For any small business owner, figuring out areas to invest in can be a constant debate.
When a company’s time and resources are limited, it’s easy to focus on tasks that immediately need to be solved and move longer-term problems down the schedule.
But when it comes to technology, small businesses no longer have to choose between these two options.
From apps to hardware, numerous free to low-cost resources are available to help businesses run both smoother and smarter.
Chatbots provide customer service support
At most SMBs, customer service teams are typically a sizable group of agents tasked with handling everything from basic order questions to in-depth product explanations.
But within the past few years, chatbots have become an emerging technology for companies who want to streamline their customer service costs.
Chatbots are artificial intelligence-powered tools that work similarly to an instant messenger window.
They commonly operate through a mix of machine learning), and by pulling information from a company’s existing online knowledge bases.
On a business’ website, customers can talk with chatbots, which are capable of answering a variety of basic questions.
For companies, there are varying costs for chatbots, depending on if they’re developed in-house or contracted out to another provider.
According to Chat Leap CEO Yoav Rimon via VentureBeat, setup costs alone for a single chatbot capable of handling support for a large company would potentially run around $5,000 to $10,000.
However, chatbots have become a popular tool for companies thanks to their savings in other areas.
Chatbots can service most customer support questions or direct users to real-time agents.
Unlike phone agents or traditional social media channels, which need live teams manning them for weekly or daily periods, chatbots can work at any time.
By offloading basic customer service requests to a chatbot, companies can also shift the resources that’d typically go into hiring and training entry-level human phone agents towards other areas.
For a small to mid-sized business, costs like developing a chat team, renting a space to house them or finding a third-party phone agent contractor can quickly add up.
But once you develop your chatbot, letting it run on its own can save you a lot of manpower, and you might only need occasional tech support.
Social media management programs
These days, any small business owner knows the importance of being on social media.
Whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, young and old customers spend much of their time on social media.
The best small businesses know how to engage with users on these platforms and use social listening.
While it’s easy enough to make a profile on these social media networks, dedicated social media manager programs offer additional versatility for businesses.
With these apps, users can access expanded features that are unavailable to general users.
In Tweetdeck (a free social media management tool for Twitter), users can simultaneously view content ranging from tweets to user analytics.
Also, social media managers can schedule tweets and even set up multiple lists to track hashtags or tweets in real-time.
Premium management tools provide additional resources for managing a business’s social media presence.
Hootsuite allows users to coordinate posts and view analytics for platforms including Facebook and Instagram.
Competing programs like Sprout Social and Sendible offer similar features for posting from other social media networks along with more advertiser-friendly tools.
For businesses, these tools offer a more efficient way to respond to customers over social media.
With other resources like analytics and tweet scheduling, small businesses can also save time by pre-writing posts (and A/B testing) to see which messages their customers choose to respond.
Consumer-level gadgets can bridge gap
Small businesses need to set aside substantial resources for hardware when it comes to investing in their offices.
But increasingly, consumer-level electronics have emerged as a viable alternative to pricey business-grade tech.
In areas ranging from point-of-sale systems to home security cameras, small businesses that can’t afford the expense of traditional hardware now have some flexibility.
In addition, this tech often has a lower learning curve for new employees who are in training.
For instance, modern point-of-sale systems like Square feature smartphone-like interfaces that are much more intuitive to younger employees, compared to the design of traditional cash registers.
Tech offers versatility to companies
Businesses that want to compete in today’s market need to take technology seriously.
Now small businesses can reach the productivity of enterprise-level businesses at a fraction of the cost!
What affordable tech tools do you use in your small business? Tell us in the comments below. We’d love to check them out!