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How real small businesses use tech to simplify and stand out

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It can be daunting to wade into the world of technological advances for the first time, especially as a small business with little room in your wallet for errors and downtime. But when it’s implemented properly, some of the new tech that’s out there can save you time and money, and who needs that more than a small business? 

Automation is no longer the wave of the future; it’s here, and happening now. Companies of all sizes (and budgets) are finding ways to use this innovation to streamline processes and keep better track of their customers. And remote technology—video conferencing, virtual team collaboration, and more—offer easy, intuitive ways to improve the agility of a business and keep employees connected to one another, no matter where they’re working. These tools can be easy to get up and running and could give you a real advantage over competitors who are slow to adopt them. 

But don’t take our word for it! Read on to learn how real small businesses today are leveraging new technology to increase revenue, improve productivity, and delight their customers and employees alike: 

24 Hour Tees: Automating customer delight

According to our research, texting is becoming one of the preferred methods of communication for some aspects of customer service, especially for younger customers after a purchase. This could be for appointment reminders or important updates on their order:  

Beyond the data, we all know just how important texting has become in our individual daily lives. So why not meet your customers where they already are? 

Luckily, texting is a super-easy communication channel to automate with the right technology. That means fewer customers fall through the cracks on these important post-sale touches of customer engagement. And 24 Hour Tees is leading the way. 

24 Hour Tees is doing just that: making custom shirts for their customers on a one-day turnaround. Making t-shirts might sound simple enough, but there can be a good amount of back and forth between the customers and designer before the finished product rolls out. So how is 24 Hour Tees able to keep their promise to their customers? 

With convenient communication, thanks to the use of automated text messaging. 

“…[A] text gets a near immediate response and that helps us be as productive as possible,” says Chais Meyer, co-owner of 24 Hour Tees. “So it’s easy for us at the end of the day to put out 50 unique, 70 unique orders because of the instant feedback we get from customers.”

Chais and Shawna, his business partner and wife, have been able to grow their business exponentially over the past six years with minimal staff increases thanks to this kind of automation, which they’ve leveraged courtesy of RingCentral’s application programming interface (API). RingCentral’s API allows business owners like Chais and Shawna to create intelligent, customized routing rules and responses for any incoming text messages to their business phone: 

“When someone texts in a specific question—for example, ‘What’s my order status?’—our system can do a search of our database for that [phone] number, then check to see if that person has an active order and what its status is. Then, we can send an immediate response, a pre-written note with our 24 Hour Tees fun tone, which no one in the company has to manually write in that moment.”

This technology allows customers to have their questions answered by automated systems, which means the Meyers and their small team can focus on the most important work of designing and printing shirts. Jobs get done on time, and customers feel confident in the process thanks to immediate updates. These benefits add up to real savings in the long run.  

“I’d estimate this automation with the RingCentral API has saved us the need to hire about four additional full-time employees,” Chais says. 

But it isn’t just order check-ins that 24 Hour Tees has automated. They’ve jumped into this newer technology with both feet, to impressive results. Today, they’re using RingCentral’s automated business SMS to overcommunicate with customers end to end, to instill trust and nurture ongoing relationships. With every update that the other designers make along the way, customers are kept in the loop and sent automated text messages with the updated graphics. And thanks to the ability to customize messages, their service still includes that important human touch.

“[Our customers] feel as if we’re communicating with them through the entire process,” says Shawna. 

24 Hour Tees has seen this automated approach to proactive customer service pay off in an increase in customer referrals: the lifeblood of any small business. “Word-of-mouth marketing is probably one of our best at this point in our business,” Chais says. “[I]f we can get the customers talking really great about us and how easy the process was, how we were very creative, and we helped through the entire process, then that’s the best thing for us with customer service.”

Leveraging new tech doesn’t just improve the customer experience; it’s also great for employee engagement and satisfaction. Because of their intelligent SMS automation, the 24 Hour Tees design team doesn’t have to worry about the customer-service end of the business. Instead, they spend more of their time doing the creative work that they were hired to do. And that means happier, less frustrated employees. 

“A lot of people look at automation as some sort of enemy,” says Chais. “[T]he reality is we’re automating the stuff that no one wants to do anyway. We’re automating the things that don’t provide joy to our staff’s life. And I’m happy to let RingCentral take that load.”

When you’re looking for the right new technology for your small business’s customer engagement, be sure to find a tool that’s capable of handling more than just your phone calls. With omnichannel customer service, you’ll meet your customers wherever they are—phone, email, text, social media—to create an effortless, enjoyable service experience for them with your company. 

The right communications platform will allow you to not only connect with your customers via their channel of choice,but you’ll also have the power to route their questions and comments to the best team member for the job instead of bouncing them from desk to desk. While this feature comes standard for inbound calling on several cloud phone apps, RingCentral also offers contact routing for all the channels mentioned above. And as a small business, anything you can do to improve your first call resolution rate could do wonders for customer satisfaction and retention.

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MHP&S: A future-proof law firm 

The legal world is a competitive place where the big names often reign supreme, especially when it comes to landing new clients. But today, smaller law firms are finding ways to win against the odds, thanks to technology and a more modern approach to customer service. This agility also means they were able to face the challenges that a global pandemic posed for their workforce without losing steam.

What if work meant not a physical place to go, but the jobs that needed doing? 

This very change in perspective is happening all over the world today, as we all adjust to the new normal of life in the wake of COVID-19. Cloud communications software has made it possible for a lot of small businesses to pivot toward remote work without much downtime. And because of this technology, they’ve been able to keep their doors open, continue serving their customers, and offer a safe environment to their employees. 

Martin Heller Potempa & Sheppard (MHP&S) is one of those businesses, but they were using tech to stay connected well before the virus impacted all of our daily lives. From the Tennessee law firm’s inception, they wanted to do things differently.

“As I considered the old way, the more traditional way of doing things, I knew there had to be a better and more efficient way,” says Sean Martin, one of the firm’s founding partners. 

Because of the partners’ foresight, and the practice’s existing use of cloud communications software, this small legal practice was able to rise to the new challenges of life during a pandemic without losing momentum. 

“As we were considering what to do in light of the current crisis, it just occurred to me that our building, where we actually do our business—it’s not superfluous, but it almost is,” Sean says. “We believe that good things happen when good teams get together and interact personally, but we know that it’s not 100% required, and we’re proving that…by all of us working remotely.” 

“We have our chat software, we have our different cloud-based softwares that help keep us connected, keep us productive, which has been great.”

Like MHP&S, a lot of businesses have seen the writing on the wall about remote work since COVID-19 hit, but the rise of distributed teams isn’t new. In fact, in the last 12 years, remote work has grown by 159%

And that’s not all. In 2019, a research study predicted that 73% of businesses would have remote team members by 2028. Based on how rapidly things changed in the early months of 2020, that relatively conservative number has probably been blown out of the water. 

Despite the growing trend toward a more flexible idea of what it means to be at work, many law firms haven’t caught the wave, according to Sean. 

“I think most lawyers and law firms still approach work as a place that you go,” he says. “Now, once they get there, they definitely accomplish the things that need to get done. …But I think we’re unique because we’re so technologically beyond many of our colleagues and firms that are similarly sized. We have the ability to consider work as a thing to get done, rather than as a place to go.”

“I think the buzzword now is future-proofing. You want to future-proof your business.”

The plan to weave technology into the fabric of the firm from day one ended up being good for business in a number of ways. One major way is that decision’s impact on employee work-life balance and productivity. It gave their team the opportunity to work in a way that made the most sense to them, which has paid off in happier employees and continued momentum. 

“We had some single parents working for us, and we knew that sometimes presented challenges,” Sean says. “We had employees who lived very far away and sometimes in Tennessee the weather doesn’t permit people to get to work… And so we embraced all of the cloud-based technologies that we could to overcome [these obstacles].” 

“…And especially now, in light of the crisis here, we are putting all of that technology to work, and it’s been a seamless transition. We haven’t missed a beat.” 

[Embed podcast episode? “Listen to Sean Martin’s full interview”]

Using a cloud communications tool doesn’t just make work from home possible; it makes it easier, especially in the legal field (and many others) where your pay is determined by billable hours. 

Lawyers don’t slog through the LSATs, law school, internships, and the bar exam so they can keep timesheets, right? An omnichannel platform like RingCentral puts all of your customer contact records in one place, so you can streamline tedious tasks like time tracking and billing. That means your team can spend more time on the job they’re passionate about.

MHP&S’ foresight to jump on the tech train has also been a boon for their customer experience, and in the age of the Experience Economy, service is more important than ever before. Luckily, the firm’s leadership saw the sea change toward greater emphasis on customer service in every industry and adjusted accordingly, with the help of the right tools. 

“I’m definitely a lawyer, but I’m also in the customer service business,” Sean says. “And I think successful law firms, big and small, in the future will understand that… The old school stuff didn’t lend itself well to providing that kind of client engagement and client service, and the technological solutions really do.” 

When you’re a small law firm trying to find your place among the Goliaths in the legal sphere, delivering a powerful, memorable customer experience can be an affordable way to stand out and grow your client base. In addition to internal message, video, and phone capabilities, it can be helpful to have a communications tool that routes and prioritizes your incoming calls (and even offers an outbound calling solution) for more proactive relationship building and customer service.

Important questions to ask when shopping for remote work software

All technology isn’t created equal. No matter what field you’re in, here are some helpful questions to ask as you shop around: 

1. Does this platform take security seriously? 

Cybersecurity today is critical, especially if you’re in an industry that handles a lot of sensitive or confidential information. Be sure to ask about how many layers of security the software offers—for example, RingCentral offers seven. If your field has its own certifying or accrediting body, be sure the software is regularly audited by that body for compliance, too. 

2. What administrative tools does this software offer?

It’s important to know what you’ll have control over on the back end of the platform, as the software’s local administrator. The more supervision you can perform via the tool in question, the easier it will be to ensure your team’s performance aligns with your business’s vision and values.  

3. What channels of communication can this software manage?

Make sure you know the entire scope of the software: can it handle incoming social media messages or texts? Even if you don’t see these options as important to your customer service today, you might need them down the line as these two channels become increasingly important to our daily lives. 

4. How easy to use is the product’s interface? 

Most businesses today are made up of team members from different generations, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s important to understand that different generations have varying relationships with new technology; some quickly incorporate it as a seamless part of their day, while others might dread and resist it. Be sure the new software you buy is something everyone can get behind by choosing the most easy-to-navigate interface you can. 

The best way to get the answer to find the right product for your team is to book a demo or, better yet, take the product for a spin with a free trial. Most tools offer this option, and it will be the only way to truly know how comfortable everyone will be with the software. 

5. How well does this software integrate with the apps I already use?

If new tech doesn’t make our life easier, what’s the point? 

Answer: there isn’t one.

Before buying, don’t forget to ask about third-party integrations: how well the product syncs with your existing apps, like CRMs, email, calendars, and any productivity tools you might use. That’s a good indicator for how the new tech will impact your day-to-day.

6. How can this software help me track and measure success?

Data-driven decisions tend to be more successful and profitable than relying on your gut instinct. Make sure your new software can track whatever metrics are most important to your business’s success. 

As a bonus: ask about data visualization. All that data doesn’t really matter if you can’t understand it. A powerful cloud phone platform like RingCentral will offer powerful analytics and data visualization so you can stay on top of your quarterly and strategic objectives:

7. Will this software grow with my business?

Scalability is incredibly important, especially as a small business trying to grow your customer base and influence. It would be a shame to buy a short-term solution for your communication needs, only to realize a year or two down the road that it falls short on the capabilities and capacity your now-larger company requires to serve its customers and keep things running smoothly. 

If you’re going to invest in new technology, find a tool that is proven to be scalable, so you won’t have to reinvent the wheel in a couple of years as your business grows. 

Small businesses + technology = happier customers and employees

What can we learn from these two companies who are true innovators in their respective fields? Technology doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, with a little research and a clear understanding of your business’s greatest needs and industry trends, the right tool for you could make a real, positive impact on your most important metrics for success: client and employee satisfaction. You might think you can’t afford to invest in new technology for your team… but as a small business trying to stand out in an increasingly competitive marketplace, you might not be able to afford to miss the boat. 

Plus, as a business you’ll gain added flexibility that allows you to pivot in a crisis, so your customers can feel confident in their choice of trusting you with their business. Just be sure to ask the important questions as you do your research, and keep your customers and your team in mind, and you should be on your way to finding an innovative communications solution for your growing business. 

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