13/03/2015

By Erwan Kernevez, Digital Solutions Director, Neopost

How small and medium enterprises (SMEs) manage their business communications can have a significant impact on their growth prospects. Communication tools essentially act as the eyes and ears of the business, helping it gain and share intelligence with existing and potential customers; something that is particularly important for a smaller company hoping to increase its share of the market.

A common problem for SMEs is that as they grow and they adapt to their customers’ needs, they adopt short term fixes that end up turning into long term solutions. This is painfully true when managing different communications across different channels. From physical post and fax, to email and social media, how customers and business partners want to be communicated with has steadily evolved over the last few decades. Some may want to be contacted through traditional means, while others may prefer the immediacy of digital correspondence and everything else in between. This diversity can become a headache for SMEs as they endeavour to answer all of their customers’ needs. Ultimately, how SMEs manage this process, ensuring communications are received and delivered seamlessly across all channels, while also tracked and archived in the most efficient fashion, can hugely affect a company’s ability to survive in such a competitive environment.

A lot of challenges SMEs face when trying to manage this process arise from failing to integrate new and existing technologies successfully. While many realise the benefits of sending documents digitally – it’s more efficient and cheaper than sending paper counterparts – they often end up grabbing new technologies without stopping to think about how they will work alongside existing processes. This can result in a mishmash of solutions, requiring vastly different processes depending on which communication channel is chosen and ending up negating all of the benefits anticipated.

Challenges

Taking an adhoc approach to communications and applying quick fixes to serve customers can result in large amounts of time being wasting on menial tasks, which can have a crippling effect on a small business’ productivity. For example, if items are being received and sent in multiple formats, it’s not uncommon for a document, such as an account statement, to be entered and then re-entered into multiple systems before being reproduced in another format for sending. If the right tools and processes aren’t in place, the time taken to manually input this data over and over again can prevent SMEs from focusing on other business critical activities, and with a limited workforce, that’s something very few can afford.

This need for multiple and repetitive entry increases the risk of human error. Indeed, when it affects key communications, such as invoices, it can have dire repercussions on customer relations, as well as the bottom line. Moreover, the potential for human error only intensifies as businesses grow and more people become involved in the process. Needless to say, for a growing company that doesn’t have the capital reserves or established branding of a larger counterpart, even a small mistake can reflect on the company as a whole and damage its growth prospects.

A further challenge when managing multiple communication channels is the lack of document traceability. Indeed, it can be hard to keep track of, and monitor, every single piece of communication, which can impact how, and when, the company gets a response. According to a recent survey, over half of UK SMEs find it difficult to track their correspondence across both digital and physical channels. For some documents, this can be critical. Take invoices for example. We’re constantly reading headlines about SMEs being paid late, and, while the recipient has a duty to pay invoices on time, not all of the blame can be placed at the feet of larger companies. If SMEs aren’t tracking their issued invoices effectively, how can they hope to chase overdue payments? Likewise, if firms aren’t following contracts, it’s incredibly difficult to know the stage of any deals in the pipeline – a very unprofessional image to portray.

Managing a successful strategy

Today’s technology developments mean that the cloud can provide solutions that help businesses achieve these goals. Indeed, cloud-based solutions are changing the way SMEs communicate. They provide instant and secure access to records from anywhere, whether it’s in the office, at home or in the back of a taxi. They also enable a timely response to a customer’s need, centralises processes without adding complexity and, most importantly of all, enables SMEs to regain control of their most valuable asset: their time.

In order to grow as a company, it is becoming increasingly important for businesses to ensure they have a well thought-out, smooth communication strategy in place. To do this, SMEs need to implement a centralised system that does not add a new level of complexity, but streamlines and integrates all aspects of the communication chain, including both new and old technologies.

A central cloud-based system that automates the preparation, sending, and digital archiving of documents, addresses these challenges and helps businesses improve efficiency and profitability. Nowadays, smaller firms fight a long hard battle to stand out from the crowd, and with a streamlined multi-channel communications process in place, they will prevent time wasting, and better serve their existing or potential customers.

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