Choosing Suppliers

Business communication and collaboration tools – the best ways to keep in touch

8 min read

04 October 2017

Former special projects journalist

The ways you stay in touch with your customers will differ to the ways you stay in touch with staff.

In a world that is becoming ever more joined up, collaboration tools to communicate with staff and customers is increasingly an expectation rather than a bonus.

Very few customers out there would see a 24-hour helpline as a value-added perk of a services – it’s only to be expected that businesses are contactable at all times.

In this way, it can be both a blessing and a curse, but one thing is certain – a small business cannot afford to opt out, and risk getting left behind.

“An ‘always available’ approach to customers may seem resource intensive to a small business, but with the correct technology, the workload can be relieved. This approach is vital in this current day in order to compete with the big players,” said Tim Patchett, cloud voice product manager, Virgin Media Business.

Here, we explore some of the tools for collaboration and communication that small businesses can rely on – both for in-house projects, and reaching out to customers.

Sending messages – collaboration tools

The ways you stay in touch with your customers will differ to the ways you stay in touch with staff. If you are confident there will always be someone manning the post, you can offer a live chat box on your website.

However, if you are a small team and you cannot be sure that it will always be manned, email or phone lines may be the better option – no business wants to be seen to be ignoring its customers.

Businesses should also pay particular attention to social media platforms and review sites – anywhere where communication is on a public forum. If you receive negative feedback, counter it will a positive reply at the first opportunity.

According to the Annual BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2016, 84 per cent of people trust online reviews as much as they would a personal recommendation.

However, 90 per cent of people read less than ten reviews before forming an opinion, and 73 per cent believe reviews older than three months are irrelevant. It is clear then then businesses must continually strive for new, positive reviews.

“An almost immediate, constructive response to criticism of any kind on social media reviews can take a negative response to your business up to a personal promotion. It is vital that the social platforms are managed in order to do this, as it results in a positive image where you are seen to care about the reputation and customer satisfaction of your business,” said Patchett.

Examples of review sites: Trust Pilot, Feefo, Trip Advisor

Sending messages – communicating with colleagues

Staying in touch with colleagues should be a whole lot easier, because you will have access to a direct email account or phone line.

However, in the digital age there are hundreds of weird and wonderful ways of working together online, and while they won’t all be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s certainly worth experimenting with what’s available.

Texting, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Skype and so on are easy ways to stay in touch with colleagues – even when they’re out of the office. As long as staff remain connected to the internet, they should also be able to access emails remotely, and in theory there’s nothing to prevent a team working together as efficiently as if they were at a shared desk.

It’s not just about communication though, it’s about working on shared projects and collaborating smoothly. According to a report by Dimensional Research, 98 per cent of connected employees collaborate, and 94 per cent believe collaboration is important.

Unsurprisingly, 83 per cent depend on technology to collaborate – even when sharing the same office space, it is sometimes necessary to be able to send information, reports and charts etc. between colleagues.

“Instant messaging, conferencing and file sharing have become common practice in our personal lives, therefore, there is no reason why this cannot be transferred into a professional environment. Confidence in secure and cloud-based solutions is increasing meaning businesses are becoming more open to increased workplace collaboration services,” said Patchett.

Slack is probably the best-know online collaboration tool, but there are plenty of alternatives, such as HipChat and Flock.

These sorts of tools allow you to create one-on-one or group chat boxes, to-do-lists and file-sharing features. It’s worth shopping around and working out which features would be relevant at your business, as there are plenty of different options and prices.

Another alternative is Google Docs, which enables several people operating at different remote sites to work on the same project in real-time. The benefit of this is that, as long as you have a reliable internet connection, you can see updates to the project on a real-time basis – rather than sending updated versions of a file back and forth.

Examples of collaboration tools: Skype, Slack, Google Docs, Flock, Bitrix24 and Jostle.

By now, it is probably clear the lines of communication are well and truly open – all a business has to do is decide which to take advantage of.

A businesses communication tool choices will vary depending on the number of staff, the number of clients, and even the demographic of its clients – for example, a business serving predominantly younger consumers may be more inclined to dedicate time to an Instagram account than one serving an older generation.

Shop around, take out some free trials and decided which features your business could benefit from.