Microsoft to SMBs: Get Modern or Risk Losing Customers

Consumers are judgmental, and they’ll turn their noses up at a small business whose technology is several years behind the curve. What’s the state of your small business technology?

During a recent study, Microsoft discovered that “on average, consumers feel a technology is old if it’s in the 5-10 year range,” says Russ Madlener, senior director for Microsoft SMB. Indeed, in a survey of 1,405 consumers, 60 percent said that that they consider a small to midsized business (SMB) outdated if it’s still using a 5 to 10 year-old desktop computer.

Virtually the same number of consumers—61 percent—feel the same way about 5- to 10-year-old operating systems, a fact that does not bode well for shops still plugging away with Windows XP.

The End of Windows XP

Come April, Microsoft is ending support for the operating system along with Office 2003. “XP is a 12, 13 year-old operating system,” says Madlener.

He would know. Madlener stood just off-stage in Time Square as tech execs, including Intel’s Paul Otellini, kicked off the operating system’s glitzy New York City launch in 2001. Having worked on the team that built XP, he can attest that XP wasn’t built with today’s IT environments and online threats in mind.

In simple terms, “it isn’t a modern OS,” says Madlener. Distressingly, there are still many SMBs using XP, he reports. Microsoft, for its part, has kicked off a Get Modern campaign and website—complete with an XP death clock, of sorts—to help SMBs explore their options.

Companies that cling to old tech may still attract customers, but not many. “Only 9 percent of consumers said they never stop doing business with a company because of its outdated technology,” said the report.

“The consumer is reacting to the date,” says Madlener. Five years, or worse a decade, is an eternity in the tech industry. In the intervening years, the explosive popularity of mobile devices and the advent of cloud computing, to name just two technology trends, have reconfigured the IT landscape. And consumers have taken notice.

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The Ecommerce Tech Affect

“Consumers do not lower their expectations on technology use because of the scale of the business,” stated the report. Those expectations also carry over to an SMB’s Web presence.

Small businesses that run outdated websites will find it tough to ring up online sales. Over 80 percent of those surveyed said they would leave if asked for their credit card information and 70 percent said that they would leave before providing contact information.

It’s also time to consider an upgrade from that free email account. Twenty-five percent of those surveyed for the study said that a small business “is not professional and lacks credibility” if they spot a business using a free, cloud-based email service, revealed the report.

Small business IT has evolved, and companies that resist change are ultimately holding themselves back. Software, says Madlener, “is not [only] running the hardware anymore, but bringing value with features.”Those features can oftentimes help entrepreneurs engage more meaningfully with their customers.

Embracing mobile, for instance, can help attract customers. “They find it easier to do business with a company that they can connect with [using] technology or the devices they use,” said Madlener. And the cloud, for instance, “can really enable a small business to look and act like an enterprise,” giving consumers peace of mind.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at Small Business Computing. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

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