Cloud’s Gift to Small Businesses

Ian Moyse, Cloud Industry Thought Leader & Social Influencer

Cloud computing has revolutionised our lives and industries over the past 20 years, and will continue to do so as it evolves, innovates and becomes increasingly more affordable for all. Today, cloud computing platforms and applications span technology sectors, vertical industries, and use cases.      While many businesses had adopted cloud computing models prior to 2020, the global pandemic dramatically accelerated the pace. Less than two years later, due to the cloud’s ability to solve the business disruptions caused by COVID-19, we now sit 7-8 years ahead of predicted adoption rates, and with many changed opinions around cloud readiness and its fit for businesses.

Digital transformation has been a priority on business agendas for the past 5-8 years, and we now see businesses making an even stronger effort to grab hold of the benefits the cloud offers.

Why Small Businesses are Moving Their Business Communications to the Cloud

It’s an ideal time for small businesses to consider cloud-based solutions because of their functionality, affordability, and ability to deliver an exceptional experience for end customers and employees, alike.

No Trade-offs: Full Features and Affordability

As cloud offerings have evolved, small businesses have become big beneficiaries. Cloud computing has brought both function and power to the masses at an affordable level. In the past, small and large businesses were served by different applications and vendors and the situation clearly favoured larger companies. Larger firms could afford the necessary setup costs and equipment to run more powerful systems, while smaller firms were served by a different batch of technology vendors who created systems with scaled-down feature sets designed to fit lower budgets.

But cloud technology and its capabilities flattened the market, making any application available to any size firm, at a digestible price. For example, Salesforce CRM can serve a 10-user business or a 10,000 user business. Every customer has access to the same compute power and the same application richness and functionality. And it’s all without the need for any large upfront capital hardware investment, and with the ability to pay for only the user count a business requires.

No Barriers: Enabling a Fundamentally Better Customer Experience

As consumers and customers, we have all lived through a very unusual time in which our day-to-day activities were suddenly impacted by forces outside of our control. Everything changed: how we worked, how we did our banking, how we shopped, etc. We were limited to engaging remotely almost overnight.

At first, reports of poor customer experience and frustration went through the roof as we found that firms previously able to serve us were rendered incapable of adapting due to their legacy tech stack and tools. How many of us experienced an offline contact centre or emergency service levels that impacted how quickly and efficiently we were able to be served? I personally experienced having to wait over a month for a call back from a major brand, because their outdated technology could not accommodate remote customer service.

Businesses had to find a way to pivot to a new customer model—to find ways to deliver customer experience at all, let alone at the prior high demand levels. The need to provide workers with a flexible customer communications method was there before, but implementation was, at best, needed for small parts of the business and only periodically. And the burden was highest on small businesses, who lacked extensive IT teams to advise them and implement new solutions.

But, cloud computing solutions helped fill the void. Cloud-based computing models and solutions let businesses—large and small—quickly replace rigid, legacy systems with digital offerings designed to provide customers and employees with the flexibility to engage from anywhere, on any device, at any time. And not surprisingly, people found they appreciated the convenience and flexibility, permanently changing expectations for the future.

Reinventing Small Business Communications Strategies with Cloud-based Solutions

The cloud-driven evolution of business communications is a perfect example of the industry transformation that occurred over the last two years and the new opportunities available to small businesses who embrace these offerings.

The premise of business communications systems less than 2 years ago was to primarily support in-office workers. Employees working from other locations relied on separate systems.  

For example, a sales team might have had a mobile phone paid for by the business, but isolated from the main phone systems. They may have had a Zoom or similar account for occasional online web calls. But, for the most part, the business would have a mainstream PBX phone system with fixed lines and physical desk phones tied to extensions for each person and department, with an IVR (Voice menu system) that enabled customers to route and queue for phone help.

While many businesses had already been progressing towards more flexible working models that relied on cloud-based communications systems, keeping the telecommunications technology lights on to service the on premise business and its users was a necessary evil.

But the sudden transition to everyone working remotely meant businesses of all sizes needed to completely flip their communications priorities. The primary goal became to ensure people could be productive away from the office, with the flexibility to make and receive calls from any device at any time in order to adapt to evolving customer expectations.

Three Reasons Why Small Businesses are Choosing and Using Cloud-based Communications Solutions

In the future, businesses large and small must be able to support home, remote and office workers when and where required in an affordable manner. And luckily, cloud-based communications solutions are specifically designed to do just that. Here are three common benefits to migrating to a cloud-based communications system that I have heard in my many conversations with small business owners over the past decade:

#1: Powering New Ways of Working to Attract New Workers and Maintain Existing Employees

Small businesses need to think of cloud not as an upgrade to an existing system, but as a game changer for their business, employees and customers. This breadth of cloud possibilities gives you This is a game-changer! - Helen Brown Groupthe capability to move your business into a place of agility, flexibility and strength where all can afford to operate more efficiently and compete with firms of greater scale.

Cloud-based business communications systems let you  operate from anywhere at any time, to update and automate processes for efficiency and to gain far greater reach as a business.  

They also give you a wider range of possibilities for staff recruitment, because you’re no longer limited by the physicality of an office-tied employee. You not only can serve customers from a wider geographic circle, you can also hire employees from that larger location base.

Getting comfortable with cloud-based security: Whom to trust to do what •  The RegisterYou can also empower your staff with more flexible working hours. Cloud makes accommodating employee needs easier when they need to work from home for a delivery or to care for an ill family member.

No longer does an accounts person have to stay late at the office at the end of the month. They are now empowered to work from home and choose to work out of typical work hours if they wish. Delivering this flexibility in a way that is amenable to the employee is key in today’s hiring market, and cloud telephony allows staff to operate as if at the office utilising a virtual office number, so they can keep their work and private lives (and importantly phone numbers) separate!

#2: Improving the Customer Experience

Cloud-based solutions help small businesses serve their customers better and faster. Cloud systems have allowed them to refresh their processes, enabling new gains in productivity. For example, cloud applications facilitate process simplification—businesses can convert a 10-step process that took two days down to a six-stage process with automation that takes just a few hours. With today’s robust cloud-based business communications solutions, customers are able to communicate with the business in more ways, receive self-service, and when needed access in-person help far more quickly.

Today, cloud applications empower simplicity, usability and an easier way for users to achieve what they need without barriers and frustration. We are now all used to email on the move, quickly replying to an email from a mobile device whilst out and about. Why should our customers and employees not expect this same ability for phone calls, application access and anything else they might do when at the office desk?

#3: Reducing Technology Overhead, While Improving Quality of Service.

You may expect me to lead with (as many unfortunately have in selling cloud) with the potential cost savings of a cloud solution. While lowered costs upfront may indeed be a by-product you gain, do not assume cloud is simply and always cheaper than other methods. It may not be for your specific use case. Whether you make a commercial savings is dependent on what you were using before (are you accounting only the initial price or the true cost of running and updating that system?), how you account for the benefits you may gain (staff productivity, customer attraction, etc.) and indeed, whether cost savings are even relevant compared to the new benefits and capabilities you gain.

That said, there are some aspects of the cloud-model cost structure which should reduce technology overhead and management costs. Telephony technology is complex and typically falls under the remit of an IT team or individual who is not trained in the telecoms discipline, but is expected to maintain it all the same! Technology has a cost at the outset of procurement, an ongoing cost of maintenance (updates, hardware refresh, break/fix components when needed), and the cost of building resilience such as standby devices, backups and backup power supply. A bigger and hidden cost can occur in the event of an outage, plus fixing it when it occurs.

A cloud-based offering does not require upfront procurement or ongoing maintenance costs. Small businesses won’t have to worry about a refresh of the system and hardware every 4-5 years, or having to maintain updates or keep the lights on. In contrast, a cloud-based solution enables any size business to benefit from the resilience and protection that the provider offers, building in all the costs of hardware, refresh, software, updates, maintenance and around the clock fixes into one expert bundle. A cloud provider can afford to have a larger more expert staff on hand 24*7, due to the scale of the customer base they service. The smaller business gains greater service quality, less risk and for a fixed predictable service cost often payable monthly instead of having to up-front cost the hardware, software, installation, IT staff and ongoing costs.

This post was sponsored by Mitel, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Mitel’s positions or strategies.

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