In today's fast-paced world, where it seems almost everyone suffers from some degree of ADD, it is harder than ever for companies to get people's attention. This applies not just to consumers (prospective or existing customers) but to employees as well. So what can you do to improve your internal (employee) and external (customer) communications, so that people will pay attention to, read and respond to your messages? Dozens of marketing and communication experts share their nine top strategies for improving business communication.
Internal (Employee) Communication Tips
1. Use a project management/social collaboration platform. "In order to improve internal communications, organizations should implement a social collaboration solution that gives employees access to a single platform for communication," says Sameer Patel, senior vice president, Products and Go-to-Market, SAP Cloud/SuccessFactors.
"This type of platform means the work and information sharing are seamlessly integrated into an organization's existing enterprise and productivity apps, allowing communication to happen when and where it's needed, on any device," Patel says. "A robust social collaboration solution will also take advantage of an organization's network by bringing together the people, data and processes needed to improve engagement and enable problem solving and more informed decision making whether they're in the office or communicating from the field."
Having a project management/social collaboration system, that "works for communications, setting up workflows, organizing contacts and everything else, has really transformed our communications and made us more efficient," says Carrie McKeegan, cofounder of Greenback Expat Tax Services. "While the exact choice of software product needed will be different for each business (we use Podio), the overall idea is to use technology to communicate effectively outside of the email inbox," which, she says, is inefficient.
2. Create an online forum where employees can easily share information and respond. "Create a forum where employees can communicate with each other," says Kristina Roth, CEO of Matisia Consultants. "We use Yammer, [an enterprise social network,] which our clients also use. [But] the most important thing is giving employees access to a mobile platform [that will allow them] to engage and interact on various levels (e.g. announcements, knowledge transfer, etc.)."
"When properly integrated, enterprise social networks break down information silos and increase cross-department communication," explains Ajay Kaul, managing partner, AgreeYa Solutions. "Employees can easily share documents, start threads, work on projects and more through the network, whether they are in the same office but on different floors or working time zones apart," he says.
"Enterprise social networks also improve employee communication by tapping into employee knowledge and strengths," he adds. "Employees can indicate on their profiles areas of expertise their colleagues may have not realized by their job title or department, and can easily connect with them for feedback, advice or support."
Don't want to invest in an enterprise solution? Use Google Hangouts or Skype.
"Employee communication is a challenge at Doubledot Media because we literally have employees all over the world," says Simon Slade, CEO, Doubledot Media. "To bring everyone together, I created a Skype virtual watercooler where employees can instant message our entire staff," he explains. "Employees use this resource for both work purposes and socializing, which is also great for building a sense of teamwork and camaraderie."
3. Provide employees (especially younger ones) with regular feedback. "Younger workers (Generation Y and the Millennial generation) enjoy receiving frequent feedback," notes Patrick Thean, cofounder and CEO, Rhythm Systems, provider of a cloud-based strategy execution software platform. To ensure that workers know what's going on, and is expected of them, "provide a weekly status report for the priorities and projects that they're working on, followed by short and simple feedback from managers and executives," he suggests. "This can help the younger members of the workforce feel empowered as well as connected to the rest of the team."
4. When emailing, leverage the subject line. "In this day and age, most of the workforce communicates primarily through email," says Thean. "And since employees often receive dozens of emails each day, their inboxes become too full to cut through the clutter and recognize which messages need to be acted on immediately."
To get employees' attention -- if their immediate attention is truly warranted -- "use action-oriented [words], such as ACT or URGENT [or HELP], in the subject line," he advises. That way, "employees can prioritize which messages require immediate action, and which they can return to at a later time."
5. Use video conferencing. "Video conferencing is a great business tool because it is effective and inexpensive," states Mark Roberts, CMO, ShoreTel. "One of the obstacles to collaboration is the inability of employees to get together and discuss issues," he explains. And bringing far-flung employees together in one place, physically, while helpful, can be expensive. "With video conferencing, [however,] employees can meet without ever having to leave their desks."
6. Pick up the phone. "Don't be afraid to pick up the phone and call the other party instead of responding by email or text," says Stephanie Roberson Barnard, managing partner, Listen Write Present. While email and text communications work in many situations, sometimes, such as when "the other party is confused about a message [or] the topic is sensitive," it's more effective to just pick up the phone and talk.
External (Customer) Communication Tips
7. Get to the point. "Particularly with email blasts, if you need customers to take action, quickly make your point," says Liz Istas, communications manager, Grantham University. "Glorious intros and wonderfully crafted narratives have their place -- but an email isn't it. Your customers are busy, action-oriented folk who respond best to [short, easy-to-read] content."
To increase the likelihood of your message being read and acted upon, "be concise. Make it abundantly clear 'what's in it for them,'" she says. "Provide options to learn more (e.g., an embedded video, a link, a contact name and number). And above all, focus on your email's subject line. Unless your customer is compelled to open your email, your amazing, actionable content is all for naught."
By the way, this advice doesn't just apply to your customers. It works for internal communications, too.
8. Make it easy for customers to communicate with you. "Always give the customer a way to easily [contact or] reply [to you]," says Eoghan McCabe, cofounder and CEO, Intercom. That means providing customers with an easy-to-find email address and phone number, or live chat or social media link (e.g., Twitter).
Furthermore, "in every customer communication, make sure there's an easy way for the customer to reply -- and be willing to listen to what they have to say," he adds. Remember, listening to what customers have to say, acknowledging them, not only "makes customers feel more respected [and more likely to do business with you, it] can serve as a valuable source of feedback to improve your product or company."
9. Keep customers informed with text messages (SMS). "Use text messaging to get the word out to customers," says Dan Kamins, CEO, TextMarks, as SMS communications service provider. "If you need to let your customers know about something immediately, the best way to do that is by text." For example, "you might have an outage that affects [them or] their business," he says. Or you may need to reschedule their appointment. "SMS solves the problem of making sure interested people get the message [quickly]."