Businesses have been moving online at record rates this year. Following a trend of higher consumer spending online compared to brick-and-mortar stores, the world of consumers made a huge wholesale shift online earlier this year due to the coronavirus. Many are likely to remain online for their shopping requirements long after high streets return to normal and footfall is once again encouraged in town and city centers.
There are huge benefits to be reaped from conducting and presenting your business online – but online business comes with its own threats and issues too. This article is about communication issues and threats, specifically, showing you how to protect your firm from harm when communicating online.
One of the most common mistakes made by business managers and employees when communicating in the online space is in sending sensitive data to one another on unprotected chat platforms. For instance, if your firm operates with password protection on your sensitive files, these passwords should never be shared online: there are many ways in which they might be spied upon by bad actors operating online.
The same can be said of any communications that contain sensitive data. Whether you’re using Slack, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or other communication platforms online, you need to be careful what data you’re sharing with others in order to ensure that you’re protecting your firm at all times. An elegant solution to this issue is to look for cybersecurity options that cover your main communication channels when operating a business online – especially with remote employees.
You’ll already be operating with cybersecurity software. This software will protect your computers and other devices from hacks and data breaches, and it’ll also protect your website from cyber criminals operating in the online space. But what you’re looking for specifically – to protect your communications – is a cybersecurity package that’s tailored to the communications software you’re using as a business.
It’s recommended that you don’t use platforms such as Zoom for your teleconferencing, as the security on these video chat platforms is notoriously poor. It’s more likely that your online business is using one of a number of different team collaboration software solutions – like Microsoft Teams. Here, you can partner with a firm to help identify any Microsoft Teams Security Threats to maximize the security that runs through your work messages, emails, and teleconferencing. With all these bases covered by one security solution, you can rest easy that these communications won’t negatively affect your online business.
Many workers are still performing their duties from home as the pandemic rages on across the world. This means, oftentimes, that employees are using personal devices to communicate with their fellow employees. And of course, personal devices benefit from lower levels of cybersecurity protection than the work devices that you’ve set your workers up with for their work-from-home routines. Here, you’ll need to instate the following rules with your workers:
- Never use personal devices and personal communication platforms to share company data.
- Do not use your personal devices, when unprotected, to share and host sensitive data and company files.
- Ensure that all business communication takes place through your work devices, which are covered by your communications cybersecurity solution. Your solution will simply be a waste of money if your staff are not using devices covered by your security investment.
Be strict on personal, remote devices in order to ensure your staff know how to protect your firm from online harms this year and into 2021.
Some of your communications won’t be internal – they’ll be with customers who have queries about your products or complaints to make about a part of your delivery system. You’ll be well aware of the kind of communication that this requires: smart, highly-trained customer service operatives who can communicate with your valued customers in the following ways:
- Phone – This is the most common form of interaction between businesses and customers who want to launch a complaint or have an urgent query requiring a speedy response.
- Email – Another common mode of interaction between your customer and your staff is that emails require good spelling and formal English to impress your customer.
- Social media – more and more consumers, especially younger ones, are using social media to get in touch with companies they trade with. Make sure you’re monitoring your social media platforms for these queries and that you have a social media specialist in your communications team to deal with this communication adequately.
- Chatbots – Used on websites to give customers the option of getting to the crux of their issue through an automated customer service representative. This can save you time and save your customers headaches if used correctly.
- Mail – direct mail is falling by the wayside where business communications are concerned – but you should still check each and every letter in case one of your customers has issued a complaint or a query via the postal service.
As you’ll see, there are several channels through which your customers may get in contact with your business. Suppose you fail to address each of these customer service channels effectively. In that case, your business will certainly suffer negatively – and customers will turn away from your business to one with a better customer service setup.
PR and Media Management
If your online business is large enough to attract media attention or have a brand to protect and market, you’re going to need to hire a PR specialist or a media management guru. These individuals perform two tasks simultaneously. They’ll spend much of their time trying to positively market your brand and your online business, sharing stories, press releases, and sales figures or company reports with journalists in their contact books.
Meanwhile, though, they’ll be primed for those moments at which your firm experiences negative PR and makes the news for all the wrong reasons. This is the real reason that your firm should have a PR specialist on your team: to fight fires when a customer complaint is raised with the press, or when you make the new due to a data breach, a leak, or another unfortunate event that reflects badly on your company.
This representative will help communicate your firm’s position to the press, will release statements to weather the media storm, and will keep interested spectators up to date with developments in your firm on social media. Hiring this individual always proves to be a wise acquisition when the going gets tough for your business.
Another huge form of communication that takes place across most online businesses is marketing. Online businesses tend to use digital marketing to boost their visibility, draw more traffic to their site, and enhance their sales over the course of a set number of months. Marketing is, of course, a form of communication: it’s attempting to sell your brand and your products through getting seen, heard and trusted by the online world of consumers who are at your fingertips when trading online. There’s no doubt that marketing can affect your online business – positively and negatively.
Here are some smart marketing tips to get the most out of this side of your business:
- Target your adverts to different consumers in order to communicate more specifically to different demographics. This will help you appeal to the consumers you value the most.
- Use social media as one of the bases of your marketing online – ensuring that you’re sharing new content, new products, your latest blog posts, and your latest deals with your audience on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
- Partner with social media influencers in order to communicate directly with their followers. This is especially important for online clothing or lifestyle businesses, partnering with Instagram influencers for a chance to sell your products to young and fashionable consumers.
- Make the most of press releases, media appearances, and guest posts or op-eds in local newspapers in order to communicate directly with readers and content consumers across the world.
- Have a brand ambassador who gives interviews and is comfortable going in front of the camera when your business is in the media spotlight.
Marketing is a part of all businesses and how they drum up sales and interest in their brands. Great marketing will positively impact your online business, while poor marketing techniques and marketing content that offends web users will be quickly jumped upon on social media – negatively impacting your brand.
Clients and Partners
The final element of communication within your business takes place between your team and the teams of other firms with whom you are partnered or with whom you are looking to partner. In both cases, your firm needs to present itself as professional, punctual, and trustworthy. Sloppy emails, late sign-on to video calls, and poor phone manner will all reflect badly on your company and may lead your clients to distrust you in the future.
You need to focus on hiring and training here. Make sure you’re hiring great communicators to work for your online business – and if they’re weak in one form of communication, offer them a training module to get them up to speed with what’s expected of them. When you’re talking to valuable clients online, you need to make sure that you’re keeping them on-side in order to facilitate the smooth operation of all of your business processes.
Outages and Bugs
All online communication is liable to suffer from the occasional bug, glitch, or issue. We’ve all experienced our fair share of these disruptions since the advent of the coronavirus and the increased number of conference calls we’ve been taking. Voice quality and picture quality vary wildly across geographies and devices, leading to disrupted communications. Even time zones can present an issue to those businesses that are no longer jetting off for their essential business meetings. As such, here are some top tips to ensure your communications are free from outages and bugs this winter:
- In advance of important calls with clients, make sure that your own internet and communication software works perfectly.
- When videoconferencing, ensure that you’re looking smart and professional, even if you’re working from home, and that your background is professional, too.
- Upgrade your internet if you’re finding that your online communications are interrupted and disrupted by connection issues.
- Always have a backup internet source when working from home – be that a dongle or your phone hot-spotting 4G or 5G internet.
- Use email and instant messaging where necessary or preferable – sometimes, a short exchange of written messages can be completed in a shorter time than a verbal conversation.
We’re all still finding our feet a little in lieu of the offline communication, person-to-person, in meeting rooms and across desks like we used to know. The tips above will help you ensure that new modes of communication aren’t a hindrance to your online business in the coming months.
Training and Perfecting
Your staff are a body of human resources that drive your online business to success. Whether it’s your technical team building out new website features or your marketing arm that are drawing more consumers to your sales pages, each employee is valuable in their own right and deserving of investment and encouragement to perform their job better. A big part of their job, whether communicating internally or externally, is getting their point across to other stakeholders, both internally and externally of your firm.
With all this in mind, it’s clear that your investment in your workers’ communication skills will pay off for your firm over the long term. You should look to bring in training consultants or online training modules that target areas of communication you’d like your teams to excel in – be that diplomacy or customer service skills – so that your firm has the best possible communicators working around the clock to take your online business to the next level.
The above tips take a sweeping overview of all the communication responsibilities within your firm: preparing you for challenges in the communication sphere – and opportunities, too.