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Business leaders share their top SME insights for 2023

2022 was set to be a year of growth and opportunity following COVID. However, amidst inflation, the projected shortfall in consumer spending and a still unreliable supply chain, small business owners were working harder than ever to achieve their goals.

Now with the benefit of the last two years of experience, SMEs are optimistic about what the future holds. Several influential business leaders share their advice, perspectives, and predictions for 2023 and how small businesses can tap into this year’s emerging opportunities.

Jamie Hoey, Australia Country Manager, Wunderkind

“Retailers and consumers instinctively know that trust is a crucial part of the shopping experience. But this past year has seen a greater focus placed on data safety, efficiency and effectiveness.

While establishing trust with your customers seems like a no brainer, brands need to consistently do more by providing transparency. It’s an obvious, but crucial, thing to note. Take data collection, for example. If you want to build a genuinely beneficial and personalised relationship with your customers, you need them to willingly part with their data, and they’re not going to do that if you’re cagey about what you’re going to do with it.

The customer is your ‘north star’ and the relationship needs to be mutually beneficial. Therefore, to get your customers to share their data, there needs to be value for them. This means painting a picture of what each customer likes (or values), understanding behaviours, such as past purchases and previously viewed products, acknowledging browsing and buying habits, and being able to deliver messaging — discount codes, for example — when it’s going to make an impact.

By using the right data, communicating appropriately, and being on a never ending quest to do things better, brands can develop a reputation for being reliable and trustworthy.”

Paul Hadida, General Manager, APAC at SevenRooms

“Driving customer loyalty has long been crucial for businesses, but in 2023 its value will reach new heights. That’s because the new year enters off the back of economic headwinds that have impacted both business budgets and consumer spending - SevenRooms research found four in five Aussies feel the current cost-of-living has already impacted their spending.

However, for those in Australia’s vibrant and world-famous hospitality sector who provide exceptional customer experiences, there is plenty of optimism, with Aussies also saying personalised, meaningful experiences would encourage their loyalty regardless. What’s more, 79% said their favourite restaurants, bars and cafes need their support now more than ever, so evidently the ‘support local’ sentiment is as strong as ever. The businesses that cater to every customer’s unique habits and preferences - rather than targeting them with one-size-fits-all experiences - will find it easier to tap this supportive sentiment and enjoy a prosperous 2023.”

Jamie MacLennan, Senior Vice-President and Managing Director, Asia-Pacific at LifeWorks

“One of the biggest challenges for SMEs next year will be the declining mental health of employees. Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show more than 4 million people have experienced a mental health disorder in the past year.

Rising inflation and economic uncertainty will likely continue in 2023, contributing to Australian workers' negative mental health and well-being. SMEs will have to proactively manage this issue next year.

Research shows the upside for businesses that effectively manage their employees’ mental health and wellbeing in terms of higher engagement and productivity. At the same time, businesses need to be aware of new codes from NSW Safe Work Australia (which will likely be copied by other States) meaning an expansion in employers’ responsibilities over employees’ mental health – with associated financial penalties.

SMEs with limited funds and resources can turn to government support to face mental health issues. The government has allocated $15.1 million for small businesses' mental health and financial counselling programs. In addition, SMEs can get relevant support online or seek guidance from EAP (Employee Assistance Programme) providers.”

Christian Lund, Co-Founder at Templafy

“With the new year fast approaching, businesses must consider how automation can be used to drive business forward in 2023. During the past few years, we’ve seen the rise of new tools that help employees complete work. However, this has resulted in a tech overload. Notably, in large organisations, an average of 175 applications are offered to employees and we’ve reached a point where these tools are complicating workflows. In fact, employees are spending more time navigating platforms than doing valuable work.

Moving into the new year, we can expect that businesses will prioritise tools that allow employees to focus on the work they’re meant to do, while the rest remains automated. Document generation platforms, for example, are already doing this by automating the document creation process and allowing businesses to protect internal documents and overcome common challenges surrounding document governance. Information security has never been more important and implementing these tools will help to remove the burden of compliance from employees, placing this on technology instead. By leveraging the capabilities of these technologies, businesses will be setting themselves up for a successful and exciting new year ahead.”

Vijay Sundaram, Chief Strategy Officer at Zoho

“In 2023, we expect the adoption and appeal of AI to increase significantly. More time is spent speculating if AI will render humans redundant, than in exploring the ways it is already changing business and will continue to. AI is poised to move more into the business and technology mainstream in 2023. More devices and apps will come with AI automatically embedded and enabled rather than requiring an update or additional purchase. AI built into technologies will drive automation, reduce rote work that humans need longer to perform, automatically derive and present insights from vast quantities of data, and make it far easier for humans to interact with machines using natural language and spoken interfaces.

"AI will make a huge mark on everyday work activities, with genuine and tangible benefits. For example, AI will allow businesses to scan meeting transcripts and video records to extract relevant information. It can look at vast quantities of customer purchase data, predict changing customer behaviour and even suggest specific product innovations to address new needs. AI is already deployed as chatbots and voicebots in front-line customer service and operations. These will keep getting better and offer more consistent responses to customers that will improve over time, as the systems themselves are self-learning. Human resources managers will use AI to better match candidates with the organisations hiring needs. All of this is real today and we expect to see it in practice in 2023.”

Simon Le Grand, Senior Director of Global Marketing (Retail) at Lightspeed

“While Australians recently received promising news with inflation dipping slightly, economic pressures and increased market competition will likely pose challenges for small businesses in 2023. Though retail sales have remained relatively steady this year according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics and hospitality revenue consistent according to Lightspeed data, customers seem to be more selective with where they spend their disposable income. So with the cost-of-living putting pressure on consumer spending, businesses – whether in hospitality or retail – must incentivise their loyalty through exceptional service, meaningful experiences and personal relationships. Small businesses – especially retail stores, bars, restaurants and cafes – must streamline their business to operate more efficiently and combat the pressures of inflation, staff shortages and other issues. Rather than relying on multiple solutions in their tech stack, a one-stop-shop commerce solution can decrease overheads and help them to make smarter, more integrated business decisions. This gives businesses more time and more powerful technology, enabling them to focus on doing what they do best: building relationships with their customers that incentivise long-lasting loyalty and trust for their brand.”

Rob Hango-Zada, Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Shippit

“After almost three years of uncertainty, retailers, like all other industries, have been forced to embrace the unknown. They’ve cultivated a growth and evolution mindset to quickly pivot business processes to thrive. As we head into 2023, it will be important for retailers to remain resilient and set themselves apart from the competition. One of the biggest focus areas for retailers next year will be customer retention. With customer expectations continuing to climb, it will be important for retailers to take small steps behind the scenes to improve customer loyalty. For example, including shipping cut-off dates on websites, increasing warehouse operating hours during peak hours, and displaying shipping delays, provides the transparency and certainty that consumers desire. Doing this effectively can be the difference between one-off shoppers and loyal customers. Retailers that provide customers with this level of transparency, and take action behind-the-scenes, will provide an experience that customers remember. Whilst it may sound simple, reliable and transparent delivery experience will be essential to success in 2023 to not only meet, but exceed, customer expectations.”

Justin Dery, Chief Executive Officer at Doddle Asia Pacific

As consumers grow more cautious with their spending in a high-inflation environment, their tolerance for inconvenience in the purchase and post-purchase experience will decrease. We know that shoppers are already vocal about the importance of delivery and returns, with 85% saying they won’t shop again after a poor experience.

That can be a problem for SMEs, who don’t necessarily have the time and technical resource to spend making sure every aspect of their business is hyper-optimised for demanding shoppers.

By partnering with a brand that consumers recognise and trust, SMEs can at least breathe easily when it comes to their delivery and returns experience. Australia Post’s Collect & Return service, powered by Doddle, offers shoppers a range of delivery options and an intuitive returns experience, encouraging them to shop again and helping to prevent the missed deliveries or frustrating returns that lead to costly customer churn.

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