Calling SMEs

Amidst continuing Brexit uncertainty, election upheaval and a reduction in footfall over the Christmas period, the UK’s SMEs had an uneasy time as 2019 drew to a close. So much so that the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) Small Business Index which was published at the end of December revealed the lowest quarterly reading since the last recession.

Although 24% of those surveyed were looking towards a brighter start to 2020 they were in the minority with 46% expecting conditions to worsen in the current quarter. In addition 42% reported a decrease in profits; whilst just 11% planned to increase their headcount in the succeeding quarter.

Commenting on the FSB results their Director of External Affairs and advocacy, Craig Beaumont, said “They say that the night is darkest before the dawn, and small firms will be hoping that the old adage holds true.” He then went on to acknowledge that “The incoming government has made some very positive commitments to the small business community – particularly where connectivity, employment costs, business rates and late payments are concerned.”

Despite this potential for an improving outlook, other reports reveal the way in which SMEs are being careful when it comes to managing finances. One report from UK Finance revealed that SME loan applications fell in the third quarter of 2019 with further falls expected in the fourth quarter. Another report from the Centre for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) estimated that UK SMEs are ‘stockpiling’ £86b of cash in current or instant access accounts; a potential indication of a cautious approach to managing finances in uncertain times.

Reducing a reliance on finance or stockpiling liquidity are just two ways in which businesses look to secure a more financially stable future. Others may be exploring ways to streamline processes as a means of saving ongoing costs. One such option relates to the way in which incoming telephone calls are managed.

On first glance the simple act of transferring a call may not seem too much of a cost burden to a business. On second glance, that is not necessarily the case. Studies have shown the effect which interruptions can have on thought processes and workflow. It may only take a minute or so to transfer a call but that minute could come at the cost of half an hour or so of effective working.

And then there is the cost to the business of customers being reluctant to call only to find themselves being bounced around the office. People may not be fans of being asked to push buttons or tell a computer what their query is about before being directed to a call responder; but if it results in being connected to someone who can help them then both the business and its customers benefit. Adding in a hunt group to swiftly transfer calls to employees who are ready to take calls can also help to smooth over the call management process.

Another option is to programme the switchboard to recognise the phone number of key callers and to automatically switch calls to a designated individual. Calls can also be announced with the name of the caller, enabling a personal response from the start. Alternatively, if callers regularly request information such as opening times or prices then why not set up an information line? Not only does this save employee time, it also helps to ensure that the information provided to callers is accurate.

Simple tweaks such as these can help to reduce time lost through interruptions whilst at the same time boosting relationships between the business and its customers or suppliers.

Written by Alison