SMBs: Ignore Tech at Your Own Peril

Paul Mah

Small and mid-sized businesses (SMB) are traditionally laggards when it comes to deploying IT to improve their businesses. This may be due to the perceived notions pertaining to the high costs of technology, or a lack of ideas on how it can make a difference.

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Let’s look at ways SMBs can leverage technology to increase efficiency and enhance business.

Keep in Touch with Customers

Keeping in touch with customers has always been an important aspect of a successful business. While traditional methods such as face-to-face visits work, of course, SMBs will do well to consider leveraging technology for additional and more efficient ways of tracking and reaching out to their customers.

A dentistry chain, for example, could send out a simple text message every six months to remind customers about their twice-annual dental checkups. Opt-in customers may be sent periodic system-generated emails containing offers on products they have an interest in; special offers could be catered for birthdays and anniversaries.

Sales teams without access to an IT department or a budget for up-front purchases may want to consider using an online service such as Contactually to more easily track and follow-up with customers and leads. Obviously, the frequency and even whether some of the above suggestions should be done at all must be in conformance with the laws and cultural norms of the customer.

Automate Where Possible

Despite the ubiquity of the Internet, it is often surprising how many SMBs still rely on manpower-intensive solutions such as operator-manned phone lines or manually processed email messages to serve their customers. In reality, many SMBs need to examine their business processes to identify bottlenecks and time-consuming components as possible candidates for automation.

In many cases, it may be possible to incorporate IT systems that can relieve the issue at an acceptable price. An IP PBX based on Asterisk could offer IVR or interactive voice response to guide callers to the correct person, while free help desk support systems are also available for managing support tickets via the web or email. Indeed, even voice messages that are automatically sent as an email attachment to the correct party are an improvement.

Utilize Data Analytics

For all the focus on Big Data of late, it is generally considered to be less beneficial for smaller businesses, given its inherent complexity and time required to set up appropriate analytics programs. However, this train of thinking neglects the fact that even the smallest organizations have access to all kinds of data that could be easily retrieved and analyzed for an edge over competitors.

Depending on industry, even simple data analysis may reveal trends relating to sales volume of specific items, product profitability, time when the most number of customers call in, the advertising medium that generates the best leads – the list goes on. Certainly, it is far better to glean some actionable information from a “crude” analysis than setting the benchmark at big data yet not having the technical capability to leverage it.

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