With the number of channels between businesses and customers increasing all the time, not getting it right can put SMEs at a major disadvantage. Read on for ways to ensure that doesn’t happen
As the workplace becomes increasingly digitised, the way businesses communicate with their customers and partners is evolving – from the traditional physical posting of documents and faxing, to more modern methods of digital communication, such as emails and social media.
This often leaves small and medium enterprises (SMEs) faced with the challenge of managing communications across multiple channels, which can not only be daunting and complex, but can also inhibit business growth if not done effectively. Communication tools help businesses gain and share intelligence with existing and potential customers; something that is particularly important for a company starting out and hoping to grow.
A big problem is that small businesses who cannot manage multiple channels efficiently can end up squandering time, confuse their customers and miss opportunities. To avoid this, businesses need to consider five factors:
The customer knows best
This may seem obvious, but asking a customer how they wish to be communicated with can help create and maintain good customer relations, which is crucial for any small business. Some may want to be contacted through traditional means, however, as the office becomes increasingly digitised, more forward-thinking companies may want documents to be sent electronically. What’s important is that a business recognises the customer’s preferred method of contact. In fact, businesses risk alienating customers if they disregard traditional post and solely implement digital communications – or vice versa.
One size doesn’t fit all
When creating a communication strategy, many businesses adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. It often appears to be the most straightforward route to take, but it’s riddled with inefficiencies. Basic email applications are often included as part of a standard business package, which means many businesses use them as the primary tool to communicate electronically with their customers. Often praised for their ease of use, these tools are undoubtedly suited for day-to-day communications, such as status updates or queries. However, when they are used to send more important business documents (invoices or contracts) they can fall short both in terms of efficiency and compliance. Regulations and the evolution of customer’s preferences mean keeping track of digital and physical mail has become essential. Most email suites do not do this natively, which can create a disorganised and inefficient workplace, and risks upsetting customers who won’t feel well taken care of.
Change your attitude
Despite managing increasingly large volumes of data, SMEs are often reluctant to incorporate new technology into their information management process. Whether it is due to cost, complexity, or simply fear of change, many choose to stick with outdated processes and add unconnected tools to help temporarily. However, this adds an unwelcome level of complexity to their day to day tasks. SMEs need to realise that technology can and will help with each stage of growth, and they can no longer shy away from its importance in today’s business world. In fact, Gartner recently predicted that by 2020 every company will be a ‘technology company’, emphasising the huge influence technology does and will continue to have.
Automation, automation, automation
Managing multiple channels and making sure processes are replicated regardless of the document format – whether it is Word, Excel or pdf, for example – or the channel chosen often means additional labour-intensive tasks. Too often we underestimate how much time can be spent creating and sending documents manually, as well as the significant risk of human error. Companies that centralise and automate the preparation, processing and sending of various forms of outgoing communications, spend much more time on business-critical activities and are safe in the knowledge that every document sent out is error-free; thus reducing the risk of potentially damaging relationships with new or prospective customers.
Make use of the cloud
The cloud is changing the way SMEs communicate. It can provide instant, secure, access to records from anywhere, whether it’s in the office, at home or in the back of a taxi. Along with other advancing technologies, such as the rise of BYOD, employees are no longer bound by geographical limitations, which enable organisations to maximise the efficiency of all business processes. By failing to recognise this technology, businesses will undoubtedly find themselves one step behind everyone else.
Adopting new technology doesn’t have to be disruptive or cumbersome. As long as existing (efficient) processes are not affected, adopting new technology that helps to reinforce and speed them up delivers visible benefits – none more so than the ability to allocate valuable time where it is better spent. Business owners need to focus on growing their businesses, not on copying invoices.
Erwan Kernevez, digital solutions director, Neopost