The 2020s brought a stark realization — if local businesses hope to survive the decade, they must be proactive about digital adoption and transformation.
While your local mom-and-pop store could partner with delivery services such as Uber Eats without investing much effort, it isn’t always ideal or financially feasible.
Furthermore, it should be either temporary or supplementary to your current services. Businesses should seek to develop their digital strategies.
If your company has a rural theme, it must maintain its rustic charm for modernization. Instead, there are strategic ways to implement technology, such as using artificial intelligence for day-to-day processes.
Thus, it’s possible to enhance the customer experience while maintaining your identity, and the following sections will show you exactly how.
Problems With Tech-Powered Support
Chatbots are one of the most ubiquitous forms of AI in customer service. Older chatbots use minimal AI. They can only answer a limited scope of questions and are just sophisticated interactive menus nowadays.
On the other hand, modern generative AI has become nearly indistinguishable from real human interaction. However, it’s still prone to hallucinations and is notoriously expensive to run.
Don’t Disregard the Human Factor
According to CX today, 75% of customers still prefer to speak to live agents because they can dynamically handle unique situations.
People often just want to vent and be put at ease by a friendly human voice.
Expectedly, some companies thought they could fully replace human support with generative AI.
While many such attempts ended in disaster, none was more public or severe than that of the National Eating Disorder Association, whose AI Tessa went rogue, started giving harmful advice, and ultimately had to be shut down.
The Public Perception of AI
While AI-based innovation is always welcome, it isn’t a good idea for companies to replace the bulk of their human staff with AI.
Although the tech has potential, dumping your entire workforce for it is the PR equivalent of setting yourself ablaze.
You must also consider the ethical concerns. AI has inspired an increasing amount of anxiety in the global workforce.
The proposed unethical use of AI was a big reason behind the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike and a catalyst for many similar moments.
We say this not to dissuade you from implementing AI. It has many benefits, and reaping them isn’t as much of a tightrope walk as it may seem.
Areas of Local Business That AI Can Improve
If you’re running a classic brick-and-mortar store, you don’t need to replace your traditional checkout desk with self-checkout or go full AI.
Instead, you can leverage this technology for growth in more subtle ways, such as:
Improving Your Store’s Layout With Technology
You can use a combination of CCTV cameras and AI to improve your layout. By utilizing these tools to understand customer behavior, replanning the entire store will be much less daunting.
Just remember to notify customers that they’re under video surveillance.
Adding In-Store Pick-Ups
Your store may need help to afford a dedicated delivery service. While third-party deliveries are an option, many repeat store visitors and customers tend to live near your business.
Some may not mind picking up their goods since it’s quicker than waiting for you to ship them. First, you should have an online store where customers can initiate purchases.
This website should have in-store pick-up as an option. You also need to establish a unique checkout desk for pick-ups.
This method will shorten checkout lines, modernize your business significantly, and improve the overall customer experience.
Optimizing Customer Relations
Instead of paper media, consider using a QR code campaign. Disperse QR codes in the aisles of your store, restaurant tables, and reception areas.
Scanning these codes with their phones will take customers to sections of your websites to view the latest promotions, enter competitions, etc.
It can also take them to a form where they can register for newsletters or loyalty programs.
Making Improvements Behind the Scenes
If you’re reluctant to change your storefront’s processes, you can still reap the benefits of modern technology by using AI for operations.
While this isn’t as attractive as reorganizing your store, it yields results that are arguably even more visible.
Many small businesses have leveraged AI to improve everything from hiring processes to invoice factoring, with the latter being a perfect entry point.
One of the advantages of invoice factoring is that it’s easy to understand, making any AI implementation easy for a layperson.
Once this part is streamlined, you can move on to more complex matters, such as strategizing, analytics, and more.
Following and Adopting Tech Trends for Local Businesses
Keeping an eye on the technological zeitgeist is one of the hardest things to do for small and local business owners.
No matter which trend you choose to follow, you’ll always end up worrying more about following said trend than actually improving your operators.
Don’t get caught up in the shenanigans, and implement the following fads that became business staples:
You’re trying to improve how you communicate with customers through technology. And it’s undoubtedly challenging, meaning there’s no need to do it by yourself.
You can hire and speak to tech advisors - real professionals informed on the latest tech.
Likewise, you can join online communities to find advice on topics such as effectively implementing AI to increase sales.
Platforms like Facebook, Reddit, and Quora can help you get or share tips and become aware of the latest trends.
Read more about productivity tips for small business owners.
Any tech you adopt must be practical. We know it’s hard, but you must avoid modernizing your business to call yourself a proactive entrepreneur.
Instead, ask your team what they need and if they have any ideas to improve the situation.
For instance, a team member may need help with something simple, such as tracking changes they make to a company PDF document, one of the most popular file formats for storing and sharing business data.
You can help fix this problem by investing in a PDF editor with editing features such as the ability to add comments.
A Strong ROI
When adopting new tech, ensure you’re working within your financial means. Moreover, the tech you adopt must have a strong return on investment.
In other words — avoid adding tech superficially. It must be beneficial for both you and the customers.
Running a successful business in the modern age is a race to see who can adopt as much of the latest tech as possible. It is a mistake.
Before anything, you should identify which areas of your business would benefit the most from digitalization or modernization.
However, this requires you to understand your staff and customers' needs.
Your business may not be able to automate the entire customer experience, but you can strategically implement tech into critical parts of your business.