Given the state of the economy and the rapid change in the business environment, 2018 was a tough year for many SMEs.
“Unfortunately, this is expected to carry on in 2019,” noted Richard Andrews, CEO of Diversiti Management Consulting, a South African management consultancy catering to SMEs to help unlock their growth and revenue potential through improved managerial and operational efficiencies.
He shares his thoughts on 5 key trends that will affect SMEs in 2019:
- Tech to lead the Customer Service Offering
“Companies are starting to make greater investment in delivering customer service through automated technology and chat apps,” said Andrews. “In doing this, customers are given a more customised experience as they drive the interaction and ask the questions that bring them closer to what they want and need.”
Andrews believes that in 2019 businesses will continue to lean increasingly on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook to bring customer service to the places where their customers gather.
2. The Desire for Sharing Economy Solutions Will Grow
Andrews says that all SMEs should be asking if their business would be better off if its customers had a way to rent or subscribe to their products, rather than purchasing them once. “Of course, sharing economy solutions won’t apply to every business’s offerings,” said Andrews, “However ,2019 may also be the year to consider whether there are any processes or functions you can ‘share’ via outsourcing to save money and free up time for other things.”
3. Artificial Intelligence Will Do More Than Just Automation
Predictions are that companies will continue to use artificial intelligence (AI) in wide-ranging applications. As the mainstream begins to join the early adopters, AI could find a home in just about any industry. “As an SME, are you poised to start leveraging low cost AI and machine learning in your company’s products or services?” asked Andrews.
AI can also optimise routine tasks and other processes a business relies on to run. Despite doomsday worries about robots taking over, experts predict that on the whole AI will be used to support, not replace, human employees, allowing them to function at higher levels.
Andrews said that all business owners should ask what their employees could achieve if some of their most tedious and repetitive duties could be handed off to an algorithm.
In a South African context, low cost AI, such as chat bots, might be the way many SMEs begin adopting AI into their businesses as opposed to broad scale AI integration.
4. There Will Be A Greater Focus on Wellness at Work
SMEs will need to focus more on how they promote well-being in the workplace. With SMEs so reliant on every employee performing at their best, entrepreneurs should look to combat the effect of their staff not coming to work due to stress, low-morale and mental illness by finding ways to better nurture their well-being.
Andrews noted that flexible working, whereby employees have a greater say over when and where they work, is an increasingly popular working arrangement in many small businesses. A recent YouGov survey found that only 6% of UK employees now work 9-5, while the Heartland Monitor Poll found that 67% of US workers would choose more flexibility and shorter hours, but less pay. “Employees want a better work-life balance, and SMEs will have to cater to these demands to retain and hire the best talent for their workforce,” Andrews added.
5. Implementation of Sustainable Practices Will Be Critical to Future Success
Small businesses will no longer be able to afford to neglect sustainability in 2019 – and nor should they.
Incorporating sustainability is good for business: studies have shown that companies that demonstrated business leadership on climate change made more profits than companies who did not. Millennials are especially more likely to buy from companies that promote green initiatives, as they see the actions of businesses as crucial to combating climate change and other global problems.
“SMEs are in a particularly good position to implement sustainable practices, as being smaller means less bureaucracy and less of a dependence on existing energy solutions. In addition, deciding to go paperless or only using recycled materials is not only great for the planet but can also be turned into successful PR campaigns” says Andrews.