Recent figures show the UK is officially out of recession. Businesses and consumers may breathe a sigh of relief at that, but the next few months will be critical for ensuring the nation begins to recover and grow.
Despite the positive news, the downturn has left its mark. Recent research commissioned by Avaya found that businesses across the UK have let communication standards fall, with 40% of companies admitting that internal communications have deteriorated, 40% acknowledging customer communications have suffered and 30% claiming the communications they've received from suppliers have worsened.
It's clear the downturn has exacerbated existing communications issues for businesses and, with the recession prompting customers to switch loyalties more quickly based on price considerations, companies need to adapt to the new ways their customers are communicating.
Most individuals today are involved in social networking in some form or another – be it IM, SMS, Facebook, Twitter or others. As social networking's prevalence grows, consumers begin to rely more and more on it for information, solutions and as a way to engage with businesses in a highly targeted way. Today's customers expect results to happen quickly and efficiently – and social networking can deliver this. Organisations can no longer expect customers and employees to accommodate the limited communication methods they offer. Rather, the reverse must be true or customers will simply take their business elsewhere.
The key to the successful adoption of these new technologies is to ensure they are suitably integrated into existing offerings so that accessing them is as effective as making a phone call. That way businesses can seamlessly connect with their customers in whichever way suits them best. Remember also that customers will switch communication methods depending on their personal circumstances – mobile one day, IM the next and Twitter the day after – so it's important to maintain a consistent, customer-led approach to all communication ‘channels' and make sure customer history is maintained in one place no matter in what form this contact comes.
One of the ways organisations can begin incorporating social media is through Unified Communications (UC). UC can deliver an integrated platform to manage disparate communication formats in one place. What's more, it can extend flexibility to employees, giving them the power to work efficiently regardless of location, making it much more convenient to deliver the immediate response that new social networking tools demand.
Used in this way UC, combined with social networking tools will, without a doubt, transform the way customers connect with businesses. Any business that can't accommodate the ever-changing needs of all its customers is missing a major trick – all those communications media need to be embraced. Social networking can enable businesses to communicate with their customers in a more holistic way.
The recession is (nearly) over, but its impact will be felt by all of us for quite some time. But by preserving and investing in the quality of communications and adapting it to wider changes we are seeing in the business landscape, organisations can ensure they not only survive, but thrive, in the aftermath of the economic downturn.
Lee Shorten, managing director, UK and Ireland, Avaya.