Over the 14 years we’ve been in business, I’ve learned to spot areas with some kind of drag on our productivity, i.e. where we could be achieving more but something gets in the way. Then I work on those areas.
And I’ve learned that this productivity drag often can be solved cost effectively by technology — much of it exciting cutting-edge technology.
Now, your eyes may glaze over when you hear about new technology like the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and chatbots. You may be thinking, ‘I barely have enough mindshare to figure out how to keep current customers happy and make payroll – how am I supposed to figure out cutting edge technology?’
Here’s the deal: you don’t have to figure it out. All you really need to do is find the vendors who have anticipated trends and incorporated cutting-edge tech into their solutions.
Here are four productivity drags you can overcome to be more productive in your business, by leveraging cutting-edge technology solutions:
Problem: Running Out of Supplies Causes Wasted Time
Have you ever been printing an important sales presentation or handouts for a customer meeting — only to get the dreaded “low ink” message in the middle of the job? What do you do? You either drop everything to run out and buy ink or toner, or end up with output that looks less than professional.
That’s a perfect example of a situation where auto-fulfillment technology can help.
Auto-fulfillment is one of the most exciting new technologies today. The best auto fulfillment applications apply the concept of the Internet of Things to help you get just-in-time supply orders when you need them. So that you never run out.
An example is the Brother Refresh solution, the only ink and toner auto-fulfillment service available directly from a manufacturer. This new service uses predictive technology based on the printer’s usage patterns and ink levels to order more ink directly from the manufacturer when you’re running low. Users receive an alert via email and unless they need to cancel, ink or toner will ship right to your door. More than 70 Brother printers and multifunction copier devices are already compatible with the Brother Refresh service as long as they’re connected to the internet.
Brother Refresh has no subscription cost or cancelation fees – it will only order ink or toner when your printer actually detects it’s running low.
All it takes is setting up an account with your credit card – you will only be charged for the replacement cartridges you need. Then you never have to worry about running out because the service identifies when you’re running low and re-orders automatically.
“Brother Refresh is the result of years of research and development and listening to our consumers. We know that running out of ink and toner and ordering a timely resupply is one more headache that many small businesses and startups would rather do without,” per Rafi Haqqani, the Director of Supplies Marketing at Brother. “We wanted simplify our customer’s lives automating the resupply process, but without locking a business into a set monthly subscription they might not need.”
Problem: Manual Tasks Prevent Scaling Up for More Sales
Do you dream about increasing your sales revenues — without having to add more people or overload existing staff?
Marketing automation can help you do that, by automating time-consuming tasks that may prevent your business from scaling up.
Examples of marketing automation include displaying related products on ecommerce pages to encourage cross sales. Onboarding of new customers through a series of emails could also be automated without any heavy lift from a human.
With marketing automation users set up specific rules and parameters in advance and the software handles the rest. While it may sound impersonal, it’s actually the opposite. Marketing automation today can use data analytics to identify the customer’s unique preferences and personalize the experience automatically. It just would not be feasible for a human to identify each customer’s personal preference at the same level.
Problem: Administrative Activities Eat Up Staff Time
The typical small business may have a team so lean that most people, even you as the owner, do your own administrative work such as sorting emails, setting up appointments and looking up information.
But this can be penny wise and pound foolish, preventing you and your staff from tackling higher-return activities.
Luckily, there’s a solution that costs little or nothing: use digital assistants.
Digital assistants such as Cortana, Siri and Alexa can handle administrative activities in seconds, freeing up time. These digital assistants use artificial intelligence and voice recognition technology to look up information, schedule meetings and set reminders. Digital assistants are only getting smarter and will make us more efficient in our homes and offices alike.
Problem: Customer Inquiries Are Mishandled, Compounding Work
Do simple customer requests fall through the cracks or fail to be resolved in a timely fashion?
Growing companies often face this issue because the ability to staff for customer support doesn’t grow as fast as sales. Customer service issues pile up causing a bottleneck in growth.
Chatbots can help alleviate these issues. A chatbot is a program that can answer questions and interact with people in a human-like, conversational way. Imagine a customer contacts you on your website through live chat; a chatbot can answer basic customer questions automatically. This results in more satisfied customers and less cleanup work, because you were able to handle inquiries efficiently.
So there you have it — four examples to get you thinking about how today’s technologies can improve your business’s productivity. All these solutions are either no incremental cost or relatively low cost — definitely within a small business budget. The return on investment from choosing the right solutions can be substantial.