As businesses navigate through economic uncertainty, many are looking for ways to stay ahead of the competition and maximize their resources. While it may seem counterintuitive, spending on technology right now can help them not only stay afloat, but actually grow.
This post is for owners of appointment-based brick and mortar businesses who want to recession-proof their company. First, we’ll outline the benefits of carefully-chosen business software and then we’ll discuss must-have features.
5 Critical Reasons to Invest in Tech
Any tech spend should strengthen financial security on multiple fronts:
- Save on labor costs
- Improve customer service
- Generate real-time analytics
- Simplify marketing and lead engagement
- Keep employees happy and loyal
1. Reduce Labor Costs
Technology allows businesses to automate myriad processes that normally would require manual labor. Customer service is one of those foundational but labor-intensive functions. For appointment-based businesses, 24/7 access is table stakes. No small business can afford to miss a booking or conversion for guests who call outside of business hours or when a staff member is already on the phone.
The main reasons clients call an appointment-based business is to: 1. Book, cancel or re-schedule, 2. Ask questions about hours, services, directions, parking, etc., and 3. Pay for a product or service.
Businesses that are currently paying an employee to answer the phone after hours could have a quick win with an AI-driven virtual receptionist. The most powerful solutions can automate up to 80% of customer calls. When we use the term “automation” here, it means the call was resolved without human intervention and the guest was able to complete the desired transaction, whether booking an appointment, getting a question answered, or accessing the payment system.
When your software can achieve meaningful automation, you preserve your labor budget for client-facing functions that can’t be automated. For example, in a dental practice it would include a teeth whitening treatment or root canal. In a salon, a haircut, manicure or lash service would fall into the non-automatable category. These are the revenue-generating skills specific to your business or practice. Keeping existing clients happy and accommodating new clients is essential for survival and growth. During time of economic uncertainty, pay for specialized skills, automate where you can.
2. Improve Customer Service
As mentioned previously, client retention and conversion are top priorities for weathering a downturn. If service quality slides, your reputation will follow. Unfortunately, few small businesses and healthcare facilities can count on customer loyalty if they fail to meet customer expectations. You don’t want your local community to get the impression that you’re short-handed or declining in any way.
3. Generate Real-Time Analytics
Smart technology can also help businesses stay ahead of the competition by providing real-time data. Use these insights to identify trends. This is how larger businesses respond to changes in the market, giving them a competitive edge over their rivals. In such a scenario, a small, agile business could often pivot quicker than a large company with a more involved decision-making process. For example, a salon owner who noticed a change in service preferences could launch an SMS outreach to leverage that knowledge. If the salon owner had lead outreach software already in place, they could launch the campaign on the fly.
4. Simplify Marketing and Lead Engagement
You can’t let marketing consume your time when you’re busy serving existing clients. We just mentioned how data could help you be strategic when it comes to marketing. Number four takes this point a step further. Once you’ve created a marketing plan, leverage automation tools to execute on the strategy. SMS lead engagement software automatically follows up every time a web visitor fills out a form, maximizing the chance that the prospect will book their first appointment. You can also target promotions to existing clients based on behavior. Auto appointment reminders reduce no-shows, plugging another revenue leak. Good lead engagement software helps you create more personalized experiences while reducing the need for manual customer service resources.
5. Keep Employees Happy and Loyal
As discussed in number one, automation lowers costs associated with labor. Employee retention protects your budget in additional ways. When an employee quits, it takes time and money to find a replacement. This diverts your attention from those revenue-generating activities we keep referring to. Furthermore, you lose skills and institutional knowledge. While you may be able to find a talented replacement, the new hire wouldn’t know your clients and business processes. The collateral damage could include lowered morale throughout your team and disappointed clients who don’t want to switch from a favorite provider who moved on.
Tech Must-Haves for Economic Uncertainty
A small company isn’t simply a scaled-down version of a large organization, it’s a completely different animal. For example, there is often a flat vs hierarchical structure. Thin margins are typical and maintaining cash flow is a relentless challenge. Employees wear many hats and often have to manage functions for which they have no formal training. Economic uncertainty can pose a greater challenge for a small business with fewer resources.
Because of these dynamics, owners need tech designed specifically for their business size and type. Let’s discuss characteristics that are especially important for small organizations.
Small businesses don’t have the financial reserves of enterprise companies. That makes platforms with high upfront or ongoing costs out of the question. Cloud-based software with a subscription model solves this problem. By paying a flat monthly rate, the business can more easily manage their budget. Plus, the vendor handles updates, support, and security – all of which would be difficult or impossible for a small business to handle.
While enterprise firms can wait years for custom-built software to be rolled out and start paying off, small businesses don’t have that luxury. Due to narrow margins and cash flow pressures, new tech should quickly pay for itself and then save money – ideally in the first month. Otherwise, it’s difficult to justify.
Ease of Implementation and Use
Large organizations have teams that manage software onboarding and training. In a small business, the owner or manager is frequently the one that has to figure it out and teach other employees. While a small business might have an IT manager or team, many have been downsized during the economic uncertainty since the onset of the pandemic. Across industries, most smaller companies have few IT resources. Therefore, tech needs to stand up quickly. If it takes a programming degree to get it going, forget about it. It should also mirror your existing processes. If a tool requires a major change in the routine, nobody will use it. It takes commitment and persistence to change daily workflows. That’s one of the reasons some small companies use manual processes for years.
Business software that scales is worth its weight in gold. Small business owners don’t have time to research new software every few months or years. That’s why it’s important to get it right the first time by choosing a solution that grows with you.
AI-Powered Customer Communications
A full-service customer communications solution handles the functions we have discussed – 24/7 virtual receptionist, automated lead engagement and self-service appointment and payment management. Since we’ve mentioned Artificial Intelligence a couple of times, you may be wondering how that fits. Sophisticated industry-specific AI is what makes a platform effective. The AI ensures customers can reach the goal of the conversation, whether booking, getting a question answered or making a payment. The AI can also kick in if a customer responds to an automated SMS promotion.
Finally, when used properly, AI-powered customer communication technologies can provide up to 20:1 ROI – meaning that they pay for themselves quickly. This provides a critical financial security cushion during difficult economic times. By leveraging this type of technology, businesses can save money while improving quality, speed, accuracy, personalization, and overall satisfaction from both customers and employees alike.
Of all the tech trends in the marketplace, cloud, mobility and AI-powered software are the best fit for small businesses to improve their bottom line and increase their competitiveness. (Samsung 2023)
Interested in investing in customer service tech that can quickly provide 20: 1 ROI during a time of economic uncertainty? Schedule a demo of our AI-led virtual receptionist/lead engagement/communications management solution.