Excellent customer service has always been the domain of the small business. More flexible than their larger competitors, they can bend more easily to meet the changing needs of their customers. 

However, as the company grows, maintaining the personal touch becomes more challenging. It is therefore vital for growing businesses to find ways to sustain the ongoing dialogue needed, to continue to offer the high level of service that their customers expect. 

Today, customer service has never been more important. The business landscape is more cut-throat than ever before. As competition continues to increase across all market sectors, products and services are becoming more commoditised. The result is that price is flat-lining and is, therefore, less of factor in the customer's decision making process. Companies of all sizes must now look to their customer service, to create a real differentiator that retains existing business and attracts new clients. 

The answer is for companies to look at the way in which they communicate with their customers and find ways in which to make these processes more efficient. The digital revolution has created a multitude of communication channels which, when utilised effectively, offer ways in which to maintain high levels of customer service whilst ensuring staff productivity and cashflow is also optimised. 

The following are proven ways that have been shown to drive the adoption of collaborative technology.

Collaboration technologies are offering companies the means by which to engage with their customers more frequently, with less disruption to the business. By blending audio and visual technologies, web conferences provide a virtual environment that offers the same benefits as that of face-to-face interactions. What is more, attendees can join these virtual meetings from landline and mobiles. So whether team members are on the road or in the office they can still participate. 

Additionally, the starting point of any good relationship building strategy is a phase of information gathering. Through customer insights a business can ensure that the service they offer hits their customer's hotspots.

Web and audio conferencing also offer a convenient and cost effective channel for gaining this customer insight. As it is a very visual medium it presents a good opportunity to run virtual focus groups with valued customers, gaining instant feedback on new products and services, as well as identifying the most effective channels for communicating with them.

As well as the more obvious areas where communication technologies can help, there are also those customer-facing processes, which may at first, not appear to need streamlining. On closer inspection, however, it becomes more obvious that by evolving the communication elements that greater levels of customer service can be attained. 

The sales process is the most obvious of examples. Email, SMS and voice messages are now available on demand and can be utilised to maintain richer contact with the customer from the marketing stage right through to the delivery of the product.

Rather than blasting out emails, companies can now construct campaigns that meet the specific channel preferences of their customers as well as their circumstances

Rather than blasting out emails, companies can now construct campaigns that meet the specific channel preferences of their customers as well as their circumstances. Customers on holiday are unlikely to check their computers for promotions but that doesn't mean that an offer sent to their mobile phone that could be utilised, while they are on holiday, wouldn't be welcomed.

Multi-channel communications also offer a good way of keeping the customer up-to-date as to where they are in the sales process. SMS and voice alerts allow companies to let their customers know when their order has been processed and also when they can expect delivery. The closer the contact the company maintains with the customer, the more trust is created between the two.

As well as the customer service gains there are clear productivity gains too. By automating the communication processes, the time of employees is saved; because the customer is being kept up-to-date, they are less likely to call seeking information or miss a delivery.

What is clear is that communication is an important part of most processes that deliver customer service. What companies now need to do is look at the way they communicate and ensure that they are using the most effective channels to do so. As communication practices become more streamlined, so the business processes that they deliver will become more optimised. The result will be a more productive workforce that can focus on the delivery of the highest levels of customer service.

Lyndsay Cook is director of marketing operations EMEA at Premiere Global Services. For more information visit www.premiereglobal.co.uk