Running your own small business isn’t easy. You’re likely to find yourself wearing many different hats in a single day — from accountant to customer service rep to marketing mogul.
Then there’s the pressure of ensuring that your business thrives in the face of increasingly crowded and competitive global markets. That’s no mean feat. In fact, it’s becoming increasingly rare. According to a 2021 article in Entrepreneur, approximately half of all small businesses will fail within the first five years. In other words, you have just about the same chances of making your business successful by flipping a coin. However, there’s more to it than chance.
To ensure success, not only must business owners learn to excel in many domains, but they must also make their businesses as lean and efficient as possible. The good news is that small business owners now have the tools at their disposal to help with success.
Among these tools, is the expanding roster of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. IoT technologies harness the tremendous power of the internet to drive productivity and efficiency across every business function.
What is the IoT?
The IoT is an umbrella term used to refer to the immense and rapidly growing cadre of internet-connected technologies. These devices serve a seemingly infinite array of purposes. The fitness trackers consumers purchase over the counter to record their activity levels or vital signs are among the oldest and most familiar examples of IoT.
But IoT is also ubiquitous in homes, schools, healthcare facilities, and businesses — from the smart whiteboards in today’s classrooms to the devices connected to your home’s Wi-Fi router.
However, for all the convenience and functionality these technologies provide to consumers, physicians, and educators, their utility is particularly significant for small businesses. IoT devices can be integrated into small business operations for a host of critical purposes — from automating tasks to optimizing customer service to streamlining marketing.
IoT and Task Automation
Let’s face it: an entrepreneur’s work is never really done. You’re not a superhero and you can’t turn back time just to get everything done in a day. You’re typically left with two choices. You can either hire more staff or you can let the task go undone.
Neither’s exactly a viable option. If you choose the former, you may well blow your budget. If you choose the latter, something critical may fall by the wayside.
Fortunately, though, IoT is making such dilemmas a thing of the past. As IoT technologies become more affordable, accessible, and reliable, they’re proving to be a great option for managing a business’s more tedious but still critical tasks.
IoT sensors, for example, are being used with great success in the retail sector to automate inventory management processes and monitor environmental conditions in the warehouse. In the manufacturing sector, likewise, IoT systems can track the performance of heavy machinery, alert stakeholders to potential issues, or even perform essential maintenance and repairs.
This eliminates the need to add unnecessary employees to the payroll and protects efficiency, productivity, and workflow. That’s good not only for your business processes but also for your customers, who will benefit from a higher-quality product, delivered on time.
IoT to Optimize Customer Experience
The utility of IoT in maximizing the customer experience isn’t confined only to optimizing processes and galvanizing product quality. IoT also promises to revolutionize the relationship between businesses and the customers they serve.
Automating customer service, for example, can significantly improve ticket routing, expediting the speed with which customers get their issues resolved. Intelligent chatbots, for instance, can be accessed on-demand by consumers whenever and wherever they need support.
The breathtaking analytical capacities of these systems ensure that customer concerns are rapidly and accurately defined and immediately directed to the appropriate person. At the same time, their increasingly sophisticated natural language processing (NLP) capacities can help consumers forget, or ignore the fact, that they’ve engaged with a machine and not a human. For many consumers interacting with an NLP chatbot, the experience feels effective, quite personal, and humane.
The result? A more effective and positive customer experience.
IoT, Consumer Behavior, and Marketing
In addition to ensuring prompt and positive service, IoT systems are also enhancing the customer experience and facilitating small business owners through behavioral analytics. The reality is that businesses in every industry know as much as possible about their customers.
After all, the guiding mission of any business is to meet a previously unmet (or insufficiently met) need. To do that, you need to understand on the deepest level what your customers want. IoT technologies can help you do this through high-level consumer behavior analysis, using both internal and external business data.
Marketing analytics technologies can be used to automate your company’s data collection and analysis. This might include anything from collecting individual customer data regarding purchases, buying patterns, and recent trends or changes in buying behavior.
These technologies can also accumulate external data — from analyzing behaviors among specific consumer demographics to predicting changes in the market or industry.
Equipped with this information, small business owners can develop targeted promotions aligned specifically with the interests of individual customers. They can also automate their email and social media marketing to ensure that promotions get to the right target audience.
This leads to more efficient, cost-effective, and successful campaigns because marketing messages are getting only to those who want them, without oversaturating those who don’t. Because the process is largely, if not entirely, automated, business owners don’t have to spend all their time poring over account records or market data.
The information to make informed decisions is also easily accessible. For customers, the added advantage is that such targeted and personalized marketing content makes them feel truly known, cared for, and special. And there’s no better way to exceed your customers’ highest expectations than that!
IoT is not just for tech entrepreneurs and computer geeks anymore. Rather, no matter your particular industry, IoT can be an invaluable asset for savvy entrepreneurs looking to supercharge their small businesses.