6 Small Business Trends for 2015…

…and what to do about them

Rob Darwin

Around this time of year, I like to reflect on the year that has been, identify business trends and think about the year to come in terms of our customers’ needs and our own. Here are six trends that caught my attention and my thoughts about what we can do about them in 2015.

1. Customers are engaging in new ways

Relating to, or engaging with, your customers is key – with the social media explosion showing no signs of slowing down, it is now possible to build relationships that provide instant gratification for both customer and business. With clever use of web chat, rapid twitter, Instant Messaging (IM), LinkedIn and facebook – to name but a few – you can now get instant reaction from, and provide a speedier service to, your customers, without the cost associated with long phone calls, sophisticated direct marketing campaigns or expensive printed ‘how to’ user guides. The Internet is swinging from the great impersonaliser to becoming very personal.

Points to consider for 2015 are:

  1. What industry leaders/companies do you admire and what are they already doing with social media?
  2. How effective are they at engaging their customers in conversation?
  3. What can we do in 2015 to use social media and/or instant messaging to have more customer conversations?

2. Customers are demanding more

Amazon and similar companies are continuing to set the pace in terms of customer service, which in turn is setting customer expectations. Increasingly customers are expecting high levels of:

  • Transparency of automated service provision
  • Quality of service
  • Dependable delivery
  • Clarity of offering
  • Reliable responsiveness

As business people, this presents us all with both a threat and an opportunity.

Points to consider for 2015 are:

  1. What company is a good role model (maybe they are in the USA, if you cannot find them in the UK, with Google it’s easy to find them!)
  2. What steps can we take in 2015 to more clearly and reliably deliver our service?
  3. What are our customers’ wish lists for how we renew/do business?

3. The telephone’s role in business is changing

The UK telecoms industry is changing – and with it the way we use our phones for business – with European regulation and the Mobile phone companies being highly influential:

  • 0844,45,70,71 numbers are on the decline, they are expensive to call from Mobiles
  • 01/02 Geographical numbers are preferred as they are statements of local service and are included within mobile phones’ inclusive minutes
  • 03 Numbers (national style numbers) will be replacing 08xx numbers, as they cost the same to call as 01/02 and are included in mobile contracts’ inclusive minutes

In addition, with the increase of automated calling services making people fed up; and the general unwillingness to accept calls from unknown or withheld numbers; it is worth asking ourselves:

  1. How do new customers judge us from our phone number(s)?
  2. When we call people, what phone number shows on the receiver’s phone, and how does that affect their mood when they start the conversation?
  3. Are we compliant with new telecoms number regulations?

4. Business owners want better internet quality

Business people are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of Internet telephony (VoIP), with low costs and lots of useful features. However, they are also quickly learning that it is sensitive to internet quality – a fact that becomes evident when trying to conduct what should be a money-saving tele-conference with audio failures.

“Cheap-as-chips” Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may be more than adequate for providing access to email and websites, but VoIP has specific technical requirements to achieve the same quality of call as with a traditional phone line. Traditionally customers have purchased their Internet service based on price and the speed stated in the advert, but ISPs are providing less and less clarity on expectations around quality of service or providing customer-friendly measurement tools.

Points to consider for 2015 are:

  1. Would my business benefit from the features/quality/cost savings of VoIP?
  2. Is my ISP good enough for VoIP? – Our VoIP products have some simple test features to help you check.
  3. Am I prepared to pay a premium for reliable Internet quality?

5. Flexible working will continue to grow

Companies are increasingly using technology to enable them to have more flexible business structures:

  • Companies are being formed with diverse and flexible teams, who are not working in the same building and may not be full time
  • Even when people are on the move, they are increasingly “still in touch”, “have all the resources to hand” and are “available” in the office
  • As marketplaces accelerate, companies will not try to be good at doing everything themselves and an increasing amount of the human effort to do things will be done by three parties, whether it is answering the phone, making your website or doing your book-keeping

Points to consider for 2015 are:

  1. What MUST be kept internal?
  2. What could be outsourced to reduce costs/management overhead?
  3. What else could be outsourced to increase modernisation and innovation, without distracting from the core business?
  4. How could this be controlled to mitigate risk?

6. Mobile access to websites is paramount

Mobile phones are getting larger screens, better data connectivity and customers are doing more things “on the fly”. The traditional PC is in relative decline against the simplicity and portability of mobile devices, which means that when customers interact with your website it will be highly likely that they are doing so either on a tablet or mobile phone.

If a website’s design does not respond to the small screen, the customer has a bad experience and would more than likely flick straight back to the next search option.

Points to consider for 2015 are:

  1. Is your website mobile responsive, so that it looks good on mobile phones and tablets (seehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Responsive_web_design)?
  2. Should you have an App for your customers, or are you able to get business through other people’s Apps?
  3. Review how your customers would like to work with you using the Web or Apps (for example, we will be offering mobile payments for customers to “top up” next year, and we introduced a Console this year).

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