2020 so far has been full of uncertainty. Businesses worldwide have had to adapt to a new normal. Things have not been easy especially for small businesses. However, with each challenge comes an opportunity. We have a whole new set of business trends emerging. Small businesses can take advantage of these trends and come out stronger than ever. Investing in future trends early ensures that your business reaps the benefits tomorrow. Here are the top 10 upcoming small business trends that’ll help you stay ahead of the game:
- Remote work: the new normal
- Businesses embrace the gig economy
- Sorry, but AI will not take over the customer experience
- Bots to the rescue
- Emphasis on personalized customer service
- Businesses prioritize employee wellness
- Small businesses ramp up digital marketing
- User reviews will be king
- Stories take over the newsfeed
- Voice: the way forward
1) Remote work: the new normal
With social distancing norms being put in place and companies asking employees to work from home — remote working is definitely one of the top business trends for 2020.
Remote work has multiple business benefits as well, infrastructure and space can be a big constraint for small businesses, real estate is not cheap but growth is important and small businesses cannot afford to be left behind because of this, with remote working, this problem is instantly solved.
The traditional worker working 9–5 every day at a cubicle is no longer the norm, with laptops and smartphones, video conferencing, and team messaging — technology has made remote work easier than ever. This also allows small businesses to hire the best talent from across the globe.
This is a fast emerging small business trend, even companies who earlier did not have a remote work policy are now forced to operate remotely. Even after the COVID-19 pandemic, we can expect businesses and employees to prefer remote work owing to its benefits.
2) Businesses embrace the gig economy
Almost 36% of US workers are in the gig economy according to a poll by Gallup, this statistic goes hand in hand with the rise in remote working. The gig economy gives workers flexibility and the opportunity to be their own boss.
Many businesses might not be in a position to hire permanent employees. It can be particularly hard for small businesses to identify and hire the right talent, they might also have specific requirements and problems that require expert help. It comes as no surprise then that the top challenge for small businesses, according to the state of the small business survey by wasp barcode, is hiring new employees.
The gig economy is a boon in this scenario as you can tap into the best talent from a pool of freelance workers. According to a report by the freelancer union, we can see about 43% of the total workforce taking part in the gig economy by 2020. Who knows you might have a lot to gain by working with an expert freelancer?
3) Sorry, but AI will not take over the customer experience
How can AI not be on a list of future business trends? AI is taking the business world by storm. However, it does not come without its misconceptions — a dystopian world where robots take away our jobs is still far away. AI should not be looked at as something that will replace the human worker, rather it must be seen as a co-worker that will make us more efficient, helping us improve customer experience.
AI can be leveraged to make employees more efficient — it can help support agents with related technical documents when solving an issue, sales reps can be informed on the most appropriate deal for a prospect based on their profile. AI can be put to use in several business scenarios too — if a certain flight is canceled or a shipment has been delayed, these customers can be automatically routed to the concerned department when they call. The possibilities with AI are pretty much endless.
AI is often associated with enterprises, but it is sure to be a small business trend in 2020 as it is essential for small businesses to be smart in the way they do business. By being early adopters of AI they can stay ahead of the curve, win customers and grow big.
4) Bots to the rescue
Fewer people are now visiting business premises due to world pandemic. This essentially translates to higher call volumes or tickets for businesses as customers would seek help through virtual channels.
Customer experience has changed a lot. There are numerous channels and touchpoints through which a customer can contact a business. Customers can also reach a business anytime they want and a prompt response is expected. But for a small business, this can be difficult, no one can watch all their channels 24×7.
Especially in times of emergency where customer requests can be high, chatbots and voice bots can be utilized to deflect frequently asked questions. This helps both the business as well as customers — customers get an immediate response and agents can free themselves from repetitive queries.
However, businesses must tread with caution when using bots, one must know where to apply them. There are certain situations that demand a human touch to them and customers must always be offered the option of connecting with a real human being who can solve their problem.
5) Emphasis on personalized customer service
Your customer is an individual, you need to provide them with customized customer experience. One of the good examples of customized service is Amazon. When you visit your homepage on Amazon, you see product suggestions similar to what you had purchased earlier and not something irrelevant. If you bought kitchenware earlier, you see more kitchenware, books you see more books, your home page is yours, it’s customized and tuned to your needs.
According to Gartner, by 2021, smart personalization engines used to recognize customer intent will enable digital businesses to increase their profits by up to 15%. The days of simply showcasing everything to every customer is over. There are too much noise and too many options for the modern customer. They will naturally go towards those businesses which offer them personalized service, reducing the noise and giving them precisely what they want. It’s now up to you to be that business.
6) Businesses prioritize employee wellness
This a strong future business trend, employee health, and wellness will be a top priority for businesses not only in 2021 but beyond as well. With everything that’s going on in the world in 2021, if we know one thing for certain, it’s our health that is of paramount importance. Not only physical but also mental health.
Despite all the benefits that remote work has to offer, it is not without its disadvantages. As employees work from home for prolonged periods of time with little to no social interactions and virtual meetings all day long, it tends to have an adverse impact on one’s mental health.
Businesses will look for ways to better engage employees as they continue to work from home. Organizations will realize that it is not all about a bigger paycheck but letting employees know that they matter. To have productive employees businesses must have happy and healthy employees. There will be more discussion around one’s physical and mental well being in workspaces. Companies will look to address these issues and streamline remote working to set clear boundaries between work and life.
7) Small businesses ramp up Digital marketing
This is a definitive small business trend following the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has pressed the pause button on all trade shows and live events. People are now more skeptical than ever on traveling. Consumers too are not stepping out of their homes as much.
Nowadays, a website has become the storefront for business. The way forward for businesses to gain visibility and attract customers will be to really ramp up their digital presence. Small businesses especially will look to invest in digital marketing — targeting the segments they want, run local ads, and build an overall online reputation.
8) User reviews will be king
This trend is in line with small businesses looking to improve their digital marketing. What better way to market than hundreds of customers screaming your product or service is great?
User reviews have pretty much become the number one thing we look for before buying something. According to this report by Fan & Fuel, 92% of people hesitate to make a purchase when there are no reviews. Reviews have become absolutely essential to products online, the fact that your product has a 4-star rating by hundreds of customers makes it immediately more appealing to customers.
Since small businesses have smaller marketing budgets than enterprise behemoths, it becomes all the more important for them to focus on user reviews. If your brand is being advocated by real people online, it makes it more trustworthy and results in increased sales.
We will see more businesses following this trend in 2020 and really invest in obtaining more user reviews for their products and services.
9) Stories take over the Newsfeed
Stories were first introduced by Snapchat, it has now become a default social media feature owing to its huge success. Stories are short video content that disappears after 24 hours, they are in the moment content which makes them authentic and more connectable to an audience.
Earlier it was news feed posts that were used to bring attention to a brand on social media but now stories are growing 15x faster than the news feed. Along with live streaming, stories will become the primary way by which brands convey their message. Businesses will start to pay more attention to stories, try to build an authentic voice and find ways to connect with an audience. A good example is Dr. Brandt Skincare, they were able to use stories on Instagram effectively to drive sales by up to 500% and gathered tens of thousands of followers. They posted photos of their products and how-to style tutorials on their stories, users could even initiate check out by simply ‘swiping up’ on their stories.
Along with its opportunities, stories bring its own set of challenges, it’s now time for marketers to get more creative as stories are short and they have to get the attention of the viewer before they move on to the next story.
10) Voice: the way forward
Smart speakers such as Alexa and Google Home have already gained huge popularity. The number of voice searches performed is also going up due to this — according to Gartner, nearly a third of web browsing would be voice-activated by 2020. Given that talking is the natural way of doing things this comes as no surprise.
Voice searches are also much easier to perform, especially when we are on the go like in a car or while walking. Businesses will now have to take this into consideration while trying to build an online presence, they have to put out content online that is voice optimized and not just keyword optimized, this is because people don’t speak in keywords but in complete sentences. This is a golden opportunity for small businesses to adopt voice while it is still relatively new.
Following this small business trend, we’ll also see a rise in technologies such as speech-enabled IVR — where callers can speak into the system directly without having to input button presses or traverse long IVR menus to be directed to the right team.