to negative customer response online, but small businesses are especially in the crosshairs; most can ill-afford a public relations nightmare and a string of bad reviews online.
So another trend in SMB tech is the emergence of online brand management solutions that monitor and proactively protect against reputation issues. Services such as Reputation X are now available to clean up after customers have trashed a brand online.
These services work by identifying and minimizing negative comments by voting them down or countering them with positive reviews. Services such as Reputation X also help improve SEO ratings and manage their online presence in general, helping small businesses stay positive to current and potential customers.
There are other tech trends that small businesses can take advantage of in 2018, of course; business is all about tech these days. These five trends make a good start, however.
Is your business using these tools? If not, it might be time to investigate them.
JT Ripton is a business consultant and freelance business, marketing and technology writer out of Tampa, FL. He’s written for publications like BusinessInsider, Entrepreneur.com, TheGuardian and several more. You can follow him on Twitter @JTRipton.
Author: Marc Nagao