By Neha Mirchandani of 8×8, Inc.
Most small businesses aspire to go big and global. Think Starbucks. From a humble beginning with one store in Seattle to more than 22,000 today. As small companies grow it’s exciting and rewarding in so many ways, yet at times you run into unforeseen starts, stops and potential obstacles that are all part and parcel of growth. Communications is one of them. Customers love the intimacy and personal touch that a small business provides, but won’t trust a company if they can’t easily reach employees or get timely customer service. So, even small businesses need to sound big, professional and reliable. As you expand your small business, whether domestically or internationally, here are a few key things to consider when it comes to your communications system.
1. Are my employees mobile?
Market researcher IDC says there are 96.2 million mobile workers in the U.S. and that they’ll account for 72% of the total U.S. workforce by 2020. These employees work from anywhere, using various devices including smartphones, tablets and laptops. Globally, mobile workers are no doubt growing in force, too. Yet customers will not necessarily appreciate having to hunt down your sales manager via his or her cellphone because they’re out of the office. Having one number customers can call that automatically routes to the right employee — whenever, wherever they are — is key. Not only does this make it more likely that you’ll have happy customers, but they’ll also be more assured that the company they’re doing business with is focused and professional. Connecting customers with employees is just one piece of the puzzle. For example, your employees also need an integrated, secure communications platform with seamless access from any device to telephony, instant messaging, mobile and web conferencing, video, etc.
2. Will we grow quickly?
This is a great situation to be faced with, but many companies grow too quickly and run into growing pains. Also consider whether your business and growth is seasonal. For example, do you have more workers during the holidays and need the ability to easily scale up or down, as needed? Having your communications system scale with your needs is critical all the while keeping customer service top of mind.
Research has shown that customers will abandon websites within seconds if they take too long to load. So why should it be any different when you’re dialing in for customer service? How long will you wait on hold before you hang up on a call should a business not answer? If your aim is to grow from a company that has a few customer service calls a day to one that has hundreds, or thousands, think ahead and look for the right communications solution—including contact center capabilities—that can scale easily with your needs.
3. Will we grow across boundaries?
With communications, growing beyond boundaries has its fair share of challenges- from cost to time zone management, voice quality and even regulatory hurdles.
For instance, in certain countries, it’s not enough to just have a local phone number to establish a presence there. You may also be required to have a local business address and/or a letter of intent that indicates your line of business and how you intend to use the number. Additionally, each country has complex regulatory issues when it comes to privacy, data transfer, data sovereignty and encryption. Emergency services rules differ country by country as well.
If you’re working with a local communications carrier, they’ll know how to navigate through all this, but only in their home country. A Belgian carrier may only have expertise in the regulations required in Belgium. If you want an office in Singapore, you may have to look for a local carrier there, which means you could end up with multiple vendors, bills—and not to mention—multiple services to manage.
Decide early: are we going to have different communications systems in each country—or even in each office—or do we want a global communications solution that works well across distributed locations? Do you have the in-house expertise to manage all of this and do you want to? A trusted global solutions provider can deliver enterprise-grade quality, with one system, a single bill and one source for service and support.
4. Can I use the cloud?
The most tech-savvy companies today, like Fitbit and Google, no longer have desktop phones in offices. That’s how far along communications technology has come. Desktop phones, like faxes and typewriters, are on the way out. But that doesn’t mean that voice communications is going to disappear- it’s just going to be different. More and more companies are using software and cloud technologies that replace on-site hardware with Web-based services that integrate text and voice communications, screen sharing, document editing, video conferencing, contact center capabilities and also route calls to whatever device employees choose. With cloud solutions, unified communications is more easily scalable. It can grow or shrink with users’ and business needs. New features to the software, that add value to workforce communications capabilities, can be added incrementally and frequently. There’s no need to rip up wires or rollout more hardware. All that’s needed is an internet connection.
These are just some of the areas to keep in mind as you look to scale your business. By understanding your future needs and the potential pitfalls, your company can utilize modern tools and technologies to delight customers, drive productivity and efficiency, and save time and money, all the while maximizing resources and simplifying processes. Though it may feel like an initial inconvenience to adapt to a new communications system, in the end, it’s a necessary step to drive growth for your business.
Neha Mirchandani leads global communications at 8×8, Inc.
The views, opinions and positions expressed within this guest post are those of the authors alone and do not represent those of CBS Small Business Pulse or the CBS Corporation. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are verified solely by the authors.