5 ways clever communications can help virtual businesses thrive

This prediction is applicable to all businesses, but is especially true for the growing number of virtual or ‘work anywhere’ enterprises that do not actually own or rent a physical office. For those employees based at multiple locations, whether at home, on the move or in the growing number of Wi-Fi friendly public or private places, the ability to keep in touch with colleagues and customers becomes more important.

In parallel the concept of ‘virtualisation’ is already becoming part of the culture of office-based organisations too, as the value of flexible and mobile working is being recognised through how it can increase productivity and innovation, reduce costs and also both attract and retain the best staff.

As PWC reports in its ‘The future of work: A journey to 2022’ report there is a growing trend towards what it refers to as the ‘Orange World’ where small is beautiful and technology empowers a low impact, high tech business model that prospers because of maximising flexibility and minimising fixed costs and hiring a diverse mix of people on an affordable, ad-hoc basis.

As virtual operations are often geographically spread over large areas, they often need to fully harness technology to support excellent communications between both colleagues and customers.  Whether communication is required to work on projects, meetings, sales or customer service, here are 5 benefits from taking advantage of the latest communications technology.

Attract and retain the best staff 

The need to keep your employees happy and motivated is highlighted in a recent study published by recruitment platform Monster and YouGov that found 26% of millennials are planning to leave their job within the next six months. With an ageing population, the proportion of millennials and Generation Y in the overall workforce is increasing, but if you want to be able to cherry-pick the best talent and keep them happy then it’s worth considering that 64% of millennials would like to occasionally work from home and 66% would like to shift their work hours.

This demand for greater flexibility can be met by giving them access to all the collaboration tools they expect so they can work equally well at home or in a coffee shop. What’s more, it’s important to still maintain the ‘office camaraderie’ that may be lacking when you work remotely.

Communications technology is now available that provides the same level of interaction you would enjoy in a conventional office without being there. So with ‘rich presence’ on a smartphone you can see at a glance which colleagues are free to call or instant message.  A ‘single number concept’ means that you only have to give out one phone number and the telephone system will automatically direct the call to any device (mobile, laptop, tablet), wherever you are. And with video calling and/or screen sharing you can work more closely without having to meet face-to-face.

Be more responsive

With a more dispersed and mobile team spread across the country or even continents, you might imagine that it would be more difficult for customers to reach the right person or department, but with the latest Unified Communications (UC) technology you can cleverly direct calls to the right resource, without even needing a receptionist.

This can be achieved using tools like IVR (interactive voice response) so that a caller can select the right department or alternatively you can easily set up multiple hotlines for the likes of ‘sales’, ‘support’ or ‘accounts’.

At the same time, if you need to give special treatment to a particular customer, you can identify them by their CLI (call line identity) and fast-track them to the relevant number or device, and you can even play a personalised greeting just for them.  Telephone tag becomes a thing of the past, not just for you customers but also for liaising with colleagues.

With ‘rich presence’ you can see on-screen (whether on a desktop or smartphone) who is in a meeting, on holiday, engaged and so on and you can also communicate with them on any medium you choose whether instant message, conference or video call.

With the ‘single number concept’ you also relieve the burden of customers and colleagues having to ring yet another number, instead the intelligence of the phone system simply forwards the call to right device or location dependent on the user’s availability and settings. So if you are at lunch or even on the school run, you can set all or certain communications to another colleague or the option of taking a message that can later be retrieved via an email.

Reduce overheads

If you are working in a café or meeting at a museum, then you are likely to be spending less on light, heating and office space, but one of the biggest costs for virtual or remote working can be mobile phone call charges, whether to customers or between colleagues.

One way of overcoming this, is to simply ‘add’ your phone system to your mobile phone, so you can make and receive calls through the company’s unified communications platform, equating to saving thousands of pounds every year.

Other cost reductions can be realised by minimising travel expenses.  With free built-in conferencing and collaboration tools, you can cut down on all by the most important face-to-face meetings.

Increase revenues, enter new markets and enhance cashflow

Being more responsive to customer needs and improving the level of service will certainly help with converting sales and repeat business and with some UC solutions you can use the call log to identify and re-connect with any missed sales enquiries.

Even if you have a limited amount of resources, being able to capitalise on all potential opportunities out of hours or at busy times will translate into a greater volume of sales.

The advantage of cloud and/or software-based communications platforms is that you can add users easily and quickly and at any location, so if you wanted to extend your opening hours or dip a toe into new international markets, you can scale up effortlessly, either by employing more staff either full-time or take the opportunity to draw on the gig economy using freelancers.

Similarly, during peak periods throughout the year, like Black Friday you can tap into additional resources and fulfil additional orders.  By integrating your UC solution with your accounts package you can also help with cash-flow by identifying late payers when they call in, so you can fast-track them to the credit controller and have all the details automatically pop-up on screen.

Offer something different

The innate flexibility of a virtual operation means that, by definition, you are often better positioned than bigger players to offer customers something unique that will also help you to stand out from others in the market.

Gone are days when your phone system was locked away in a cupboard and you had to ring up an engineer every time you wanted to add an extension. Today, unified communications is like any other app that you use and how you set it up is only limited by your imagination.

With the likes of softphones, by using what are called ‘skins’ you can enable staff to design their own on-screen communications platform according to how they use it.  They can even brand it to reflect their favourite football club or create buttons for different colleague extensions to portray players on pitch!

You can also surprise customers by integrating calls with google maps or other web-based resources, so you can immediately recognise their location and even see whether it’s sunny or raining where they are.

Ralf Ebbinghaus, CEO at unified communications vendor, Swyx (www.swyx.com)