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Young businesswoman looking forward

What will 2018 bring to small business owners and entrepreneurs? If I had a crystal ball, I would definitely tell you. But since I don’t, I’ve collected predictions from a number of different sources to give you some hints about what’s in store for you this year. But first, none of the following information will matter if your small business is not ready for growth.

Steve Blank is known for many things. He’s a serial entrepreneur, author, professor, VC, father of the lean business movement, and more. To me, he’s more of an entrepreneurial seer. He warns entrepreneurs they must be prepared—for anything. “Nothing goes by the manual,” he explains, “things happen, it’s completely chaotic.” And it’s easy, he adds, to miss the “signal” in all the noise.

Recently the so-called conventional wisdom says businesses need to be disruptive to thrive. But, Blank argues, you cannot be disruptive all the time. Instead, he says you need to keep doing what you’re doing to bring in revenues. And then, Blank advises, you should create “an innovation pipeline—a culture of experimentation.” Only about 10% of what you try to create will actually work, so if you want to accomplish two big things in 2018, you need to experiment with at least 20.

And if you’re not failing, Blank says, you’re not experimenting enough. The key, he says, bucking the now ubiquitous advice to “fail fast,” is to “learn fast” instead. To succeed you need to fail at the “right times and places” and to fail during the experimentation phase, “not on execution.”

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On to the predictions.

Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Abinash Tripathy, founder and CSO, Helpshift, predicts:

2018 is the year that AI will transition from mainly supporting the routine consumer experience to supporting the brand experience.

  • We’re getting used to Siri and Alexa, but now we’re going to see it in transactional and technical parts of conducting business.
  • B2Cs selling commodity products that are the first to deploy chatbots and AI stand to gain market share by creating new and highly personalized experiences for their customers.
  • The most forward-thinking B2B brands will also learn from B2C’s use of AI.

2017 was the year of agent engagement; 2018 will be all about the supervisor.

  • Automation will free up supervisors to play a more strategic role based on data-driven insights to drive higher workforce productivity and operational excellence.
  • We’ve seen commentary this year about the growing role of AI and automating routine tasks, which frees up agents for issues that involve higher levels of problem solving— increasing engagement as a result. Now we’re going to see how AI impacts the role of the supervisor in terms of automating routine tasks, and freeing them for more “strategic” management.

 AI and chatbots will allow companies to bring higher-level agent jobs back stateside.

  • Firms will want to bring operations closer to the customer for an enhanced experience while also seeing cost savings.
  • Our research shows that 52% of Americans gave customer service a C grade, but we expect that to rise to a B (or at least C+) by the end of the year as chatbots make customer service more responsive and more personalized.
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Chatbots will gain wider acceptance from American consumers

  • Our research shows 55% of all Americans—and 65% of millennials—want chatbots involved in the customer service process.
    • These numbers will increase to 65% of all Americans and 75% of millennials.
  • 19% say chatbots are definitely making things better, while another 40% say chatbots are helpful but aren’t living up to their full potential. By 2018 those percentages will change to:
    • 1 in 4 Americans will say chatbots are making things better.
    • 1 in 3 will say chatbots are not living up to their full potential.

Gartner predicts:

2020 will be a pivotal year in AI-related employment dynamics as artificial intelligence (AI) will become a positive job motivator. The number of jobs affected by AI will vary by industry; through 2019, healthcare, the public sector, and education will see continuously growing job demand while manufacturing will be hit the hardest. Starting in 2020, AI-related job creation will cross into positive territory, reaching two million net-new jobs in 2025.

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