Are firms failing to meet challenges of new technology?

With customers increasingly demanding instant communication, businesses could lose out if they don't embrace new channels...

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 25 Jan 2011

Some firms are still inclined to treat the rise of social media in the office as a threat to productivity, rather than as an opportunity. But according to a new study by Canon, this could be a big mistake: its research suggested that customer relationships are being damaged by business's unwillingness to engage via all these new communication channels...

As you'd expect, Canon’s survey found that new ways of communicating are increasingly taking the place of old methods. Half of workers say they now use social networks for business purposes, while a quarter use instant messaging systems to talk to business contacts. Whereas 22% make fewer phone calls from their desks, 15% have fewer face-to-face meetings, and 32% have fewer lunch meetings (as avowed fans of the working lunch, this disappoints us greatly).

If businesses don’t embrace the same tools their customers are using without a second thought, they're going to have problems, says Dr Graeme Codrington, a writer and speaker about the changing world of work. ‘Younger customers, especially, are looking for ways to engage with you. If they have a query or complaint, they may well go on your Facebook page and write their complaint or query there, and then they expect you to respond to them instantly – because that’s the form that channel takes.’

And it's not just customers who are likely to be frustrated; it's employees too, Codrington argues. ‘Your internal staff are probably perfectly comfortable answering a tweet – but if somebody from IT’s got a policy in place which says they’re not allowed to, that’s going to frustrate them.’

Yet while firms can't afford to ignore all these new communication channels, there are limits to their effectiveness. A new study by Virgin Trains claims that 70% of business travellers would prefer to meet a client in person than speak over the phone, while 25% of people admit they ‘drift off’ during conference calls. As surveys go, this sounds a little shonky (it's hardly the most objective sample group to ask about the importance of business meetings). But the argument that it's easier to ‘make decisions, solve problems, gauge reactions and ultimately trust someone’ you meet in person will ring true for many.

Another finding of Canon’s research that may also strike a chord is that managing all the data produced by all this new technology is, in many cases, actually slowing down business processes. Companies clearly can’t afford to ignore all these new channels - but it’s also making their lives more difficult at the same time.

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