Secrets of effective business communication in the digital age

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Listen, personalise and automate

Good communication is at the heart of every successful relationship. That includes the relationships between your business and its customers, colleagues, suppliers and other partners. Communicating well with customers is what helps you make sales. It also keeps customers coming back for more and ensures their expectations are met.

Yet we live in a world where there is a lot of information and perhaps too little communication. As the American journalist, Sydney J. Harris, said: “The two words information and communication are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.”

Here are some ideas about how you can make sure you are communicating well. It’s not just about sending information that fails to connect with the customers you are trying to reach:

  1. Be accessible across different channels
  2. Invest in your skills and those of your team
  3. Speak less, listen more
  4. Add a personal touch
  5. Audit your web presence

Let’s take a look at some ways you can improve business communications:

1. Be accessible across different channels

One of the secrets of great communication is to be accessible to customers in the media or channels they prefer. Though you can’t be present in every town and village and on every social media platform, you should support a range of communication channels so customers can easily reach you.

There is a balance to strike here between the human resources and budget you have available and customer demand. Select tools and platforms used by the majority of your customers. Make sure they know how to find you. Some options include the phone, web chat, e-mail, instant messaging and social media.

If you’re a small business with limited resources, try get people to contact you via digital channels rather than the phone. Not only can this save you time or the need to hire a receptionist, but it is usually more convenient for the customer. If you are going to offer support and information via e-mail and social media, ensure you can respond promptly.

There are many powerful tools that can help you. Tracking messages from conversations with customers, to scheduling automated e-mails and social posts so you can keep pace with your customers:

  • Social media solutions such as Hootsuite and Sendible allow you to manage multiple social media accounts through one app, enabling you to stay on top of things without spending all day on Twitter and Facebook. Tools like these help you schedule social media posts, track incoming messages and manage customer conversations.
  • Customer relationship management solutions like Hubspot, Zoho and Salesforce can help you keep track of customer interactions, sales leads and support tickets, whether these are logged online, via social media or telephone. Some of these tools are complex for a small business, but others are simple and powerful.

2. Invest in your skills and those of your team

As a small business owner, you’re accustomed to wearing many hats, from chief cook to chief financial officer. If you do not come from a sales, marketing and communications background, you might benefit from training that develops your communications skills. Many members of your team might also be able to provide a better customer experience if you invest in upskilling them in the art of communication.

There are many training companies in South Africa that offer bespoke training or short seminars in topics such as business writing, plain language, effective use of social media, marketing and giving great sales presentations. You can also look at online training portals like Udemy, which offers some good e-learning courses at a relatively affordable price.

The same as any competence, communication is a skill that can be learned, practised, mastered and continually improved. Investing time and money into improving how you communicate can have a positive impact on business outcomes. This includes everything from employee satisfaction to customer acquisition and retention to supplier negotiations.

3. Speak less, listen more

Small business owners are often so excited about what they must sell that they forget to slow down and listen to customers, employees and suppliers. Listening is a vital skill for any good communicator to master. Pay careful attention to the customer’s challenges or objections, ask questions that show you are listening and trying to understand, and demonstrate how you can address their needs.

Listening in the real world will sometimes mean switching your phone off in a meeting with a customer, offering your undivided attention, and watching someone’s body language as closely as you are listening to their words. In the digital world, it may mean monitoring social channels to hear what your customers really think about your brand or industry.

Either way, it’s about being genuinely curious about what makes people tick and how you can better connect with them. It’s also about taking feedback from your customers on board. Showing that you’re listening can have a positive impact on your relationships with your clients, colleagues and other business partners.

4. Add a personal touch

Whether you are communicating online, in person or on a digital channel, make sure you personalise your communications with your customers. Personalisation is not just about getting their name right, though that’s an important start, but also responding to the mix of needs, desires, fears, concerns, preferences, contexts, habits and questions that drive their behaviour and choices.

If you are dealing with a small group of customers in-person, you’ll be able to build a direct rapport with them over time. If you have a larger customer base that you deal with online or over the phone, you’ll need to make an effort to track their shopping behaviour, interests and preferences.

Try to be warm and authentic across digital channels, so customers feel like they’re dealing with a person rather than a robot. Technologies such as CRM systems can help you to track their interactions, purchases and behaviour with your company over time so you can develop a sense of who they are and what they want.

5. Audit your web presence

Today, your website is one of your most important communication tools. A well-structured, up-to-date and attractive website will do wonders for customer perceptions of your business. They should be able to see who your company is, how you work and the services and products you can offer with a quick glance.

A slick website will not only help you capture new business, it will also help you engage with your existing clients and keep them updated with relevant news and views. It’s not just about providing accurate functional information, but also bringing across a bit of your brand and personality.

Here are some things you can check in your audit:

  • Is your navigation clear and intuitive?
  • Is there a Contact Us link on every page of your website?
  • If Contact Us triggers an automatic e-mail, review the e-mail content.
  • Are your social media buttons in the same place on every page?
  • Is all site content up to date, is it easy to understand and are there any proofing errors? Delete, revise or refresh.
  • Does the site work well on smartphones and mobile devices?
  • Are you satisfied the look, feel and copy reflects the personality of your business?

If you need to build a responsive site from scratch and aren’t quite up to the tech challenge, consider a mobile-first website builder like GoDaddy Website Builder. You can have a mobile-friendly site up and running in under an hour.

Communication is your edge in a competitive world

Improving how you communicate can help take your business to higher levels of growth, productivity and success. This is an area of your business that deserves as much of your attention as finance, operations, human resources or product. Businesses that communicate well often do well because they engage the trust and confidence of their customers.

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