Ask any business owner the top three things that could use improvement in his/her office, and communication will almost certainly make the list. Effective communication between employees, management, and customers can elevate a business to new levels of success, whereas poor communication will invariably drag it down.
With all the affordable, user-friendly programs out there, your company can easily move from traditional to streamlined communications and quickly begin reaping the benefits: greater user accessibility, technological compatibility, productivity, collaboration, automation; the list goes on! As Rich Kneece at FastCompany.com writes,
"Effective communication between a company and its employees enables businesses to fully tap into the unique knowledge, insights, and talents of its people. Often, the benefits stretch beyond pure profit. More open discussions help build a strong community within a firm, allowing workers to feel confident and happy, and to outperform expectations at their roles."
Being able to collaborate in real-time with your peers without even having to leave your desk is invaluable. In 2010, the National Federation of Independent Business published an article listing five business benefits of instant messaging. These are:
- Archived group and individual chat logs, which can be easily referenced at a later point
- Seamless collaboration with team members from off-site locations
- The ability to productively manage multiple conversations at once
- Opportunity to break down language barriers when text works better than voice
- Elimination of long-distance calling fees
While chat programs have been around for a while, their features have changed drastically since their inception. Far beyond simply instant messaging, tools like Microsoft's Skype for Business (formerly known as Lync) allows users to connect to their Outlook calendars to automatically display when they are free or busy, view others' status notes and out of office messages, sort users into groups for easy searching and multi-user chats, archive conversations for later referencing, take advantage of peer-to-peer video-based screen sharing and conferencing, send and receive files, call and leave voicemails, and much more.
Skype and similar tools allow employees to quickly and easily communicate and collaborate in a powerful and user-friendly platform that saves time. Especially if you use Outlook, Skype is a must-have companion.
If you're in the medical field or another HIPAA-regulated organization, Yammer is a fairly new Microsoft communication tool that is actually HIPAA compliant. Yammer is similar to Facebook, but strictly for businesses. Your company can form groups based on departments or projects, recognize team members with public praise, share ideas and files, conduct surveys and polls, and collaborate easily in a familiar and fun-to-use interface.
Other popular internal communication services are Slack, BaseCamp, Asana, and HipChat. Whether your company is a startup or a Fortune 500 organization, there are tools designed to fit your needs with endless customizable features.
Another tool we use at Techvera that has improved our internal communication is SurveyMonkey. Even with a staff of just over a dozen people, it can be difficult to get questions answered by each team member in a useful time frame, especially with technicians and management going in and out of the office frequently.
With SurveyMonkey, we can easily design and send out questionnaires that employees can answer when it's convenient. For example, we regularly send out employee satisfaction surveys to gauge the good and the bad and gather suggestions, improving transparency and ensuring every team member has a voice.
When it's even more difficult to hear from your entire team, as in companies with hundreds of employees or remote workers scattered across the globe, this can be a powerful tool to keep staff engaged, morale high, and communication channels open.
Typeform is another popular survey site option. Their free survey tool will help you easily create engaging and customizable surveys, quizzes, and forms, with templates to make things even quicker.
Yet another great new survey site is Survey Anyplace. They focus on creating fun, mobile, and interactive quizzes and surveys. Their mission is to "save the world from boring surveys" so if you're looking for a unique, engaging option give them a try!
The days of emailing yourself or others needed files is (and should be) long gone!
Now it is much more simple and productive to invest in a cloud-based storage and file-sharing service such as Dropbox. Dropbox has the ability for users to access files from any device, anywhere; control the content being shared and who is sharing it; make live edits to shared content so the latest version is always being used; and offers highly secure data protection methods including strong encryption, password-protected links, and advanced access controls.
Cloud-storage and sharing services like this save countless hours finding and collaborating on content, and makes communicating accurate information simple.
Just about every business needs a reliable conferencing system, doubly so for international, large, or scattered companies. Speaking "face-to-face" is much more meaningful and personable than a phone call or email.
Services like GoToMeeting and Join.me are popular modern conferencing tools. Both allow you to "schedule conferences with multiple offices, loop in employees working remotely, and schedule meetings with clients or vendors...you can see a picture of everyone included on the call and know who is speaking at any given time, which is a huge plus for businesses that have multiple locations.
Your employees may not know everyone in the company, so the ability to put a face to the people they’re working with helps build a stronger community." (VerticalResponse) Meetings can be recorded for later referencing as well.
Effective project management is a huge deal for many companies. Without proper organization and communication projects can become delayed, exclude important details, or fall apart altogether. There are tons of project management tools to choose from, ranging from simple to very elaborate depending on your needs.
At Techvera our project management is bundled into ConnectWise, which serves as our all-in-one business manager platform and is an advanced program. Popular management tools include Asana, Trello, BaseCamp, ZoHo, Salesforce, Slack, and many many more. They all offer different features and toolsets, including many outside of just project management and communication, so finding the perfect one for your organization is very doable. Creative, visual types or organizations may want to consider Milanote. It differs from most other project planning and management tools by operating as a visual board where you can drop notes, pictures, drawings, videos, etc and collaborate with your project team in real time.
Add-ons and integrations can enhance your tool even further; for ConnectWise we use ConnectSmart which compiles the data from ConnectWise into easy to read and visually-appealing dashboards. We can very quickly see what tickets have yet to be answered, average service times, overdue activities, and much more without having to hunt through multiple reports.
Remember: tools are only as effective as the people and knowledge behind them, so it's important to ensure everyone in your organization understands the protocol when new services like these are implemented. If no one knows how, when, or why to use your amazing new programs then you're throwing money down the drain!
Customer satisfaction and feedback
Many consumers have been burned by poor customer service in the past. This can leave a bad taste in their mouth and even prevent them from using that product or service again. The overarching theme in these negative situations is poor communication. Especially if your business handles most or all of your customer inquiries online and/or over the phone, it can become very easy to get overwhelmed and notice a decline in service levels at peak times.
According to the Walker Information report, Customers 2020, by 2020 the customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. And NewVoiceMedia found that 56% of people will never use a company again after a bad customer service experience, over 25% will tell their friends and family not to use the business, and 20% and 14%, respectively, will post a negative review online and share a poor experience on social media.
With predictions and stats like that, your service had better be stellar! Ensure that your clients are well taken care of and your support staff can do their jobs efficiently by implementing the right tools.
One of our favorite customer service measurement tools is called Smileback by Nex.to. It integrates with our professional services automation (PSA) program, ConnectWise, and automatically sends easy-to-complete client satisfaction surveys to a customer when their service ticket is marked as Closed. This has given us tremendous insight into our service and helped us improve in every area.
While Smileback is specific to ConnectWise, there are plenty of similar programs to fit any company's needs.
VoIP (voice-over IP) services are plentiful and offer professional features that will set you apart and make client communications much more effective. VoIP offers many benefits over traditional phone systems:
- As remote and mobile work becomes more widespread, a VoIP solution allows users to make, receive, and review business calls from any device, including their personal phone or even a computer while still appearing to come from the business number
- Dispute resolution is much easier to accomplish. Conversations can be recorded, stored, and reviewed as needed, eliminating the "he said she said" method. This also contributes to call quality, service improvement, customer satisfaction, and training.
- Admins can define how incoming calls are routed, ensuring that important calls aren't being missed and go to the right people. For example at Techvera, we have incoming calls first routed to the front desk; if our receptionist can't take the call, after a certain number of rings it goes to our backup service members. If none of them are free to answer, it escalates to managements' phones. You can even set up numbers from certain companies to automatically ring to specific phones or people.
- Custom hold music and messages
- Audio-conferencing abilities
Having as many avenues as possible for customers to contact your company for support is beneficial. When clients need support, they want it as quickly as possible.
Phone support is great but can be slow and cumbersome, and for users that are hard-of-hearing or speech impaired this isn't an option.
Email support is widespread but takes even longer than phone inquiries to receive a reply.
This is where chat support can be a huge bonus for your business. Customers can receive live assistance as soon as they have a question, and some companies even have the ability for their support staff to take remote control of clients' computers if they need to show them how to do a task or fix a high-level issue.
"An online chat system provides customers immediate access to help. Wait times are often much less than a call center, and customers can easily multi-task while waiting. Additionally, the pain of having to dial a 1-800 number and navigate through a maze of numeric options is non-existent. An ATG Global Consumer Trend study found that 90% of customers consider live chat helpful and an emarketer.com survey found that 63% were more likely to return to a website that offers live chat." (Kissmetrics)
Live chat also cuts down on expenses, and allows your employees to multi-task and service multiple customers at once, making their job more efficient and productive.
At Techvera, we've employed a service in the past called Olark. It integrates into our website and allows our visitors to quickly and easily get their questions answered by simply clicking a tab at the bottom of our site.
On our end, we can see where the visitor is located, what page they are looking at and total pages viewed, the channel that led them to our website, and if we have chatted with them before. If our chat is offline (such as when our office is closed), the chat tab turns into a contact form so visitors can very quickly leave us a message.
We've gotten great feedback about this service, and have scheduled many appointments as a direct result of having a live chat option. Olark and other live chat platforms have myriad customization options to suit your company.