One often hears the phrase “technology is your friend” To what extent the friendliness/support is, in being a most effective “companion” to assist you to cope with your daily activities or business plans depends on how you embrace it.
Life can be chaotic. Which so much to do it is easy to frequently miss appointments; have to wait till you get to a PC to respond to emails or fail to remember contacts details. The worst is having to ask people often for their contact details/ business cards.
If that’s the case, you are getting it all wrong and definitely need this friend!
Electronic mail has not entirely replaced postal services; however, in the coming years, all indications are that it will.
The need for emails
Emails are on a progressive, disruptive path to eliminate postal services. It will, over and above its current instant delivery capability, also facilitate and encourage the acceptance of digitally signed documents.
A digital signature is an electronic, encrypted, stamp of authentication on online information such as e-mail messages, macros, or electronic documents. It confirms that the information originated from the signer and has not been altered, rendering it legally binding.
Most financial companies and legal institutions in most developed countries already accept digitally signed documents.
Naturally, you need special software to digitally sign a document to attach as a PDF to an email. Such an action authorises approval by yourself without having to pick up a pen to append a signature or having to be physically present.
We can now easily get in touch with our contacts: be it in the office or lounging around a park, watching your children play; even on board/at the underground train station.
For those needing an essential CRM tool to just help with email contacts and plug into an existing sales app, you can do so with a useful add-on like Outlook Customer Manager.
There are indeed other advantages to assist with decluttering emails. To alleviate the frustration of unimportant mails getting in the way of the ones you need to access frequently, a clutter service offered by Office 365.
Additionally, to avoid retaining important attachments, and clogging up space on your mailbox, you can with a click, save large file attachments to your cloud storage.
With all that relevance of emails, it is critical that you source the best one – even if it costs a bit more than the (free) webmail services provided by Outlook (Hotmail), Gmail and Yahoo.
Naturally, with a paid service, you should be almost freed from the scourge of spam and malicious items like phishing and viruses embedded in documents. In some cases, they are screened even before landing in your mailbox.
You can, for instance, use In-Place Hold(also known as Litigation Hold) to place user mailboxes ‘on hold’ and preserve mailbox items permanently.
This feature is especially crucial for those in the financial and legal sectors – requiring emails and its contents to be preserved for a minimum of 7 years typically.
Security is the central factor that has kept the postal service in business. Well at least for now.
Here is a checklist when shopping around for a good email solution:
• A decent sized mailbox – with archiving ability – 50GB is the new standard size (don’t get short-changed!).
• Should sync emails, calendar and contacts onto multiple devices – and it must always work!
• SMTP is now the standard and preferred Email Protocol so if you are still on POP3 or even IMAP – run away!
• Customizable domain (a .com or .net or any other you have bought), with the option to add more domains plus few email aliases. (info@ …sales@ etc).
• Sync to an active directory – to keep user profiles and allow for ease of single sign-on or extra security features like two-factor authentication(This prevents unauthorised people from accessing your emails by pairing to your phone via an SMS code).
• The mailbox (since you are storing contact details or using it along with a CRM or ERP solution) should be GDPR-compatible.
• Finally, it should provide the ability to add features in future, like extra archiving space, advanced threat protection and enterprise voicemail (phone to email) capability. These are signs of a good email solution/offer.
Preparing yourself to use the solution can be free if you have the time. Most software suppliers like Microsoft (via Office 365) for example, have support sites with primary training material and “how-tos” on their websites.
We are living in exciting and innovative times with futuristic technology literally at our fingertips. But for the longest time, small to medium-sized businesses were not serviced by the latest tech trends enterprises have been able to benefit from.
That is, until now. This piece explores these technology trends and how they will impact business in 2018 and beyond.
So, what kind of things can this ‘smart’ tech do? Just 4 months ago, an AI machine managed to complete a University level math exam 12 times faster than it normally takes the average human.
How? Through the art of machine learning; where computers learn and adapt through the experience without explicitly being programmed.
Furthermore, Facebook made headlines earlier this year when their chatbots created their own language. Some ‘fake news’ stories claim that the engineer’s pulled the plugin a panic as they were getting too smart.
However, the truth is that for Facebook’s purposes the chatbots needed to stick to English rather than developing their own shorthand. Their machine learning chatbots did nevertheless, create their own language outside their explicit programming.
This evolving area of computer science is the future for service businesses, and it’s already affecting the way we live and work today. In fact, research firm Markets and Markets estimates that the machine learning market will grow from $1.41 billion in 2017 to $8.81 billion by 2022!
So buckle up because these technology trends will affect every part of your business, from marketing to operations all the way through to payroll and here’s how.
Marketing Gets Smarter with AI and Machine Learning
AI and Social Media Marketing
In April 2017, CRM software provider, Salesforce conducted a study of marketing leaders worldwide, and the results were mind-blowing. Respondents said they expect to see improvements in efficiency and advancements in personalization over the next five years.
More than 60 percent of marketers envision leveraging AI to create dynamic landing pages, websites, programmatic advertising and media buying.
With behavioural targeting methods, AI will be able to locate and start the nurture process. For example, a marketing stack that employs AI algorithms might learn that a specific buyer who checks into LinkedIn on Monday mornings has recently started looking for a new CRM tool.
The software can then suggest (or even create) targeted posts to be published on the days and times that they’ll see them.
Currently, savvy marketers that are using social listening as way to nurture leads don’t have the necessary enhancement of AI. This is, however, time-consuming, manual and not in real-time.
So how do you start to get ready for this type of future content marketing distribution?
Firstly, you will need to have your buyer personas (using the consumer black box theory ) well defined. Taking a solid look at your CRM will give you tons of hints for content that will get qualified leads to respond.
By taking a step back and analyzing your channel’s content (like emails, phone calls and social media messages) you will start to get the right kind of insights. The ones that will prompt a lead to take the next step into the second phase of your sales funnel.
For instance, a C-Suite executive might respond best to data-driven whitepapers and infographics to peak their interests, whereas a fellow marketer might be more suited for an interactive case-study or video.
The only way to get these kinds of insights is to do a deep dive into your CRM platform and conduct a thorough review of customer details – using semantic analysis to understand the level of buying intent behind the words your qualified prospects use.
Hot tip: Starting to run your analysis now and developing strong personas will be key to implementing AI algorithms to your social media in 2018 and beyond.
Marketing and Machine Learning
Put simply, machine learning is about understanding data and statistics. It’s a technical process where computer algorithms find patterns in data, then predict probable outcomes. An example is when your email determines whether a particular message is spam or not depending on words in the subject line, links included in the message, or patterns identified in a list of recipients.
It’s the perfect example of how machine learning can be applied in marketing to optimize for successful campaigns.
Businesses can also use machine learning to up-sell the right product, to the right customer, at the right time. In 2018, marketers will continue to rely on machine learning to understand open rates when it comes to email. This way, you know exactly when to send your next campaign to increase click-through rates and ROI.
The next big thing? It might sound small but ticket tagging and re-routing can be a massive expense for small businesses – costs that can be saved with machine learning.
Having a sales inquiry automatically end up with the sales team, or a complaint end up instantly in the customer service department’s queue, is going to save companies a lot of time and money, and this is all being made possible with modern technology.
Here’s what else to expect in 2018:
E-Commerce Reaches New Heights
You’ve been shopping for a new pair sunglasses on Amazon, then before you know it, your Facebook feed is filled with multiple eyewear ads and related trends for summer.
This is machine learning.
In fact, this example of analyzing data based on a user’s purchase history or online shopping behaviour is the future for e-commerce.
Retail companies are also tracking what ads or images you’re most likely to stop scrolling on, in order to target you with specific content. For example, if you always click on ads that contain happy women and some text, then a machine will log this as preferred content so that you are only targeted with ads that fit this description.
Machines can also track what time of day you are most active on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and/or Pinterest, in order to present these ads to you at an optimal buying time.
Then when it’s time to purchase, machine learning is applied to reduce the risk of credit fraud in small businesses.
How? Machines learn from historical datasets that contain fraudulent transactions and can identify patterns that represent a typical fraudulent transaction.
Similar to the way spam emails are detected and deterred. Machine learning will start to affect other parts of your business funnel as well, just take a look at the rise of Chatbots.
There was a time in which chatbots were only thought of as manmade pests on the Internet. Through machine learning, they are getting smarter and businesses are embracing them en mass.
In 2018 and beyond, chatbots will play a key role in the future of customer service. Why? Chatbots can help achieve a faster customer service resolution, as well as provide quick histories of each customer for impeccable customer service.
There are some key benefits that chatbots have over solely human interactions:
Giving 24/7 customer service: The great things about machines? They don’t sleep! Coupled with the fact that chatbots are getting sophisticated enough to recognize human emotions such as anger, confusion, fear and joy. So should a chatbot encounter negative sentiments from the customer, they can seamlessly transfer to a human to take over and finish assisting the customer.
The era of being ‘on hold’ is gone: A huge barrier to providing excellence in customer service is long wait times. How many times have you tried to get customer service from Comcast (or any TV/Internet provider) and you are getting progressively more frustrated with the wait times? This can all be eliminated with chatbots!
Quick access to customer data makes service more personal:One thing that humans will never be better at than chatbots is quickly digesting customer data and history to provide context to customer questions.
Chatbots excel at collecting customer data from support interactions. They can serve as virtual assistants that can feed customer data to your customer service officers so they have a full history of each account quickly.
The final trend we’ll explore is Automation and how it affects businesses today.
Automation now and beyond 2018
Though Machine Learning and AI are hot topics in the tech world, it is not to a point that small to medium size businesses can leverage it in the immediate future. But there is still hope for them with automation.
Powered by the Cloud, this type of technology has already revolutionized Marketing and Sales workflows and interactions but it is also starting to touch the various other parts of a business. For example:
Once you win an important sale, you’ve got to deliver the product or service you’ve promised to the client. What does that process look like for most businesses now? You all will have a kick-off meeting and hope to cover all the promises that marketing and sales have given to your client.
However, with the use of operations automation and a powerful CRM, you will be able to read the interactions and see all the various touch points a client had with your company before that kick off call even happens.
This will give your service businesses a head start in providing great client relations and managing expectations. This category of SaaS products is called Service Operations Automation, or ServOps for short.
If there is one data-entry heavy department it would be Accounting. The problem is that as humans, we are fallible and much slower at data entry than a machine. Innovations with bank feeds, rules-based categorization and integrated payments have dramatically reduced the workload of clerical and bookkeeping staff.
This gives business owners more timely access to accurate financial information for their businesses.
Research, done by Xero, (a popular financial software provider) suggests that by 2020, automation will be commonplace in accounting. A significant number of finance professionals will be using the next level of analytical tools to help them add value to business models across the globe.
Finally, the Cloud and Automation have come to the Payroll and Human Resources sector. These important areas of a business too often suffer because small businesses aren’t big enough to afford a full-time HR department.
What’s the alternative? Having only part-time efforts of founders and principals which can often lead to serious risk to the business.
With new automation technology, compliance is automated by platforms. The effort of keeping time-off approvals in sync with PTO balances and payslips becomes a thing of the past.
In the near future, we will see the rise of great technology, powered by the Cloud, Automation, AI and Machine Learning.
This truly is the start of the Golden Age of Information Technology and it is time for businesses to take a hard look at their organizations and find ways to start integrating these tech trends.
This is a slightly shortened re-blog from a marketing post on Tenfold.com *
*This post was guest-authored by Tara Callinan and Jenneva Vargas from Accelo
Working in a service industry environment can come with its operational challenges. When dealing with a database of customers, it is common to get overwhelmed with contacts, leads, referrals, emails, processes, and appointments.
There are, however, solutions albeit not widely utilized by small to medium size businesses, that will help you keep track of processes through well-coordinated business automation.
Traditionally, business (process) automation is the task of an individual or team (not necessarily IT) overseeing the digital transformation of a company.
This role has been refined into what is now formally recognized as a business analyst. It involves a highly detailed audit of the processes and workflows.
This is priced as an input (operational) cost, or some form of revenue. The business analyst is a role like that of a quantity surveyor – but essentially with operational software.
The natural (profit-driven) motive is to minimize the operational cost while expanding revenue via the tools and processes used to run the business.
The online tools
A collaboration tool like Skype for Business can cut out the need for physical inter-departmental or regional meetings. This would save you loads in travel, hotel, food and other expenses.
All that would have been incurred just for you to have everyone huddle in a boardroom in front of an expensive projector for only a few hours.
When analyzing an investment instrument to check its viability for the long haul, you must also access a certain product-line or services offered. this helps to observe its usefulness based on uptake by its end users or purchasers.
A quick assessment or analysis can help you shift the focus and costs away from a non-responsive product to one that will drive profits.
But likewise, if a potentially practical product required more attention from a quality or marketing point of view, you will be able to pick up the trends using a good business intelligence (BI) tool.
The application (usually running from the cloud as SaaS) would pool all the numbers (prices, product-related interactions, input costs etc) usually stored in Excel sheets. It would then present them in real-time to reflect sales, revenues, staff retention, product demand, elasticity, return on investment.
These useful actions and reports can be performed by a few clicks of the mouse using the right BI software – again saving time in meetings and sending requests for data from different departments.
File sharing made easy
That brings one to the next tool that helps you to collate data into central repositories for quick and easy access. File-servers have existed for several decades but are outdated as they can crash. They can also slow down when overloaded or just not hold the right (compatible data) anymore.
Secure online file-sharing solutions can help resolve this. By “online”, we mean that the data can be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world on any device with a broadband connection of some sort.
And what is the point of having data centrally stored when you cannot access it once you leave a certain parameter/network?
When it comes to security concerns such as the risk people outside the organization or worse yet – a competitor, will access your data you can be rest assured!
The file-sharing providers have long thought it out. No one offering cloud-hosted data certainly wants to be sued!
Today several banks and even public institutions consume utilize cloud services for this very reason. Companies like Microsoft, IBM and Google are therefore making their services more and more secure as well as compliant to data storage regulations nationally or globally. They are also charging you a fortune for it in the process!
There several examples of how automation helps streamline or improve the way businesses operate especially from the all-important customer service branch of operations.
Think social media integration (to where most of the targetable market hang out these days). “Social engagement” is progressively becoming a buzzword.
Having applications that link to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram used to be a ‘nice to have’, but are now a necessity if you want to stay in touch with your audience or market.
Recognise the need ad act!
Thus, the onus is on the business analyst to source the right (most effective) SaaS tools to help channel the digitalization of the company’s social and business operations.
Failing to do so properly may not harm your profits in the short term if you have a unique product/service or operate in a monopoly. We all, however, know how quick and merciless creative destruction can occur.
Consider this for a moment. Companies like Yahoo, Nokia, and Blackberry. Failing to adapt to a changing landscape or being rigid with the product itself, as Nokia and Blackberry did, allowed Apple and Samsung to snatch their market with touchscreen tech.
From an internal perspective, failing to streamline the way you operate may even cloud your judgment in grasping what the customer wants from your product or service.
Automation will help you pay more attention to the client’s needs because you spend less time taking notes or pressing numerous buttons. Instead, you will be able to do the most important task when dealing with customers – listen!
Visit the resources page for an array of top-ranked automation tools you can use. These tools will ensure that you are being as productive as you can – saving you time and of course money in the long run.