It’s been an odd year for customer service. As the UK moved into – and then out of – lockdown, small businesses had to implement smarter and safer ways to interact with their audiences, introducing big changes that look set to stay in 2022.
Consumers are now used to contacting brands via instant messaging apps, utilising virtual checkouts over real ones, and scanning QR codes instead of speaking directly to wait staff.
The result? Today’s businesses must work harder than ever to stand out from the crowd and ensure long-lasting, personal relationships with clients who are steadily growing pickier.
In fact, a recent survey conducted by communications company InfoBip found that almost a third of respondents said they would not return to spend money at a business that previously provided poor service during lockdown.
All this means that connecting with customers will be one of the biggest tasks facing businesses this year. So how can savvy entrepreneurs get ahead of the curve and cater for this emerging need?
Below, we’ll go through the best business ideas that will enable you to do exactly that in 2022.
As a consequence of the past two years, many UK businesses have packed up their belongings and made the big move online. Digitally-based services and products, such as ecommerce, have now become the go-to over high streets and localised shopping.
This activity had been steadily growing over the past decade, but it was the impact of COVID-19 that saw it really pick up speed. Data from Adobe Projects estimates that 2022 will be the first trillion-dollar year of spending for the global ecommerce market.
Such impressive growth has naturally generated some big competition. Consumers are coming to expect faster, cheaper checkouts, and tech-based solutions are cropping up everywhere in an effort to help businesses keep up with the new demand.
“Post-lockdown ecommerce is still set to grow 20.5% in 2021, reflecting retailers turning to innovative digital technologies to reach their customers and get ahead of competitors.”
–James Barlow, Country Manager at Akeneo
One tool that’s showing particularly promising growth for this year is chatbots. Your consumers want to be able to contact you whenever they have a need, 24/7. This simply isn’t possible with the amount of resources a typical small business will be working with.
While they shouldn’t be used as the only point of contact for B2C firms, chatbots can hold sophisticated conversations with customers to guide them through their issue and provide a reassuring (if automated) voice, smoothing out service delivery in case of delays.
“Low-code Chatbot technology will become essential to help businesses fulfil customer requests, at scale, while keeping the operational costs down when it comes to training and IT management.”
–Jiaqi Pan, CEO and co-founder of Landbot
But of course, service delivery doesn’t only take place online. D2C companies, like Oxwash, are also changing the way businesses bring their product to the masses.
As the UK’s first on-demand laundry service, Oxwash has transformed the traditional laundromat model to take on the tiresome task of doing laundry itself, and bring freshly-cleaned fabrics direct to doors. The UK green-tech startup recently raised half a million pounds in a public crowdfunder.
Oxwash delivery bike
Meanwhile, located at the beginning of the customer supply chain are companies like Startup Logistics. Founded by the team behind the pork-based snack food Snaffling Pig, this company provides support around storage, picking, packing and logistics – deftly tapping into the supply chain problems experienced by many UK businesses following Brexit and the pandemic.
This is a huge sector with tonnes of opportunities. If you have coding or software development experience, you could develop a new B2C app. If you have industry experience, it might enable you to find a gap to fix in the current delivery model.
However you approach this business idea, a sure-fire way to generate business success in 2022 is by helping to streamline and improve the consumer experience.
Same-day courier company
Customers want to get their products quicker than ever, which makes offering speedy same-day delivery for urgent items a winning business idea. To make this business goal easier, you could offer your services specifically to local businesses – think Deliveroo but for retail.
Subscriptions are a popular idea at the moment as they mean customers don’t have to waste time purchasing the same products monthly.
You could become a D2C (doctor-to-consumer) subscription service for prescriptions. You’ll get the double win of tapping into the UK’s growing health trend and enabling more accessible services for those who might struggle to leave the house.
The great shift to online working has dramatically increased competition when it comes to real estate. An overly saturated market of content, paired with reduced footfall in high streets, means businesses nowadays need to contend with a long list of social media platforms, websites and advertisements in order to be seen.
As a consequence, new technology, data, and analytics services are cropping up as marketers attempt to create much more personal and “human” experiences across moments, channels, and buying stages.
This idea can take many shapes and enter some surprising industries. One example is KatKin, which we featured as one of our top 100 startups earlier this year.
The business was founded in 2019 and offers the world’s “first personalised fresh nutrition and wellness company for cats and their parents”. It keeps the edge over rivals by designing a personalised, fresh and perfectly portioned meal plan for every cat, using factors like age, weight, activity level and current body shape.
Consultancy services operating in the marketing and customer optimisation spheres will also do well with personalisation.
For example, there’s Dragonfly AI. Founded by David Mitchell and Mark Bainbridge, the product works with assets across a huge range of communication channels. Brands can get their content noticed using a combination of neuroscience and AI-powered tools to gain affordable insights into the many ways that customer heads can be turned.
KatKin founders Brett and Nikki O’Farrell
Personalisation is all about creating something new for consumers that’s unlike anything they might have previously experienced. But big ideas don’t need big bucks – because it’s a fairly general business idea, personalisation has got tons of applications, and champions creativity and innovation over large-scale initial investment.
The rise of digital businesses has meant in-person retail and leisure businesses need to adopt new tactics to get their customers out of the door and into stores instead.
In 2022, you could offer interior design services to help businesses design more attractive spaces that engage attention throughout the entire user journey.
As multi-channel integration becomes more common, it’s now simpler than ever to access customer information across multiple platforms.
You could offer a personalised match-making service that links customers to events happening nearby through Spotify, deals they might be interested in using cookie data, or even restaurant recommendations based on their TripAdvisor profile.
In the wake of repeated scandals around privacy and intellectual property (IP) rights, customers are becoming more concerned about how their data is used. According to the Cisco 2021 consumer privacy survey, 46% of customers feel they are unable to protect their data privacy today.
General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) already exists to ensure customer, company and client data is secure. Failure to comply can result in massive fines.
But now, Big Tech companies are creating more obstacles for customer services by further regulating data collection. By late 2023, Google will copy rival search engines Safari and Firefox to phase out third-party cookies running on Chrome, having a huge impact on how brands track, target, and engage with customers.
Brands will need to explore new smart ways to help consumers without collecting personally identifiable information. As such, businesses that are proactively managing customer privacy will be especially important this year.
Our top 10 startup Element is catering for the new demand. Using complex Matrix open-standard network technology, this data-encrypted messaging app is essentially a high-security WhatsApp. Its existing customers include the UK, US and German governments.
There’s also Octaive, an ethical advertising platform that has gotten rid of common banner and video ads. Instead, it uses two-way chat experiences to empower consumers and allow them to pick the brands they prefer to hear from.
The Octaive team
At the more complex end of the spectrum, there are NFTs. An NFT is like a digital receipt; a tool that uses blockchain technology to provide proof of ownership of a digital asset such as an image, audio clip or tweet.
While this trend is currently most popular with the art world, many experts agree that NFT use will soon extend out into the general population. NFTs could soon be used as smart contracts across sectors, with uses ranging from property-buying to music production.
Big-name ecommerce website builder Shopify even recently announced it will enable users to sell NFTs through its platform.
“Lesser known artists will embrace NFTs as they provide them with more control, agency and income. We recently commissioned four artists to create digital artwork using our AI music engine and it was encouraging to see just how much NFTs support smaller creators.”
–Rory Kenny, CEO of music technology company Loudly
However, it can be easy to get carried away with new technologies. Startups should be careful to ensure that NFTs are truly useful for their consumer if they choose to engage with the trend.
“[NFTs] should not be made because it’s the new way to do things [but so you can] deliver a product or service more cheaply, reach more customers more easily, or create more loyalty from your existing customers.”
–Andrew Scott, founding partner of tech investment company, 7percent Ventures
NFTs do have some security concerns. Blockchain is a secure and generally unchangeable digital record, which could ensure customer assets are better protected. But it’s also a complicated product that can be vulnerable if you’re not knowledgeable about how it works – so be sure to get fully up to date on this technology before offering it to customers.
Privacy is crucial when it comes to managing customer relationships, and companies need to get it right to ensure they can earn the trust and loyalty of their audiences in 2022.
SaaS security apps
Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is a software distribution model that customers can typically purchase using cloud software. If you have coding or development experience then you can design a security app or plugin to be purchased by brands for use on websites across the internet.
Cybersecurity training provider
The majority of companies are working remotely or digitally in 2022, which means educating the workforce on how to stay safe online is no longer just a useful enterprise for businesses, but a necessity. As a cybersecurity training provider, you could offer bespoke training by visiting offices directly, or create a digital product like an online video course.
2022 is the year of the customer. Amidst a growing online business market, SMEs will need to work smart to leave a lasting audience impression.
There are plenty of low-cost opportunities associated with this new trend. Whether you offer tools, information, or support, you can help businesses be more effective and productive both online and offline, and streamline every customer interaction to generate success for both you and your clients.
Helena “Len” Young is from Yorkshire and joined Startups in 2021 from a background in B2B communications. She has also previously written for a popular fintech startup.
Included in her topics of interest and expertise are tax legislation, the levelling up agenda, and organisational software including CRM and project management systems. As well as this, she is a big fan of the films of Peter Jackson.
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