Communication is a primary tenet of any business – how you communicate with new audiences, existing customers, vendors, and among your own team. But until recently, some businesses have led with a “set it and forget it” mindset.
Not long ago, I personally was working in an office that still used an intercom. You could hear account execs reminding their teams that the meeting was moved, through every office and every hall in the building. And deskscapes were cluttered up with boxy, old school desk phones. Leadership tried to relegate client communication to weekly conference calls and in-person meetings, but that didn’t prevent our teams from receiving texts and calls and emails from clients all through Thanksgiving and Black Friday. It’s just the way of the world now – and your communication platform should reflect that.
It’s 2020 – and Pandemic aside – more businesses are waking up to the evolution taking place in the business communication space. Ask around, and you’ll discover that the majority of business people you know feel obligated to check their emails and stay connected by text and phone through nights, weekends, and holidays. According to a recent study, 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females in the United States work more than 40 hours per week. Work-life balance is being redefined, so we need to find smart, efficient, and cost-effective ways to pivot, without letting it run our lives.
Shifting Business Communication Trends
The ability to communicate in the ways that your customers want you to will be key to driving sales, and it will be essential to keep your employees happy, too. Take a look at these five shifts in communication trends that are affecting small businesses in 2020, and how you can adapt.
1. Brevity is Beautiful
In 2020, we all have a lot going on. As a result (and due to changing technologies), most customers and internal employees alike are valuing conciseness more than ever before.
Workers don’t want to sit through meetings and conferences and even phone calls just for the sake of having them; they only want to show up for them when it’s necessary and not a waste of time. Everyone wants to get straight to the point, getting fast answers as quickly as possible. Email, text, and instant-message options like live chat for customers and internal messaging platforms like Slack for employees are increasingly the way to go.
2. Automation Is Becoming More Prominent
Small business owners– and in most cases everyone working for them– are so busy that the increasing number of high-quality-but-still-affordable automation tools hitting the market are a welcome relief.
Communication-oriented automation can take several forms. The most common that we see is using sophisticated call routing technology or auto attendants to quickly deliver a customer to whoever can best help them. This means shorter wait times for the caller without the need for operators to get involved, improving their experience. Tresta offers this feature and it’s a time saver for customers and business owners alike.
Other examples include chatbots, which will actually take the first few steps to answering or fielding incoming questions online. If they can’t answer the questions themselves, they’ll direct the customer to the appropriate person to help.
When it comes to automation, it’s still best to utilize it to speed up your communication process and streamline it instead of relying on it to be your entire communication process so that you can still offer personal customer service to nurture relationships.
3. Immediate, Text-Based Communication is More Popular
No surprises here. If you had a problem with an order or a question about a company’s upcoming event, would you rather wait on hold for thirty minutes with terrible music in the background, or send a message and receive one back within a few minutes?
Text-based communication options are becoming more popular, and customers are increasingly reaching out through these methods. A recent Workplace Communication survey conducted by SlickText found that 92% of U.S. adults carry text-enabled phones, 98% of smartphone users use text on a regular basis, but only 14% of companies text with consumers. There’s a huge opportunity with business texting.
To adapt to this shift in consumer and employee behavior, Tresta offers business texting. You’ll be able to send and receive texts through the Tresta app, getting both phone calls and SMS messages on the phone that you already have.
4. Brands Are Investing More in Data
It sounds a little clinical– analyzing the technical data of the communications that you share with customers, vendors, and employees– but it can provide outstanding insight for your business. This is why increasing numbers of brands are investing data into what’s working and what isn’t with their communication processes.
Ideally, small business owners will invest in phone systems that include a strong analytics platform. All of Tresta’s virtual business lines come complete with analytics, allowing you to view data based on departments, specific employees, and the phone numbers being called.
You can see how many calls are being answered, how long they’re lasting, and which lines are being called the most. You can even use this to track which PPC ads are sending you the most traffic by putting down a different virtual number for each one.
5. Personalization & Authenticity Matters More
Consumers are demanding expecting more personalized and authentic communications than ever before. This may be one of the most dramatic shifts in communication trends in the past few years, requiring businesses to adapt quickly.
Customers and employees alike want to feel valued, and they want strong, organic relationships with the businesses they choose to work with. Communicating in ways that feel real and meaningful is the way to go here. Instead of robotically sort-of apologizing if someone unhappily reports a problem and then reciting company policy, sincerity will go a long way. Try to come up with solutions that generally resolve the problem, even if it takes a little extra time.
The lines between personal and professional are blurring a bit, and this is a communication shift that business owners need to be ready to adapt to.
Building a Communication Platform to Grow with Your Business
Having a strong foundation for your communication platform in place is key to preventing and mitigating most growth-related chaos, and because it’s something that can take a significant amount of time, money, and energy, it’s important to get it right the first time. You want to create a platform that scales with you as opposed to simply being another obstacle that holds you back.
There are more ways to communicate than there used to be. Fifteen years ago, consumers typically used two touchpoints when buying an item. Today consumers use more than four on average. And companies with omni-channel communication strategies retain on average 89% of their customers compared to 33% for companies with weak omni-channel customer engagement.
Evaluating a combination of the top communication channels based on your audience and your employee base will always be the best practice. Consider a mix of self-service options (70% of customers now expect a company’s website to include a self-service application); automation including educational emails, surveys, and sales funnels; and finally address 1:1 communication channels.
Let’s go step by step through the process of setting up a communication platform that can scale with your business.
1. Choose Your Communication Channels
First, decide which channels of communication you want to use. Most businesses, after all, don’t use just one; even a transaction with a single customer can include a contact form, live chat, and a phone interaction.
We recommend including the following communication channels:
- A virtual phone number. Did you know that 40% of customers still prefer talking on the phone for customer service issues? Out of all the frustrations involved in a bad customer service encounter, the number one complaint was not being able to reach a live person for support. This just underscores the importance of always being available. Virtual business phone numbers allow you to use an app on your phone to add a second phone line to it, which can make and receive calls, set up call forwarding and auto attendants based on schedules, and more. This means that you can stay connected, no matter where you are. Phone lines with texting will benefit you most, because texting is quick, and brevity is valued, especially among millenials. You can even use one main business phone number and establish virtual extensions for each member of your team.
- Email. An email platform to communicate internally and externally is essential, for obvious reasons. Sometimes a text just doesn’t cut it when you need to send longer messages or transmit large files.
- Internal Messaging System. Some companies are opting for tools like Slack, and this is an excellent choice for quick internal communication. With Slack, you can even integrate with many of the tools you use every day, like Google Docs and Trustpilot reviews.
- Live Chat Software. Live chat is a phenomenal communication channel for your site visitors who just need a quick answer. It does, however, require a live agent to operate which is why many small businesses start with increasingly popular chatbots.
2. Set Up Your Communication Channels for Scalability
It’s not enough to just have a virtual business phone line or have a single email address for your business; you need to have everything set up to scale once you’re ready. While you may only have three people on your staff to start, that could quickly grow to 30 and then 300, and by that time, you’re going to need your communication platform to be ready.
For virtual phone lines, make sure that you have navigation menus or auto attendants set up. You want people to be able to reach whoever they’re trying to call the first time around. Set up each employee with their own extension instead of only doling out unique phone numbers that customers and vendors will have difficulty keeping up with.
When it comes to virtual phone numbers, you’ll also want to make sure you choose a provider that offers two things: The ability to have custom greetings, and the ability to use text messages. Custom greetings create a better experience for your customers and work to solidify your brand identity, and a massive increase in texts from both internal team members and external customers and vendors make the latter an essential addition. You’ll be able to communicate faster, making the process instant and more personalized.
For email, make sure that each individual user has their own secure email address through the company and that they’re using it instead of their personal email address. Even if you have a generic “[email protected]” address, make sure that it’s being forwarded to the relevant departments and that individuals are taking over after that. Gmail also makes it simple to set up email addresses using your own web address.
And for internal messaging software, have policies in place. You want to set up distinct teams so that people are able to communicate with relevant team members without too many distractions. Be sure to set up processes to determine when you’ll use text, and when you’ll use a tool like Slack.
3. Monitor Your Platform Closely
As you’re getting your communication platform set up and as it grows, watch it carefully. Sometimes you’ll be able to find kinks in the system, whether or not you’ve grown since you first implemented it. This is key to ensuring that the platform works for you to increase productivity, especially as you move forward.
See how your staff is using each platform, and whether any channel seems to be causing any hiccups. If email, for example, is used more frequently but seems to be causing delays in communication, put a bigger emphasis on phone or text as an internal policy.
To help with this, Tresta offers call analytics. You can see how your phone numbers are being used by team or individual user. You can also review your internal messaging channels and your email analytics to see how many messages are being received and responded to, in order to identify cracks in communication for both internal and external usage.
Small businesses won’t be able to survive if they’re not built on strong communication practices. Adapting to shifting communication trends as time goes on will improve internal relationships and the consumer experience all at once. Keep an eye on the changes over time, and be ready to shift along with the trends as needed.
Investing in the right technology upfront will help. Here at Tresta, we keep an eye on the communication trends for you so we can roll out new features and updates to your business line without charging you anything extra.
Want to learn more about how we can help you improve communications for your small business? Check out what our virtual business phone numbers can do for you here.