Last year saw big technological leaps and a fast-paced acceleration of technology use among all sorts of small businesses. Many companies had to “pivot” or adapt their operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and technology was central to how they did it.
So, now the question is: What will be the biggest changes in how small businesses use technology in the year ahead? Here are five expected small business technology trends in 2021:
1. Taking automation to the next level
Many small companies have started to embrace workflow automation, which basically means connecting apps and other tools together so they can feed each other information and perform tasks automatically. (For example, you can link your lead collection app to your email, so every time you get a new lead, it creates a new contact and sends them a personalized message.) In 2021, automation is likely to get more advanced with more businesses hooking together multiple apps to automate full processes, says Thierry Tremblay, founder of the online database software Kohezion. “What we’re seeing now is that it’s moved from task-based automation, to process-based automation,” he says.
2. Upping the ante on mobile
Business owners must take their mobile experience seriously. After all, mobile devices now account for about half of all web traffic, and 81% of Americans own a smartphone. But the pandemic has increased many businesses’ reliance on mobile for customer communications, whether for video calls or SMS text messaging. And having an easy-to-navigate and fast mobile website has gotten even more critical.
Furthermore, major search engines including Google are factoring mobile much more heavily into their page-ranking results than before. In fact, Google has been moving toward “mobile-first indexing” in which it uses a company’s mobile site over its desktop site when determining search rankings. That means every company needs to focus on optimizing their site for mobile.
3. Integrating AI-driven chatbots to serve customers
Many large companies have already integrated a conversational user interface (CIU)—such as a chatbot or voice assistant—in order to better serve customers or their own employees. But in 2021, many more small and midsize (SMB) businesses are expected to do the same. In fact, one survey of SMB leaders found that 37% of businesses plan to adopt a CIU in 2021. Artificial intelligence-driven chatbots are an especially attractive option for small businesses, because they are relatively affordable to add to a website and allow businesses to answer customer questions online and around-the-clock without needing an employee to respond.
4. Institutionalizing remote-working tools
When the pandemic hit, many businesses scrambled to get their employees set up to work from home. And while it may have been viewed as temporary at the time, many of those companies now plan to let employees work from home regularly even after the pandemic ends. What that means: They will have to ensure their employees’ home workstations have all the right technologies and tools to keep them efficient and effective. They will be re-evaluating everything from the phone and internet service their employees have access to at home, as well as remote-access and cybersecurity tools.
5. Building a stronger ecommerce presence
Many small retailers and other businesses had to quickly build an ecommerce site to sell their wares when the pandemic hit. But even after the social-distancing requirements are long gone, small businesses are likely to keep expanding on their online retail endeavors. In fact, one analysis found that small businesses that shifted to ecommerce during the pandemic saw big sales growth on Black Friday 2020.
This year, many small businesses will be focused on improving and expanding their ecommerce shopping experience, likely adding new tools and features to make it more seamless for customers.
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