Faced with a bigger rival’s million-pound marketing campaign, it may seem to the small business owner that winning and retaining customers is a battle against the odds. But clever use of technology can help shorten those odds, increasing a small company’s operational reach while maintaining flexibility and providing customer service levels that leave the competition flat-footed.
Here are five technologies that can help small companies look like one of the giants in their sector.
The web extends every company’s reach, even the smallest. But many large retailers who developed websites between five and ten years ago are now faced with updating their web presence to meet current customer expectations. Smaller companies can leapfrog them and provide the features customers want today without the burden of legacy systems.
A slick transactional website needs to integrate with near real-time inventory information and provide delivery options – such as next day or click-and-collect – to suit customer needs. Small companies that have mastered a niche should translate their ‘product authority’ into the online world with a website that guides customers through the purchasing decision.
Scaling up a back office no longer means using scarce capital to buy computers. Cloud computing services can provide flexible enterprise-class back-office IT that keeps pace with a growing company, without capital overheads.
Productivity software, such as Microsoft Office 365, Google Docs and Salesforce.com are available on a ‘per user per month’ basis. And computational power for number-crunching projects can be acquired on Amazon’s spot market. The online retailer maintains colossal servers, which due to peaks and troughs in trading, typically run at 20% utilisation. If you have a program that needs running but no computer to run it on, you can bid for time on Amazon’s servers.
Virtual support centre
Nothing screams small fry like ‘the office is closed; please leave a message after the tone’.
Customers – especially B2B clients in other time zones – expect their suppliers to be available 24/7. But that need not mean maintaining a 24/7 contact centre. Telecoms technology enables calls, texts, emails and IM sessions to be handled by employees on call, or engaged in other interruptible tasks, or routed to an outsourced virtual team.
‘Visibility’ used to mean spending large sums to keep your brand, product or service present across all media. But clever use of social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter et al – can help keep a smaller company front-of-mind by engaging in one-to-one conversations with a selected audience. Social media can also be extended from marketing into customer support, resolving issues and providing product advice in a transparent forum and with a human face.
For younger consumers and in emerging markets, the smartphone is becoming the web access tool of choice. Providing mobile access to your website, or to a native mobile app, means customers can contact the business from wherever they are, using whatever device they choose.
Again, large established companies have the issue of legacy systems which were never designed to cope with mobile access. More nimble high-growth companies can leapfrog them by taking mobile access into account from near the start.
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