The challenges that small businesses face as they emerge from COVID-19 shutdowns are becoming more obvious, business owners are beginning to understand that a return to normal will be anything but. The situation has forced all businesses that depend on brainstorming, creativity and interaction e.g. freelancers, law practices, creative agencies, consultants, and other professional service providers to restructure the way they operate. While these small businesses don’t have the resources of global enterprises, they can use some of the same technology and communication tools as their larger counterparts—often, to even greater effect.

Using a holistic communication platform that unifies all the bases—team messaging, video meetings, business-class phone system, etc.—is a simple, cost-effective way to turn short-term substitutes for in-person interactions into a long-term enhancement to your business.

Simple Solutions Are Often the Most Effective

To get through the tough times, business owners will need to find new ways to communicate with customers and employees. Luckily, there’s a plethora of video conferencing software, productivity and team management software, and messaging apps. But experimenting with different combinations of services can be costly and time-consuming and continuously switching between siloed applications makes it difficult to maintain natural communications or context throughout the workday.

Small businesses don’t have that kind of time. It’s more effective to commit to a single communications solution that enables their team to communicate any way they need to  – by message, video or phone – from any device. Doing so means getting back to business quickly. Rather than having to learn the ins-and-outs of multiple platforms, adjusting to one interface is much more efficient and simpler. The lower the learning curve, the less frustration for staff (and customers) while having a single point of contact for support services also helps put new technology to work faster.

As an added benefit, it’s often less expensive to stick to an all-in-one solution and pick the features that suit the business rather than having to manage subscriptions and contracts from various technology providers. Opting for a single communications platform ensures that the various tools that are needed all “play well together” from Day One.

Preserve Personalized Service

People are what give small businesses an edge over larger competitors. In recessions and times of crisis, small businesses are often the hardest hit because they are closely linked to and dependent on local communities. But that closeness is their strength because business is personal, built on relationships and an intimate understanding of customer needs.

Technology can protect and enhance the way small businesses communicate with both employees and customers, supporting both the logistical, day-to-day decision-making that keeps the lights on and the more human, person-to-person impromptu engagements that give small businesses an edge.

Implementing a Unified Communications as a Service, or UCaaS, solution allows small businesses to cater to customers on the platforms of their choice. Doing so accelerates a sense of comfort and familiarity when in-person interactions are not an option.

By communicating through multiple channels, small businesses can strengthen their relationships with existing customers and build authentic relationships with new customers. Customers can choose how they want to interact with the staff, depending on the request or preference, they can choose between messaging, video calls or phone calls.  This allows natural and comfortable interactions that build trust. Instead of becoming just another source of email notifications or quickly-forgotten posts on an Instagram feed, they’ll know that there’s a real person behind the business and that you’re there for them.

Keep Employees Engaged

Aside from bridging the gap with customers created by physical distancing, a unified communications solution can enable businesses to better support their employees, too. With ready-to-use technology where users can jump from a phone call to a video chat on a tablet and then to a messaging thread on a computer, staff can connect and collaborate as well as if they were physically together in a conference room.

Look for tech that’s adaptable and provides flexibility instead of frustration. Having the right tools in place makes it that much easier to recognize and respond empathetically to employees’ situations outside of work. Sometimes all it takes is a consistent, simple way to stay in touch, not a wealth of perks and HR resources, to take care of employees during difficult times.  Streamlined communications technology gives employees the breathing room to handle uncertainty in both their personal and professional lives without damaging the business’s bottom line.

New Ways to Stay Connected

When it comes down to it, small businesses owners and their employees are members of the same community that keeps them afloat. Many companies talk about loyalty but, for small and local businesses, loyalty runs both ways. They’re founded on a win-win relationship where, by serving the community, they earn its support. It’s that spirit of togetherness that will help small businesses weather the storm. While the conditions of COVID-19 make staying afloat more challenging, technology can help preserve the bonds within communities and give small businesses a fighting chance.

Faiza Hughell is the Senior Vice President of Small Business at RingCentral where she is responsible for the growth of RingCentral’s small business customer base worldwide. Faiza joined RingCentral in 2010, with a charter to scale inside sales, helping drive growth through our IPO in 2013. During her nine years at RingCentral, she has built and scaled multiple teams across the sales organization including Sales Development, BDR, Solutions Engineering & Small Business. Her passion is centered around empowering her customers and teams.

Video chat stock photo by Dean Drobot/Shutterstock