Over the last few decades, technology has constantly advanced at an unprecedented speed. Society saw how the World Wide Web, once considered a revolutionary innovation, developed into the internet, evolved into the Internet of Things and culminated with hyper-connectivity. All these developments have led to a surge of new trends that incorporate technology within the workplace. With the influx of changes coming from every direction, many SMEs find themselves lagging behind their larger counterparts, burdened by a lack of budget, resources and skills shortages. However, with enough notice and a strategic plan in place, SMEs have the chance to source cost-effective applications and innovations to stay competitive and on-trend.
- Artificial Intelligence and automation
One of the biggest innovations in recent years is Artificial Intelligence (AI) and automation. These technologies were once considered ‘futuristic’ and beyond our capabilities; something we believed would be prevalent in our distant future and unrealistic for us to even start thinking of developing. However, with the development of the internet, algorithms and hyper-connectivity, all of that changed.
AI has seamlessly integrated into society, with virtual assistants such as Alexa and Siri now heavily relied upon applications. This technology was designed for convenience and to streamline processes to ensure productivity and efficiency. When it first entered the market, it was expensive and well out of reach for SMEs. Yet, with constant, rapid advancements in that field, there are now viable, cost-effective applications for SMEs – and even consumers – to invest in. AI undeniably offers a host of benefits, including taking on menial, time-consuming tasks to allow business owners to focus on creating large-scale, cohesive strategies for success.
With the implementation of algorithms to enhance online searches, consumer behaviour subsequently progressed from keyword to full sentence searches. Over the last few years, it has once again evolved to include voice searches. Due to the ease at which they are able to use voice, the trend is becoming increasingly more prevalent. People now have the choice to search by keyword, phrase, full sentences and by voice, which means there’s certainly more variation for search engine optimisation (SEO) to incorporate. To be successful with SEO and increase visibility to their target audience, SMEs now have to reconfigure their SEO strategy to ensure it caters to the influx of various search types.
The advancement of automation has also introduced a new wave of possibilities that were previously unimaginable. Live chatbots of varying abilities are implemented in websites and social media to achieve different goals, depending on their capabilities and the business’s goal. Often, they are used to increase response rates, especially on social media, as well as improve customer satisfaction. The more advanced, cognitive automation is being implemented to enable efficient business processes with accurate data analysis. AI and automation are predicted to have a profound impact on the economy, with forecasts stating global spending on robotic/intelligent process automation (RPA/IPA) and AI amounting to US$13.6 billion in 2020.
- 5G and Wi-Fi 6
Running a business requires fast processes, especially when it comes to internet speed. While businesses are now accustomed to operating with 4G data and Wi-Fi 5 wherever they go, new developments are about to push that speed even further. 5G launched to the consumer market with great enthusiasm and Wi-Fi 6 is following close behind it. These internet technologies mean downloading HD video content and large documents will take seconds. Employing 5G and Wi-Fi 6, although currently, expensive, will have countless benefits. With speeds around 20 times faster than 4G, file sharing and communication capabilities will be exponentially boosted. The faster speed will also stabilise the incorporation of AI, automation and the Internet of Things into businesses and make them a viable option for SMEs.
With the velocity that technology is progressing, SMEs have to employ marketing strategies that can take full advantage of innovation and new applications, levelling the playing field with their larger competitors. New marketing trends are always arising but it’s not enough to stay current. Analysing customers’ behaviours, wants and needs, will help businesses anticipate the next trend and successfully incorporate it into a strategic marketing plan.
- Personalised customer service
Consumers are more inclined towards personalised products and services, believing the ability to alter and modify will ensure that the goods and services better meet their needs. To accommodate this, businesses began to personalise their mass-produced products, allowing customers to choose colours, fonts, materials and contents of the products. And businesses advertising bespoke items saw a massive increase in sales.
But in recent years, the trend is starting to hit new heights. Through data processing and analytics, SMEs can understand and get to know their customers on a whole new level and then use that knowledge to enhance future marketing strategies, ensuring customer loyalty is maximised. This analysis of data has revealed that consumers like a personalised touch when it comes to customer service as well. They prefer being treated as individuals and disregard generic emails that could be for anyone. As the information customers receive will be more relevant to them, it will make them feel as though the business recognises them as an individual and cares enough to personalise information for their interest. Incorporating this trend into a strategic plan will help aid SMEs in retaining and improving customer loyalty.
Businesses also have to stay current with trends that are related to the essence of the business: it’s employees, values and customers. It’s not enough to attract customers with superb marketing strategies or develop relationships and an unprecedented level of understanding through state-of-the-art technology. SMEs also have to compete with larger organisations on their values and dedication to present and future employees.
- Flexible/Remote working
Small businesses often have to contend with costly premises and infrastructure expenses. For growing SMEs working 9-to-5, five days a week, having dedicated office space is no longer the norm. To combat the extraneous costs of office space, SMEs have turned to remote and flexible working.
With studies revealing a correlation between autonomy and higher productivity rates in employees, it seems as though SMEs who engage in remote and flexible working will pay less in commercial rent fees and enjoy better productivity, compared to their competitors.
Flexible and remote working present the opportunity to employ those that might have great talent and skills but otherwise not be able to work. For example, parents with young children, people with disabilities and people living too far away to commute, would all have a higher chance of being able to work. This would undoubtedly decrease the unemployment rate and the increased productivity would, in turn, have a significant impact on the local economy.
- Going green
Over the last decade, there has been a noticeable shift towards businesses becoming eco-conscious. However, in the last year or so, growing concerns around climate change and the fate of our planet turbo-charged this shift into a global movement.
With consumers becoming increasingly concerned with ethical practices and transparency, it’s fundamental that businesses incorporate sustainable practices into the workplace to maintain their customers’ trust and loyalty. These practices could be as simple as using sustainable materials and packing, urging employees to go paperless, recycling and employing energy-efficient processes. These five trends of 2020 will help SMEs to stay competitive in the New Year and improve their strategy and processes. By implementing the right innovations and trends, businesses will see a noticeable difference in growth.
At Exemplas, our demonstrable skill in providing SMEs with the tools and advice needed to excel and grow, means we stay up-to-date with current and forecasted trends, helping us tailor our advice and support. Advisory support is at the heart of what we do, and our knowledge becomes an SME’s advantage within the industry. We deliver a number of key public sector contracts, including Enterprise Europe Network in the East of England and the Hertfordshire Growth Hub. These projects are designed to aid businesses with developing strategies for growth, boost productivity and innovation.