February 21st, 2017

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Online collaboration is becoming the new normal for many businesses. The number of U.S. workers who telecommute at least part of the time climbed from 30 percent in 2008 to 37 percent in 2015, an annual Gallup poll found. The number of companies that employ some or all workers who telecommute all of the time grew from 26 to 125 between 2014 and 2016, according to FlexJobs research. For companies that employ remote workers, online collaboration tools are an essential part of doing business. Here are four ways companies are using collaboration tools to improve their business communication.

Office workers networking

Centralizing Communication

When everyone worked on an office PC, email was a relatively efficient collaboration tool. When you’re running a business from an Android device such as a Samsung Galaxy S7, email isn’t quite as optimal. For one thing, email is designed primarily for one-on-one communication, but when you’re trying to collaborate with a group of people, referencing an email from a conversation that occurred before one of the participants joined can be confusing. This problem gets compounded if a conversation crosses from email into other channels such as phone calls, texting and social media. Another limitation of email is that each person in the thread can potentially have a different version of the same document, making it difficult to keep editing updates in sync.

To address these issues, many companies are turning to real-time collaboration tools that abandon the email paradigm in favor of a communication platform modeled on social media, where groups of people can see the same conversation at the same time and can stay in sync on document updates. One of the most popular of these newer collaboration tools is Slack, which earned its namesake company the Inc. 2015 Company of the Year Award. Slack provides teams with chat rooms organized by topic, where team members can exchange direct messages and files and search all content from a single location.

Streamlining Project Management

Real-time collaboration tools lend themselves to more efficient project management. Where email-based project management suffers from the same limitations as email collaboration, real-time project management tools let project leaders manage group tasks in an online social space shared by all team members. Managers can see all projects at a glance, break projects up into tasks and subtasks, delegate each task to a team member, communicate with team members from a single location and track project progress. Today’s top-rated project management tools include LiquidPlanner, Zoho Projects and Workfront.

Providing Omnichannel Customer Service

Real-time collaboration tools also enable remote customer service teams to deliver omnichannel customer service. In today’s connected world, a customer service ticket may cross multiple media channels, starting on live chat, progressing to a phone call, and getting followed up via email, for example. In the process, multiple representatives may handle the ticket. This can make it challenging to provide customer service in the event one representative has to repeat questions another representative has already asked, slowing response time and annoying customers.

Cloud-based customer contact centers resolve this issue by providing a single online platform where customer service teams can collaborate to resolve customer issues. Some of today’s leading cloud contact center solutions include Freshdesk, Zendesk and Samanage.

Tracking Communication Effectiveness

You can also use collaboration tools to measure the effectiveness of your internal and external communication. For instance, you can use your project management app to monitor key performance indicators such as how fast employees respond to communication via different media, how quickly projects get turned around and how different members of your team are performing. You can also track KPIs associated with your customer service, such as number of tickets per media channel, average response time and average number of contacts per ticket resolution.

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