Email, Slack, and Zoom are all examples of communication channels, which – put simply – are methods used to share information. Over the past year, business communication has been turned on its head, with companies having to dramatically alter how they communicate with their employees and customers.
In this article, we focus on two forms of communication channels that are crucial to business: workplace communication and customer communication. We also share the results of our recent survey, in which we asked 100 small companies how they’ve adapted their communication with their workforce and their customers.
Workplace communication, otherwise known as internal communication, encompasses all communication within an organization. This means everything from informal meetings, formal policy updates, and all other forms of communication between employees and employers.
Customer communication, otherwise known as external communication, refers to any communication with your customers or clients.
We surveyed 100 small businesses about their communication over the past year. 85% felt they were supported by their company through the Covid-19 pandemic. This contradicts research done by CIPD, which found this number to only be 55%. Adequate information about returning to work is important as it can reduce anxiety about returning – 62% of people who didn’t feel adequately consulted are anxious about returning, compared with 42% of people who have been adequately consulted.
The majority (53%) said they’d received weekly updates from their company, with 27% getting them daily, and 26% monthly. Just 2.7% said they rarely received updates over this time.
When given a list of communication types where respondents could select multiple answers, Email (73%), Zoom (66%), and Slack (60%) were the most common ways to stay in touch with colleagues, followed by phone calls and Google Hangouts at 56% and 36%. When it comes to communicating with customers and clients, video calls and email took the top spot together at 74% each, followed by telephones at 50%. Furthermore 79% of companies increased the number of digital communication channels used in their business, compared to 18% that didn’t.
Good communication also means more collaboration. 39% of people believe there isn’t enough collaboration in their company, with 29% stating that poor internal communication is why projects fail. So, if you want to innovate in 2021, collaboration needs to be on the agenda.
Interestingly, in our survey, over half (56%) of respondents said there has been more collaboration during Covid-19, compared to 12% who said there was less, and 31.5% who said it had been the same. This demonstrates that perhaps the challenges presented by the pandemic propelled companies to act quickly and efficiently.
Workplace Communication Channels: The Impact of Covid-19
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on both internal and external communication, particularly resulting in a heavy push to digital channels.
During our research, 74% of business owners and CEOs said that all their employees are currently working remotely, compared to just 7% before the pandemic. This large increase has resulted in companies having to quickly alter and adapt communication with their workforce to ensure productivity and wellbeing in difficult times.
Dima Suponau, who works for a customer call center platform, commented on how the team adapted to remote working: “We were forced to use more digital communication tools than ever before. We used to manage a lot of issues face-to-face, but we switched to Zoom, Slack, and email back-and-forth. We also implemented a time management tool that helps us see who owns which tasks and what the deadlines are.”
Similarly, Max Babych of startup development company company SpdLoad commented: “At first it was chaotic, but soon enough we got used to it and now we're as productive as ever. We started using time trackers, productivity software, and became much more reliant on Cloud technology.”
Teamwork and Connectedness
Research found that 37% of office workers felt less connected to their teammates, and 31% felt less connected to their leaders whilst remote working. Similarly, research by the Royal Society for Public Health found that 67% of workers who shifted to home working during the pandemic felt less connected to their colleagues. Being restricted to communicating over screens has resulted in some people missing the face-to-face interaction that working in the office allows.
Other research found that more than a third (36%) of respondents felt they were using too many apps for workplace communication. A further 42% said they were using between six and 15 different platforms during their working day, while 2% reported using 16 or more.
Mariia Bohdanovska of Jooble.org commented: “Our company decreased the number of communication channels so workers don't get distracted and stressed due to the constant push-notifications. On the other hand, remaining tools were optimized.”
More Autonomy and Flexibility
Of course, remote working does have it’s benefits. The modern working office can be incredibly inefficient. Remote work has been a welcome change for many who’d usually be commuting into cities to work in an office, and many who have caring duties at home. Remote work allows for more autonomy to fit work around other needs.
Why is Workplace Communication so Important?
Though often overlooked, workplace communication channels are vital, particularly when so many are home working.
A survey by MyCustomer.com showed that 40% of employees report they aren’t adequately supported by their colleagues, as different departments “have their own agendas”. Siloing is a common problem in large organizations, and can lead to duplication of work, lack of innovation, and a general lack of motivation.
Fraser Wilson of Answerconnect.co.uk said: “We've encouraged people to share regular updates through the ‘feeds' section of our app to increase transparency and build new connections between departments. We host daily ‘collaboration spaces' using our app, weekly ‘meet-ups' via video calls, and relay longer-form project information via email.”
Ensure your tech stack includes knowledge-sharing tools and formalize a process for sharing knowledge between teams on a regular basis.
Keeping Employees in the Loop
At unpredictable times, workplace communication helps you keep your workforce in the loop about what’s going on – whether it’s good or bad news.
Keeping your staff informed of when you’ll be back in the office, policy changes, new staff, promotions, socials, wellbeing initiatives, and updates on overall business health is a must, and shows your employees that you’re transparent and open and won’t leave them in the dark.
Instant messaging tools such as Slack offer quick and easy ways to distribute company-wide updates. A company intranet is a good place to store documents and need-to-know information like holiday allowances, events, and time-off request forms.
Making People Feel Connected
One of the most effective ways of making your team feel heard and connected is by ensuring an open and regular dialogue. Hold regular check-ins for each team member as well as group catch ups and socials. Foster a company culture that is open, and where employees can voice concerns and issues without fear of ramifications. This will result in a more connected and motivated workforce.
“Team bonding is essential for our new colleagues that joined us during the pandemic. People can no longer stop by each other's desks or spontaneously go for a coffee. Slack helps us to recreate our unique team atmosphere and integrate our new employees into an online environment,” said Dorota Lysienia of livecareer.com.
Fraser Wilson of answerconnect.co.uk said: “We've created more ‘social spaces' within the internal comms app as a way to allow people to socialise freely.”
Encourage weekly ‘stand-up’ meetings where teammates can discuss what they’re currently working on. Encourage managers to meet with those they’re managing one-on-one to iron out any problems. Company-wide surveys can be used to garner staff feedback and shape further policy and change.
Your employees should feel that they can access the right support, should they need it. At a time where many are suffering with their mental health and companies are going through changes, this is a critical time to let your employees know where they can turn to for help.
Have a resources area where employees can access support information should they need it. Companies can go a step further by offering mental health first aid training to staff members who’d like to offer support to fellow employees.
Customer Communication: The Impact of Covid-19
A Need for Technology
Research by Statista demonstrated that live chat, email, video, SMS, and social media were the top customer communication channels that companies increased their use of in response to Covid-19. When it came to trying out new technologies, live chat, interactive voice response, video, voice, and in-app chats were the most common choices.
Some companies have even found that digital channels of communication work better for them, such as law firm Cohen Winters:
“We now offer video and phone call meetings to all of our clients. Previously, all meetings were held in the office. We have found that clients, and us, prefer this digital form of communication because of the flexibility and comfort it provides. I think our clients appreciate the ability to discuss their legal issues from the comfort of their own homes, as these conversations can sometimes create stress,” said Jonathan Cohen.
As well as new technologies, some have reconnected with more ‘traditional’ forms of communication:
“I have found that, during the pandemic, I’ve actually been using the good old-fashioned telephone an awful lot more; both in supporting my team and reaching out to potential customers as well as existing ones,” Milosz Krasinski, MD at Chilli Fruit Web Consulting, told us.
Conduct a customer service audit – what are your average response times and what are your most common complaints? Can you utilize technology or better training to alleviate these issues?
Personalized and Empathetic Marketing
Whilst more customers are stuck at home, some home-schooling children and some with concerns about the pandemic, family, and money, it’s as important to be empathetic as it is to be efficient. Ensure you have open dialogue and consistent channels of communication. Coach your customer service agents in empathy statements and healthy dialogue during this time.
Prior to Covid, the trend towards personalized marketing was already firmly established, but this trend has accelerated over the past year. If you haven’t personalized your marketing yet, it’s time to audit your customer emails and revisit your personas to adapt them to this new way of working.
Why is Customer Communication so Important?
A huge 93% of people are more likely to be repeat customers at companies with excellent customer service. Furthermore, one study found that 82% of consumers expect immediate answers to their queries and rate immediate responses as important or very important. Now is a good time to think of ways to improve the customer experience you offer.
Build trust, Loyalty and Long-Lasting Relationships
Long gone are the days of aggressively advertising your product to customers. Customers are already overwhelmed with advertising and content, so you need to make yourself stand out as a company that cares and has an authentic voice. Which content has your audience engaged with? What do they find the most useful or interesting? Supercharge what has worked well in the past.
Customer tutorials and user-generated content (UGC) can help build trust in your brand, as customers want to hear from people they can relate to.
Feeling heard empowers customers. Make yourself easy to reach, encourage and respond to customer feedback and, most importantly, act on it – whether it comes from reviews, social media messages, or telephone queries.
It’s become clear that the increases in remote working – accelerated by the pandemic – and in new technologies have driven changes in communication in the workplace and with customers. Communication channels are always adapting to these changes, and companies have to adapt the way they communicate with their customers and workforce as a result.