Anyone willing to stake their reputation on predicting what might happen during 2017 should remember this: a £10 bet on Donald Trump, Brexit and Leicester City winning the Premier League would have returned around £30 million.
But I’ve never been one to err on the side of caution. So I’m happy to share some thoughts about where I think business owners across Scotland should focus during 2017.
With the amount of technology and innovation at our fingertips, small businesses are now able to punch above their weight, particularly online, like never before.
At the forefront of this digital revolution is BT’s huge investment in fibre broadband. It’s now reached nearly 88 per cent of homes and businesses across Scotland, thanks to the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme and commercial rollout.
And as we head into 2017, there’s no better time to share my top tips that will hopefully make the year ahead a successful one for you and your business
Making it EASY is now the most important thing
BT research shows 62 per cent of people find customer service from all types of businesses exhausting.
Nowadays, people want things to be simple. There is less brand loyalty, and convenience is often more important than price. But all our research shows that if you make it easy for customers, they’ll keep coming back to you.
But how do you do that? Put simply, make it easy for customers to buy from you, make reporting a problem or asking a question a painless process, and make sure your social media channels are up to the task.
Did you know more than 70 per cent of people expect a response from businesses on social media within just 15 minutes? Or that one in three people think Twitter or Facebook are the best ways of interacting when things are urgent?
So perhaps 2017 should be the year you review your social media channels and make sure they’re effective and meeting the expectations of your customers. If not, then all that effort you put in to being online could actually be doing more harm than good.
Look after your employees and they’ll look after you
Nearly two-thirds of office workers now say that being able to work flexibly, such as working from home, is more important than having a company car.
More than half of us now work in this way, and with such an importance being attached to being able to work on the go, business leaders need to explore if they’re doing enough.
Technology is key. Two in three say better communication would really help their organisation succeed. They want to use technology to improve the way they work and BT’s work with fibre broadband helps make that happen.
Our research shows the smartphone is key. Sixty nine per cent want screen sharing on their handset, 62 per cent want instant messaging when out and about, and nearly half want to be able to use video chat when away from the office.
It’s an interesting concept and one that is constantly developing. But the message is simple. Make sure your workforce has appropriate access to technology and tools required to do their job and they’ll embrace flexible-working.
Video killed the radio star
So crooned the Buggles back in the late 70s. And it’s fair to say that video has been the ‘next big thing’ for many a year since.
As customers, many of the ways we interact with businesses are becoming more automated and remote. So video is seen by many as a way of offering a more personalised experience.
It’s more accessible than ever with a combination of smartphones, tablets and PCs with cameras, plus better/faster/cheaper connectivity means that video services like Skype, Facetime and YouTube have become part of our everyday lives.
But chatting to our friends and family is one thing. Would you want to use video talk to speak to a business? Some of our research suggests the answer to this question could well be yes. More than half of people now have the appetite to use video chat when speaking to a business.
Of course it’s not perfect in every scenario but the one thing it’s proven to do is build trust. It could well be worth exploring further during 2017 as a way of improving service and developing your relationship with customers.
By Nicola Millard, BT’s Futurologist. Nicola Millard is BT’s Head of Customer Insight and Futures. She was previously known as a ‘Futurologist’ but says she “dropped that title because of the crystal ball jokes”.
 87.9% superfast fibre broadband coverage across Scotland according to the independent thinkbroadband.com website.
 BT Autonomous Customer research – www.globalservices.bt.com/uk/en/point-of-view/autonomous-customer-2015