What SMEs should consider when building tech investment strategies

By Steve Rafferty, below, VP International, RingCentral

SMEs are facing a plethora of challenges this year. From a rise in energy bills, increasing costs of doing business, through to employee retention and supply chain shortages, driving business sales has never been more important to stay afloat.

While some companies have invested in technology to support with operations, this is not yet at scale, and this is having a detrimental impact on UK SME growth. TechUK’s 2023 UK tech plan found that approximately 5.6% of UK SMEs working time is lost in administration, accounting for an implied loss in productivity of £39.9bn.

Businesses need to be strategic with where they invest in technology to fuel further growth. I believe there are three key pillars where SMEs should focus on to not only increase sales and grow the business, but to meet ever-changing customer expectations and deliver a better service.

Omnichannel platforms are the way forward

In an increasingly competitive market, investing in a secure communications platform with omnichannel capabilities is a valuable asset. Such platforms provide SMEs with the support they need to thrive in a more flexible hybrid working environment.

As SMEs have become more aware of the benefits of moving to the cloud, it would almost be impossible to not consider consolidating all communications into one platform to streamline internal and external operations. This way, teams can make all information centrally accessible and instantly transferable across platforms.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

Moreover, a unified approach simplifies vendor management. Instead of handling three or four different systems, teams can easily manage communications through one centralised platform. This saves time on training new employees thus enabling teams to focus on strategic work that supports overall business goals.

Implement bundle CX solutions

SMEs are continuing to grapple with changing consumer preferences and adapting their strategies to meet these demands. Our own research found that almost two thirds of consumers (65%) say they would be unlikely to return to a business after poor customer service. TechUK also found that a quarter of UK SMEs still do not use basic digital tools, such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software which can lead to increased sales. With this having such a significant impact on brand image and reputation, SMEs must act now to rectify this issue.

Impactful bundle CX solutions such as native, AI-first contact centre solutions, are a must for growing businesses as these can transform customer journeys across various touchpoints. Our research also highlighted that more customers want to see AI CX solutions, with over a third (34%) wanting AI to help reduce the average hold times when calling customer service. And a further 28% wish to see AI play a role in expanding the availability of support to 24/7.

With these solutions, SMEs can utilise AI-powered transcripts, summaries and insights to support agents and provide information speedily when serving customers. Additionally, these solutions can offer real-time workforce engagement management data. This can support monitoring the quality of their customer service through automated agent scoring and feedback.

Embrace events technology infused with AI

Events have long been a crucial component for SMEs to build their network, promote their services and learn about new industry trends, best practices and innovations. Hosting events can also be a great way to boost awareness and engagement, actively building your sales pipeline.

While these communities at events are critical, they can be expensive to set up and sustain for long periods of time. Born out of the pandemic, virtual events quickly gained traction when meeting in person was not an option. While virtual events have quickly established their value, they could definitely be more personal and optimised, with the power of AI.

Nowadays, it’s commonplace to hear that your company’s future hinges on the power of AI technology. However, AI won’t be transformative if it’s not utilised in a way that will address real needs within your business. To harness the power of AI for events, SMEs should use AI-first all-in-one solutions to support all event types whether they be virtual, hybrid or onsite.

Such a solution can scale to include robust features which enable organisations to host conferences, kick-offs, summits and even training programs. With generative AI, SMEs can further utilise AI-powered editors that automatically generate bite-sized social media video content to help simplify pre-event and post-event marketing.

The right tools to thrive

SMEs account for three-fifths of UK employment and around half of turnover in the private sector. Heralded as the backbone of the UK economy, it’s crucial SMEs have greater awareness and access to the tools they need to thrive today.

SMEs often do great when they focus on what they do best: their core business offering. With this, SMEs must choose carefully what solutions to invest in and more importantly, choose technology that can scale to best suit their business goals for the long term.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024