This isn’t to say however that small businesses aren’t open to new technology. According to the FSB’s Spotlight On Innovation report, 76% of them have introduced a new innovation in the past three years , an indication that there is both the desire and the capability to embrace digital transformation, providing there is a clear rationale for doing so. In short, small business owners and start-ups need structured, practical information that empowers their decision making and enables them to invest in digital communication tools and technology that will make a discernible difference to the success of their business.
Hanging Up The Telephone - How Communication with Customers is Changing
For many small businesses, the telephone has long been the primary means of developing relationships with customers and clients, not to mention a vital channel when it comes to sales. However, this dominance looks set to change, as by Q3 of 2018, 17.4% fewer calls had been made from landlines, as compared to the previous year. When this decline is thrown into contrast by a 9.8% increase in online retail spending throughout January 2019 , it becomes clear that the way in which consumers choose to interact with businesses is undergoing a fundamental shift, increasingly favouring digital methods of communication.
This doesn’t mean that making calls is soon to become obsolete however. What’s really changing is the medium through which calls are made, which is becoming faster, more mobile and crucially, powered by digital technology. Compared to the sheer logistical requirements of analogue landlines (miles of copper cabling, dedicated exchanges, frequent maintenance), using an internet connection to make calls, whether via a dedicated VoIP service or through over the top software like Skype, simply represents a far more flexible, cost effective method of communication.
What’s more, for those whose primary focus is providing consumers a product or service, the overwhelming shift towards digital first communication has even greater implications for their business model. As more of the market moves online, there will be an increasing expectation that even the smallest of businesses will be utilising tools like Facebook Messenger, live chat and online forms on their websites to communicate with customers. These tools offer a more dynamic and personalised communication experience for online consumers, enabling them to ask questions and give feedback directly to businesses, increasing overall satisfaction and trust in the brand.
Furthermore, a staggering 91% of consumers say that they’re more likely to shop with businesses that remember them and provide personalised recommendations. Simply making your business available to message through Facebook Messenger or adding a live chat box to your existing website could have a huge impact on the quality of your communications with online customers. Queries about product availability, shipping methods or returns can be answered in minutes, even seconds, all through a mobile app or widget which requires no financial investment. For a business looking for simple, cost effective ways of developing its digital communication potential, these tools are an absolutely brilliant place to start.
Greater than the Sum of its Parts - Digital Communication & Enhanced Productivity
Developing digital communication isn’t just about customer experience however. It’s no secret that the success and productivity of a small business is deeply reliant on employee experience and, as evidenced by the fact that 77% of millennials would accept or decline a position based on the level of technology available , digital innovation is only going to become a more decisive factor in this matrix. Fortunately, some of the best new tools and technology available to small businesses are those that improve how you and your team share ideas, collaborate on important projects and optimise the structure of the business itself.
The first steps to better collaboration can often be as simple as investing in tools and software that enhance the way you and your colleagues already work. If you spend lots of the working day in strategy sessions and meetings about key projects, cloud based applications like Slack and Office 365 can help you streamline your planning process, collaborate on documents in real time and best of all; ensure that every update is instantly shared with the right people. Digital tools like this don’t represent a large or disruptive investment in new technology, but their ability to free teams from the constraints of the physical office, by letting them communicate and collaborate from home or on the go, can have a massive impact on productivity.
Some businesses are even beginning to look at integrating AI and augmented reality as part of their digital transformation journey, exploring ways of creating a more immersive and productive employee experience from the moment they join the company. This can include everything from learning key elements of a role through augmented reality training to helping users find documents, groups and projects faster through smart search functionality in the company intranet. What’s even more exciting for small businesses without lots of capital to invest in new technology is that AI can even be found in free collaboration and productivity tools. For example, Google Drive uses AI to help you find your most opened files faster and automatically suggests who you should share them with, making starting new projects just that little bit simpler and more efficient each time.
It often feels like investing in new technology is the preserve of corporate giants and Silicon Valley tech firms who have the budget to spare and whole teams dedicated to implementing it. In fact, digital communication tools have never been more accessible to small businesses and start-ups; it’s simply a case of working out what needs improving and which application, tool or piece of software is going to be best placed to help you do just that. It can be as straightforward as using Facebook or Whatsapp to create a more dynamic relationship with your customers, or investing in Office 365 to help increase the productivity of employees who work remotely. Fundamentally, investing in digital communication isn’t a goal in itself, but a process where the end goal is happier customers, a more productive workforce and most importantly, a better business.
For more information and advice on digital transformation check out the Virgin Media Business website.