Ask any business owner and they will no doubt cite ‘effective communications’ as a core part of their success. But as the way we approach business communications changes, what can we expect to change, and how can businesses prepare?
Effective communications lie at the heart of any business. Whether yours is a one-person start up or a global conglomerate, a solid communications infrastructure has the power to facilitate collaboration and increase productivity.
Particularly in recent years, the way we communicate has changed, both internally and with our external clients and partners. Go back ten years and it’s highly unlikely we’d be encouraging colleagues to use their own personal communications devices, yet in today’s flexible working environment, using your own mobile phone to speak to a customer is pretty commonplace.
At the same time, the expectations our customers have in our communications abilities have changed. Where once someone would be more than happy to wait three working days for a response, in today’s fast-paced, social-media driven world, waiting longer than a few minutes for a reply seems ludicrous and can be misinterpreted as poor customer service.
Add to these changes the impending regulation updates, including MiFID II in the finance industry and GDPR for the entire business community, and the way we communicate is set to change even more in the years to come.
Security considerations of a changing comms landscape
One of the key drivers of change in the way we communicate is the changing workplace setup.
Modern businesses are choosing to provide a more flexible working environment, offering colleagues working hours to suit their lifestyle and the ability to work from home or any other remote location should they feel the need.
This flexibility brings many benefits, but can also create new challenges. On the most basic level, having people working away from the office can affect the team mentality, so it’s important everyone still feels ‘connected’ to the business. On a more complex level, it opens the business up to security concerns, whereby sensitive information is no longer contained within four walls, but open to vulnerabilities as people communicate across locations.
Business owners investing in a flexible working environment therefore need to be aware of the requirements for security. Solutions such as direct lines will mean that telephone calls can be made across a secure line, rather than passing over public networks. Investments in tools like unified communications platforms, which bring all communications together in one secure place, mitigating the risks associated with open comms.
This all means that savvy business owners will be investing in their communications platforms, focusing on those which deliver the required security as we move into 2018.
Meeting expectations for improved customer service
‘The customer is always right’. That’s what we’re told at business school and that’s what we learn as we grow our businesses around the values of good customer service and satisfaction.
Another factor in the changing communications landscape is that of changing customer expectations. As businesses, we need to be able to adapt to the way technology is altering perceptions and where customers are no longer willing to sacrifice their time in order to help you meet their needs adequately.
This is where excellence in communications really comes into its own. When a customer feels that our internal processes are effective, they’re more likely to feel their own needs are being met to a high standard.
That means businesses of the future need to take a cohesive approach to comms. Let’s say, for example, that a customer calls into your business to make a query. They later call back with a related query. Now, in one case, that customer has to repeat their original query to a new representative of your company; it’s frustrating and time consuming. In another case, where that business has a cohesive comms strategy, that same customer has no need to repeat their query because that information is immediately available to anyone who takes their call.
Furthermore, customers’ expectations around what qualifies as ‘normal’ working practices are evolving. No longer satisfied with a generic telephone number which takes them through to a switchboard, they want a direct line to the person who can help them; which is particularly pertinent to small businesses that rely on a personalised approach.
These advanced communication systems have previously been limited large companies due to their large costs but due to cloud technologies and economies of scale they are now accessible as a service.
For these reasons, savvy business owners must be investing in a more cohesive approach to communications as we move into 2018.
The role of technology in business
We’ve focused primarily on communications here, and the importance of having a secure and cohesive communications strategy in place as we move into 2018 and beyond.
But it’s not just communications that are affected by new technology.
While cloud technology stands at the forefront of our communications revolution, it also supports wider business efficiencies. Go back 30 years and a small business would need to invest in a bookkeeper to manage their account, an on site accounting system to record their dealings, an on site telephone system to make telephone calls possible, and more.
Today, technology has made it possible for us to set up a business in half an hour or less. Simply sign up for a cloud based accounting system and the need for on site or external support is negated. Choose a cloud-based communications platform and all of your telephony – and other comms – needs are addressed.
Essentially, there’s no excuse for small businesses to be relying on poor internal processes. In communications and beyond, savvy business owners will do well to invest in those tools and technologies which improve their efficiencies, security and, ultimately, satisfaction.
Alex Tebbs is founder of VIA.