Why communication is the single most important investment SMBs can make for short-term recovery and long-term success in a post-COVID world

While many U.S. small businesses have reopened as lockdown restrictions ease, many are still expected to experience a long road to full recovery. To ensure success on this long-winding path, now is the time for SMBs to look at ways to adapt and optimize their business operations. They must assess technology investments to recover in the short term, while strengthening operations to prepare for continued shifts and growth in the long term. 

According to recent research, trends like globalization, workplace flexibility, and other organizational complexities are expected to increase—not decrease—post pandemic. This means SMBs are confronting more challenges across more places, while still facing resource constraints that limit their ability to innovate. In this scenario, many find themselves making trade-offs between speed and quality to keep up with demands.

So how can SMBs evolve their organizations to ensure a successful recovery and set themselves up for long-term success? In this complex climate, improving communication to be more efficient, compelling, and consistently on-brand is the single best investment to navigate the road ahead.

Prepare for Long-Term Success and Reach Goals Faster

As we interact in more places and ways than ever before, future business success will hinge on how well organizations communicate across employees, customers, and other stakeholders.

In the short term, SMBs must rethink how they approach engagement to build in more empathy and authenticity. In many ways, the constraints of the past year made interactions with both customers and employees more impersonal and transactional, leaving them desiring more empathetic support. While large corporations are investing in enabling “empathy at scale,” SMBs must double down on forming more personal connections and striking the right tone in communications to increase engagement and loyalty. 

In the long term, improving the quality and efficiency of communication—especially digital communication—means making more sales, strengthening relationships, and generating more growth opportunities. One study found that in addition to digitizing internal communications and workflows to ensure business continuity, nearly half of growing SMBs have invested in digital communications to expand customer engagement channels. With an increasing number of digital platforms, SMBs must be able to communicate quickly and consistently across all of these new channels to meet their business goals. 

Addressing all of these demands hinges on building more effective communication internally and externally. By efficiently addressing customer and employee needs, consistently interacting with customers across channels, and driving higher-quality, more empathetic communications, SMBs can increase both quality and productivity to quickly achieve results.

Why Communication Is This Year’s Best Investment for SMBs

SMBs have done their share of investing in technology to stay agile and enable collaboration over the past year, with the total IT spend among SMBs estimated at over $1 trillion in 2020. However, many have focused on adding entirely new channels and systems, overlooking ways to improve the effectiveness of communications across all of these new tools.

In particular, enhancing written communication across channels offers a significant opportunity, with over 306 billion emails sent and received daily in 2020 alone. Improving written interactions across platforms—even by an incremental amount—can result in tangible benefits like faster sales, lower service costs, and rapid customer service. It also delivers value over time to improve areas like customer loyalty, brand perception, and employee engagement.

Investing in better communication also makes financial sense. For example, a company adopting AI-powered writing assistant technology might invest $150 per employee to help standardize brand language, improve customer communication, and streamline content creation. Using the tool, each employee might save an estimated average of 150 hours annually on writing and editing. Assuming that salaries range from $15–$50/hour, that equates to $2,250 to $7,500 in value of time saved per employee.

Enhance Existing Tools Before Adopting New Ones

Adopting new connectivity and productivity tools was crucial early in the pandemic, but now the focus needs to shift to re-evaluating and optimizing existing systems. The right solutions work invisibly alongside employees wherever they are and enhance the functionality of other investments. 

Here are key questions to consider when seeking solutions to improve communications:

  • ​​What short- and long-term goals do I want to achieve, and in what ways does communication support them? (e.g., customer retention/growth, lower service costs, operational efficiency, etc.)
  • What unique pain points and challenges do I need to overcome to improve communication? (e.g., remote work, low bandwidth, disparate tooling, cost and resource constraints, etc.)
  • What existing tools and resources do I have that support my desired outcomes (e.g., training, QA processes, point solutions, etc.), and where do they fall short?
  • Where can I refocus investments to optimize communications—in a way that enhances my current tech stack?
  • Do these investments meet enterprise-grade standards and functionality? (E.g., Robust analytics and administrative controls, stringent security and privacy measures)

The Bottom Line

As we enter the next era of hybrid work, improving communication will be even more critical to weather ongoing changes, boost operations efficiency, and attract more customers. By prioritizing effective communication today, SMBs will be well-prepared to evolve and grow in the face of new challenges.

Dorian Stone is the General Manager of Grammarly Business.

Communication stock photo by metamorworks/Shutterstock