How can businesses keep up with communications expectations?

The business world is in a period of upheaval – from downsizing and moving to shared offices; to supporting employees who demand remote and mobile working; to facing ever-rising costs, organisations are facing an epidemic of new challenges. The right technology and processes can address these challenges, and allow flexibility without risking soaring costs, or drops in productivity and staff morale.

Essentially, flexible working practices can harm a business if it can’t get its communications right. Although many organisations understand communications can be vital, many don’t invest in the right systems, making cost-based decisions instead of considering the features or flexibility offered. This can often result in higher costs for communications in the long-term.

Businesses are facing a difficult challenge – how can they support a range of working arrangements expected by an employee, without compromising the experience for their workers and customers, all while keeping costs at a reasonable level?

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The NHS, for example, could benefit from ensuring its external and internal communications systems are up to scratch. The communications issues facing the NHS are universal to businesses worldwide – customers (patients), suppliers and co-workers are all trying to contact the right person in the organisation and want the process to be as quick, and painless, as possible.

The NHS example – ‘Choosing Well’

Like many organisations, the NHS has had some struggles with maintaining a quality service when it is communicating both internally and externally – with patients, families and colleagues. With its A&E departments under pressure, the NHS’s struggle is evident. In response, it is now actively promoting alternative methods of communication – something many organisations don’t necessarily believe they have the facilities or budget to do.

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For the NHS, the ‘Choose Well’ campaign – which advises parents when to ‘self-care’ for minor ailments such as coughs, sore throats or grazes; when to contact a GP; and when to head straight to A&E – is a great example of why communications are so vital. Poor communication can lead to patients escalating issues and put unnecessary pressure on various areas of the healthcare service or fail to act on a serious issue. Whether the NHS dealing with patients, or a business dealing with customer and workers, the organisation needs to be confident that anyone with an issue can communicate at any time, from anywhere, and in any manner.

Taking back control of communications

For instance, a parent with a sick child is not going to simply give up if they can’t get in touch with their GP straight away – either because they don’t know how, or because usual channels aren’t working. They will escalate, and ultimately take a possibly unnecessary trip while undergoing a huge amount of stress. Similarly, if clinical staff can’t keep in touch with one another at all times, they will either have to remain uninformed about possibly critical issues or take time form their posts to communicate in person. Either way, with a potentially serious impact on patient safety. While workers in organisations might not escalate the same way, they will still become frustrated, and ultimately less productive, if they can’t raise and deal with issues as soon as they happen.

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Luckily, for most businesses, internal communications are not a matter of life and death, but that doesn’t mean that communications should be treated any less seriously. In the same way, as we would want doctors to spend more time treating patients than getting to grips with a complex communications system, organisations must ensure ease of use is a priority for their communications systems. Employees must be able to contact each other as easily as possible to get the information necessary to do their jobs, to transfer calls, or to share updates.

Taking a check-up:

So, what does this communication system look like? As mentioned, ease of use is critical – both for those actually making calls or sending emails and for those who have to implement and manage it. After all, the more complex a system is, the more likely it is that things could go wrong and the more expensive it is. Not only in direct product costs, but in needing to hire the workers, or consultants, to manage and maintain it. Neither a cost-conscious business nor the famously struggling NHS, can afford either huge costs or potential downtime.

Any system must also be flexible, allowing the use of any device to communicate over any method – whether voice calls, messaging or even video conferencing. Medical staff can hardly run to their desk phones for every incident, while a potential patient might not be able to speak – or might need immediate advice over a video link that gives more information. Similarly, workers need to be able to share the right information in the most appropriate manner, not be limited to only a few narrow channels or locations.

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It may seem obvious, but such a system also needs to be interconnected. If a worker or individual isn’t in their usual location, they should be reachable wherever they are. The increasing use of the cloud and apps is essential to this, allowing almost any device to act as a single work desk. For instance, even if a GP is working out of hours, patients should still be able to reach them instantly without memorising another phone number – and without the GP having to become an IT or communications expert.

Please hold while I connect you.

The NHS is just an extreme example of how poor communications can have a significant impact on users, but every organisation can learn lessons from its issues. As the world shrinks, and businesses of all sizes have to become global enterprises to some extent, the ability to communicate with one another will be paramount.

Organisations need to look to implement comprehensive, cost-effective, user-friendly communications systems now, instead of leaving the burden with end users and customers – a burden that will always end up hurting the organisation in the long run.

By Paul Clarke, UK Manager, 3CX

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