Communication is especially vital in small- and medium-sized businesses (SMBs or SMEs). In the SMB environment, things are changing, decisions are made quickly, and new opportunities arise. Internal communication should be constant, and so should communication with customers.
Technology and our simple human abilities keep the dialogue fluid and effective.
Internally, communication ranges from a quick chat with the colleague at the next desk to Skype calls and IMs with sales reps on the road.
Customer communication spans from direct talks with prospective and current customers, to online forums and chat, to social listening online.
The first two tips relate to internal communications with employees.
1. Establish your companywide messaging and communication apps
Structures are generally flatter and simpler in small companies with a dozen or so employees.
But as your company grows and processes begin to form, this naturally creates more networks and divisions, and it's harder to quickly communicate. You must avoid a silo mentality, when departments break off into groups and work in isolation. Distance is also an issue if you have people all over the region, or if, for instance, you have virtual staff or outsourced work.
Establish a suite of internal communications tools so dialogue is also possible, no matter the staff size or distance.
Popular tools include:
- Slack - for IM messaging
- Skype - also for IM and for phone and video, and well, who doesn't know Skype by now?
- Google Suite and its continually evolving chat (Hangouts, last we checked) and teleconference options
- Zoom - for video conferencing
and a whole host of others, such as Twist for threaded conversations, Microsoft Teams, Flock for team collaboration, Cisco Webex Teams for idea generation, Mattermost which is like a scaled-back and open-source Slack, ChatWork for global teams, and Zoho Cliq for multiple discussions.
Weigh prices and benefits first. Get team feedback. Find what fits, choose a couple if you can't find a single solution, and then mandate companywide use.
You may have to wean some folks off their favorites, but be patient and insistent. It really pays off.
2. Give and receive regular feedback
People like to know how they're doing. And they also usually want to tell you how you're doing.
Patrick Thean, co-founder and CEO of Rhythm Systems says, “Younger workers enjoy receiving frequent feedback.” These employees in particular want to know they are working with purpose and they are valued. In an SMB/SME, you can make this monthly, even weekly, heck, even daily if it's not micromanaging. Use these sessions as open forums both to see what's getting done and to discuss bottlenecks and potential conflicts.
Also, be ready to receive feedback. It's quite common for reviews and check-ins to be one-sided. But if you let your employees also express their concern about you, you'll gain entirely new insight on the dynamics in your company. Keep it positive, ask how you can help, and then work to get the resources and improvements that will help your staff.
This great chart covers many ways you can keep the feedback loop going through an employee's tenure.
The last two tips refer to external communications with customers and the general public.
3. Open up customer channels
It's vital to make it easy for customers to communicate with you. Eoghan McCabe, co-founder and CEO of Intercom, suggests offering customers an easy-to-find email address and phone number, or live chat or social media link.
Chatbots and chat tools keep a constant portal open for anyone who comes to your site.
Zendesk chat (formerly Zopim) is one typical example. It places a dialogue window on your site, which you can either staff, or have collect messages forward to you for response.
Social media a tough beast to tame, but once you've set up your Facebook, Instagram, and other channels, they're a constant source of customer communication. Don't neglect them. Reply to every valid message. Keep a positive note. Escalate any problems and resolve them amicable and publicly. Others are watching. Impress them.
4. Target your mass communications to the right people, in a voice they can relate to
Digital marketing is the core of so many companies these days. But more conventional marketing communications channels continue. You gain an edge here the better you know your customer.
Where do they live? Where do they hang out online and offline? What language do they use?
In direct marketing, like emails, postal mail, and targeted website marketing, the more you know, the more your message will get through.
Your CRM (customer relationship management tool) is indispensable, as is your contact management tool. If you have up-to-date info such as email, location, and job position, you'll know who to send to, when, and what they may want.
Sansan uses business cards as its base. After all, who has incorrect information on their business card? If they do, they need a new printer! Scan the cards, digitize the info, and even better, update it against authoritative databases and using machine learning to recognize the latest info.
That's a real help!
Creating strong communication channels is vital to every business. What are the most important communication tools for your business?