By Glen Manchester, CEO and Founder, Thunderhead

The age old imperative for businesses to do more with less in order to maximise profits has never been more applicable than it is today, as companies must work harder than ever to turn a profit in an increasingly competitive business environment.

Each organisation will have its own strategy for achieving its goals and naturally, some will prove more successful than others. At the toughest point of the recession, some companies chose to focus on streamlining costs by re-structuring the workforce, while others focused investment into R&D, or increased focus on best-selling products.

Making difficult internal changes that resulted in disgruntled employees and worse, damage to brand reputation, was an unfortunate but necessary by-product of a struggling economy, and with senior management focused on keeping the business afloat, it’s easy to see how the IT unit became an overlooked or disregarded entity in many organisations. With inflexible legacy systems underpinning business processes that are perceived to be too time-consuming and problematic to update, coupled with a lack of understanding of the business technology available on today’s market, any effort to modernise outdated business technologies fell to the bottom of the priority list.

For example, many service providers such as banks still employ document management and communication platforms that were originally designed for print output. This stifles communications and the opportunity for a two way dialogue with customers, and inhibits service providers from being able to target consumers according to their interests, in the format desired by the customer, ie print, email, mobile text message.

What we’re seeing is that businesses across a range of sectors are still failing to communicate effectively with their customers. In a YouGov study of 6,000 utility customers, commissioned by Thunderhead, nearly two thirds of those surveyed reported that they do not feel they are marketed to as an individual. Yet a personalised approach is in demand - nearly two thirds (61%) of respondents said their perception of their provider would be likely to improve if it showed a personal touch in its communications and referenced previous correspondence they had with the company.

As a result, Thunderhead launched a campaign called the ‘Disconnected Customer’ to underscore consumers’ demands for targeted, relevant communications, which can bring multiple benefits for service providers including improved customer loyalty and stronger brand advocacy.

Technology: enabler or hindrance?

Organisations would do well to banish their perceptions of technology as a bolt-on to existing processes and instead appreciate that technology in all its forms can actually distinguish a company. Business technology can help in changing existing systems, processes, roles and the general IT function. Transformation can be performed in stages but it will ultimately enable a company to gradually build an advantage over other companies that are simply inserting technology into the way they’ve been doing business for years.

For companies wishing to improve their focus on customers, business communication technologies strategically integrated into a company’s IT infrastructure can bring significant competitive advantages. For example, banks could improve their customers’ experience by using enterprise communication solutions in order to:

· Enable multi-channel solutions that can operate in the digital world and engage consumers via mobile, online and print media

· Improve customer focus – use communications to drive retention and revenue growth by creating intimacy and producing greater lifetime value

And generally speaking, enterprise communication solutions can help companies to:

1. Reduce costs

2. Simplify business processes

3. Support compliance and reduce the time and cost of supporting regulatory change

4. Improve agility by empowering business execs and accelerate time to market

The shifting business landscape

Understanding the business environment in which you operate is an obvious undertaking for any business executive, and this is even more relevant in the digital age where quick thinking, smart companies have an opportunity to use sophisticated communication technologies to their advantage. Indeed, many high profile companies are already harnessing the power of Twitter to communicate with their customers in real time, build relationships with them and strengthen brand advocacy by offering a high level of customer service.

Therefore, to do business successfully in a digital economy, companies should view business technology as a strategic imperative underpinning most business processes across the organisation. Companies of all sizes need to better appreciate that how they manage business technology directly impacts their overall competitiveness because it supports all dealings with customers and employees – and it needs to be seen by employees as an enabler rather than a hindrance.

Companies can also benefit from the vast amount of data produced by new powerful technologies of the digital revolution. Enterprise communication solutions can be used to analyse and unlock the valuable customer insights in the data, and in doing so, make every communication between the service provider and the customer count, while automating inefficient processes.

People power

Most organisations will use some form of business communication technology, yet few use it as effectively as they could. This can be achieved by putting the right people in place with the skills to select and manage technology in a way that meets the organisation’s needs. Also, empowering operating-level people to make decisions that can enhance the effectiveness of the business communication technology, rather than leaving decision-making to the top of the organisation, can help create smarter, more innovative organisations that are more attuned to their customers’ needs.

To maximise the efficiency of business communication technology, senior executives should get into the habit of inviting the IT unit to participate early in the strategic process so they can help identify better ways to operate, rather than treating the IT unit as a separate entity or an order taker.

A rounded approach to management

Understanding how best to use business communication technology isn’t just about being IT savvy – implementing a successful strategic approach also requires senior management to take into account a range of factors:

o the current business climate of their particular industry sector

o willingness to innovate and modernise, and manage change successfully

o relationship with customers, current methods of communication (eg email, phone, print) and level of customer service offered

o company-wide processes and how each business area interacts

o attitude and receptiveness of staff to technology

o challenges their organisation faces, and motivation to find solutions

Technology is only as effective as the person using it. Therefore, senior managers must better understand the technology at their disposal and its ability to help differentiate the business, and adequately support internal processes, employees and customers.

The research quoted in this article is available from customer engagement research site, The Disconnected Customer