Let’s be completely honest; the rallying cry to ‘embrace digital’ can often be something of a double-edged sword for many small businesses. Compared to the daily hustle of actually owning, managing and growing a small business, investing in digital communication tools can seem like an abstract, far off goal. It’s no surprise to learn then that for 43% of those considering digital innovation, lack of time is cited as the biggest barrier to success.

However, it’s not simply the presence of new technology that drives innovation, but the willingness of businesses to take risks in the name of growth and future success. Learning about the technical potential of cloud applications is undoubtedly important, but recognising the human impact these tools could have on the lives of colleagues, clients and customers is what sparks the desire to take a risk, to invest and grow a business. For those looking to innovate, the key to picking the right digital tools relies on a simple, but fundamental question: How will improved communication transform my business for the better?

The Changing Landscape of Voice Communication

As digital tools and infrastructure become ever more prevalent in business, even the most fundamental methods of communication become subject to change. By Q3 of 2018, 17.4% fewer calls had been made from landlines compared to the previous year and by 2025, it’s predicted that the majority of calls will be made digitally, with tools like VoIP, WhatsApp and Skype, to name a few. Does this mean that voice calls themselves are on the way out? Absolutely not! When you’re building customer relationships or delivering time critical information to your team, there are lots of ways to do this, on top of just picking up the phone. What’s really changing is how the act of making a call is happening.

Rather than relying on analogue landlines which require old fashioned copper cabling, bulky telephone exchanges and multiple phone numbers, more and more small businesses are choosing VoIP or over the top voice apps like WhatsApp and Skype to communicate effectively. These methods provide a more flexible, higher quality and richer voice, or even video calling experience, enabling businesses that use them to get far more from a call than ever before.

For businesses with clients or suppliers in different countries, calling via an internet connection means a high quality, instant connection that only requires a mobile app or a simple piece of software to work. The benefits are numerous and it’s easy to see why so many small businesses are going digital when it comes to voice communication.

Furthermore, digital communication tools like Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger are proving revolutionary for businesses that rely on e-commerce platforms. As online retail continues to grow, with a 9.8% increase in online spending in January 2019 as compared to the previous year, the ability to communicate with customers via an instant messaging platform is becoming a key differentiator for customer experience. According to Facebook, 61% of its app users have used instant messaging to communicate with a business in the last 3 months and 66% of them said by doing so, it increased their overall trust in the brand.

As consumers continue to use social media apps and instant messaging as their preferred means of communication, it’s vital that small businesses embrace these tools as a core part of their operating model. Whether it’s helping customers track orders, make new bookings or even answering questions about the business itself, being able to communicate effectively via these channels is essential for businesses looking to increase their digital development and manage their brand image online.

Does Digital Innovation Hold the Keys to Productivity?

A worrying trend has been emerging in the UK over the past decade. Compared to other G7 countries, UK productivity is down by an average of 15%. For small businesses, the right digital communication tech that allows your team to thrive in their roles and maximise their productivity could be the key to bucking this trend. Add to this the fact that 77% of millennials say they would accept or decline a new role based on the technology available and a whopping 87% of remote workers in the UK report high job satisfaction, the case for investing in digital communication and collaboration becomes clear.

Obviously, there is a growing necessity to adopt digital tools as part of day to day operations, but for small businesses, it’s not always straightforward to make large investments in technology or enact sweeping changes to company processes. Fortunately, the first steps towards better digital communication are nowhere near as disruptive as might be imagined. Cloud based productivity tools like Office 365 and Dropbox can utterly transform the way employees work on projects, share assets and develop new ideas, allowing them to access key documents and files from the comfort of their home, through an app on their mobile, or even simply sitting at their desks. Similarly, instant messaging services like Skype, Google Hangouts and project management tools like Slack allow the whole office to chip in with new ideas, update each other on projects, or even catch up on last Friday’s after work social! Best of all, all of these communication tools are all examples of cloud based software, which means they’re regularly updated, maintained and bug fixed by expert tech teams at companies like Microsoft and Google. All the businesses that want to use them need to do is pay an affordable subscription to maintain their access rights to the software.

The way businesses communicate, collaborate and work within the digital sphere is constantly evolving. However, this doesn’t mean that small businesses need to keep up with the R&D ambitions of global giants. Innovation doesn’t have to mean massive data servers, teams of developers and a million pound budgets. It can be as simple investing in Office 365 so you and your colleagues can collaborate on key projects at home, or using Facebook Messenger to help your customers track and manage their orders. What’s more, as 2019 brings us greater advancements in digital communication, even more tech will become accessible to small businesses with an appetite for innovation. Whether it’s using 5G mobile networks to get even more done on the go, or implementing artificial intelligence to help manage stock levels and complex data processing, successfully choosing the right digital communication tools for your business begins with a basic, human question: ‘How can we make this better?’

For more information and advice on digital transformation check out the Virgin Media Business website.