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20 Aug

How are the UK’s smaller businesses coping with current trading conditions? Well, depending on how you read the statistics, it is a bit of a good news/bad news scenario. 

Released at the beginning of August the ICAEW’s Business Confidence Monitor revealed that late payments from customers are a greater challenge for 20% of businesses than a year ago.  This figure rises to 24% for SMEs. And this late payment statistic could be one of the underlying reasons for Bibby’s SME confidence tracker revealing that 44% of SMEs are struggling with cash flow, with 29% actively using external financing to help them cope.

Yet the same report revealed that 37% of SMEs reported increased sales in Q2, perhaps suggesting that for some growth is still very much on the cards despite uncertainty. This finding is backed up by research from Hitachi Capital Business Finance which revealed that in the three months to the end of September 2019, 35% of SMEs are forecasting growth with a further 49% expecting unchanged levels of business activity.

Growth or not, particularly given the uncertainties of the current climate it would be prudent business practice to look at cost efficiencies. The key to success here is to identify cost management options without impacting on customer service.

In a digital age, one area which businesses may wish to review is that of digital communications. So, for example, businesses with one or more offices may decide to look at the availability of VoIP for their internal business calls. VoIP, or voice over internet protocol, enables organisations to make calls over the internet. Use the same provider, and VoIP to VoIP calls can be made without incurring call charges; potentially enabling businesses to boost internal dialogue without boosting costs.

VoIP to landline calls can often be cheaper than calls made purely over landlines. So for businesses which have a large volume of outbound calls, even if those calls are overseas, VoIP may be a cost-effective solution.

Another potential area for review is the way in which incoming calls are managed. If employees have to regularly interrupt their work in order to transfer calls and if customers are continually frustrated by being passed around the office then it is a signal that businesses may wish to review their call handling protocols.

There are a number of options here including the use of a programmable switchboard which can seamlessly direct calls to the right individual or department. Options here include the use of hunt groups which ensure callers are not stuck at unmanned desks, or the use of caller recognition which directs calls based on the caller’s phone number. Both of these options can promote customer excellence whilst at the same time reducing the time cost which comes from employees having to regular stop and unnecessarily answer phones, thereby interrupting thought patterns and focus.

Another simple time saving device which some businesses could adopt is the use of a company information line. Providing regularly requested information such as opening times or prices via an information line enables customers to received answers quickly without taking up employee time.

How are businesses faring in uncertain times? Perhaps the question we should be asking is no matter how they are faring, could a review of their current practices result in further improvements.


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