One-third of American consumers have used virtual-assistant services on their smartphones recently. That will climb to two-thirds of all consumers in developed markets using them daily, by the end of 2016, Gartner estimates.
As search engines and intelligent digital assistants have gotten smarter in the types of questions they can answer, people are getting more comfortable using technology to get an answer or place an order for anything. You just happen to have real people in your business who know a lot about helping customers. How can we put these two things together? Let’s look at what some big companies are doing.
- Siri is on (almost) every iPhone, Google Now is on Android phones, and Cortana is on PCs and laptops starting with Windows 10. New cars now integrate with these phone-based assistants.
- Amazon has people installing a device that looks like a speaker in their homes, called Echo. The built-in smart assistant Alexa accepts voice commands to control smart devices around the house. Oh, and it also gives you a new way to order direct from Amazon.
- Facebook is rolling out a text-based assistant called M on their Messenger service. M uses both software and people to answer questions and assist with simple tasks. Analysts expect big businesses will pay to get preferential treatment in placing direct orders through M.
- Dominos lets you order a pizza delivery by any method you can think of: an app on your smart TV, your smart watch, by email, over Twitter, or even texting an emoji.
How can small town businesses adapt to these tools? Here are ideas to get started.
Set up digital ways to reach you:
Set up at least one digital way for customers to reach you:
- email – create a dedicated email address for customer requests
- Messenger – create a Facebook Messenger account for your business
- SMS/text – create a special number for text messages from customers, such as through Google Voice
Now, set each of these up so all notifications are routed to you immediately. You can use a service like If This, Then That to bring notifications straight to you or forward them to the person who will handle requests.
Next, you’re going to have to write clear and easy instructions for customers, so they can teach their digital assistant how to ask you a question or place an order with you. For example, you might give customers these instructions:
- Add our email email@example.com or our text number 555-555-1212 to your address book, and name it Alva’s Market.
- When you need something, tell Siri, “Email Alva’s Market and say, ‘Deliver a gallon of milk’.”
- If we need any further info, we’ll text or email you back for details.
- Besides orders, you can ask us questions. Tell Siri, “Text Alva’s Market and say, ‘What goes good with zucchini?'” We’ll text you back with our best recommendations.
Suddenly, you’re the coolest store in town.
Be sure you test your instructions on your own phone, and then ask friends to test it themselves. Work out the bugs first before you start promoting it.
What do you think? Is this something you’d ever try in your business?
Update, Dec 2017: If you install any of the Amazon Echo devices in your store, you can let customers call you directly from their Echo. “Alexa, call the liquor store.”
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.