Communication has seen drastic changes in last century. The advancement in science and technology has affected the way people communicated with each other on this globe. The change has been felt more over in Business Communication. One of the reasons of effect of technology on Business Communication has been the phenomenon of Globalization. In past two decades, the world has shrunk into a global village. The immeasurable ‘flat-world of pre-Galilean era has become ‘flat- world’ again in Thomas Friedman’s ‘The World is Flat’ but this time it is no longer immeasurable. This new flat world has become small because of modern tools of communication. The laissez –faire has helped in dissolving borders and making globe borderless in its true sense. This phenomenon is felt, if not in all spheres of life, at least in International Business. The global economic policies and Information and Communication Technology have given facelift to the twenty-first century business communication tools. The effect of global economic policies has opened up floodgates for foreign companies to trade with any country on the globe. This was not possible if advancement in technology did not support its communication links. If the communication is the life blood of business, speedy and on-time communication is its breath and finer spirit. Once upon a time it was believed that the communication is to encode message with right signs/symbols, send it and the receiver decodes it to understand the meaning of the message. The nearer the receiver is to the main message, the better is the communication. But now, along with it what is more important is ‘time’ element. How fast and accurately the message is sent is also very important. Thus, the role of modern technology and internet tools becomes vital in business communication.
In the human history, we have seen that man has always communicated. In the pre-historic times, fire & smoke signals, drums sounds etc tools were used for long distance communication. Even when man learnt to draw signs/symbols or to decipher earlier alphabets, he used birds like pigeons, parrots, eagles and animals like horses and camels to communicate. The first of its own kind of technology was invented in form of printing press. Gutenberg’s printing press (c.a. 15th Century) not only brought renaissance to Europe, but it was affected renaissance in business communication of the day. Printing press enabled faster written communication for the traders of the time. The invention of telegraph (c.a. 1837) and telephone (c.a. 1876) was another big leap in the communication history. But it was the twentieth century which witnessed drastic changes in communication as a whole and business communication in particular. The invention of Radio (c.a. 1901) and Television (c.a. 1929) captured the imagination of the twentieth century till the Internet rose on the horizons in 1970s (c.a.). It is internet enabled information and communication technology which has brought revolution in modern business communication.
Today, to imagine a business house without communication links like Email, Chat-applet, VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol), Fax, Blog, eGroup, smart mobile phone (not only for texting and calling, but also for social networking), website etc is to imagine a life without blood and oxygen. These modern tools have become part and parcel of business setup. The open international economic system has made it essential for all business houses, big or small, to remain connected, round the clock, with the world. And without these tools no business house can afford to win customers.
Let us study these modern business communication tools in detail and see how effectively they can be used for communication. We shall also throw some light on theirs advantages as well as disadvantages.
o The company can maintain direct contact with the customers.
o Giving customers a choice to select and compare the products and services. This service helps customers in saving their time and just on a click they can compare products and decide to purchase.
o Opening window for ecommerce, wherein customer can buy products/services online. It helps company in saving revenue share of wholesalers, retailers etc and can give extra benefit to customers. It also saves them from duplication of products.
o Instantly solving grievances of the customers, which is very important in the competitive world – it gives winning edge to the company. For this strong feedback mechanism should be available on website. It saves time of customer and company in delayed communication for complaints and adjustments. It also helps wholesaler to solve grievances of retailers, logistics etc kind of stakeholders involved in chain of business cycle.
o Reading minds of customers – for this, space for ‘comments’ by customers should be available on website wherein customer can ‘text’ some message as feedback. This would not cost any extra bucks to company but can help them a lot in improving their products and services. The commenting can be kept under control so it won’t bother company to control unwanted and spam commenter.
o A separate space for employee login can serve several purposes at a time. Say for instances, management can read minds of employee from their login and reading their experience of working with the company. This helps in times of recession and slowdown of turnovers. It also serves the purpose and advantages of ‘grapevine’ communication channel.
o It should always be under the vigilance. Interactive websites should be protected from hackers. The rival companies or porn sites keep attacking websites popular with customers. If company fails to vigil its website, it can mar the brand image of their products.
o There should be personnel always virtually present to reply to customers’ queries and grievances. As website communication is asynchronous, and not synchronous like chatting, the auto-mode of reply to customer’s complaints, queries, comments etc can help but it should be followed by personalized email from the company. Most of the time, delay in such communication forces customers to stay away from websites to communicate with company.
o One of the biggest disadvantages is ignorance of customers in using website for communication. So, companies should design websites which are user-friendly and the communication links are easily visible on the home page and easily accessible to the novice user of internet also.
However, the dedicated website has immense possibilities, capacities and capabilities to converge various communication tools at a time on single platform. Yet the ignorance, negligence and failure on part of companies and customers to understand its capacities does not allow website to flourish as one of the vital modern tools of business communications. But the days of awareness are not far away. Business houses have begun to use websites for various communication purposes. One can see and feel the experience of such websites. For instance, insurance websites are not only giving information related to their products and services, but also allow customer to pay premiums online. Even the news websites gives opportunity to readers to share their views on news through comments. The websites of electronic gadgets are full of innovations which give feeling of seeing products with real eyes, though they are crafted for virtual visual effect. Some such websites are www.nokia.com, www.licindia.com, www.ndtv.com, www.amul.com
• It saves time and money as it is very economical.
• The communication is written and thus has more legal importance than other electronic communications. The written record of the communication is generated which is very useful in future.
• It is easy to retrieve email communication for future reference.
• It facilitates communication with multiple parties at a time.
• It is most suitable for open international economic system which is characterized by changing business environment, geographically distributed workgroups, extreme mobility and the need of rapid information dissemination.
• Email services are available on smart phones, PDAs, and other such hand-held devices. So, even without computer or laptop, accessing email is easy and user-friendly.
• It does not create better context for communication, and it does not clarify the tone of messages.
• It is sometimes seen as impersonal and prone to misunderstanding, because verbal cues and context are missing.
• Managing unwanted (spam) mails is biggest problem. Hundreds of unwanted mails waste lots of time even in deleting them. And because of it, at times, even useful ones are deleted or left unread.
• The sender does not always come to know whether the mail has reached right destination or not. Even if it has reached, sender does not know if the receiver has read it or not.
• It is asynchronous communication and so is not as effective as telephonic conversation or chatting communication on IMs (Instant Messages).
• Lack of infrastructure in remote rural areas poses biggest hurdle in its spread and reach.
With all these disadvantages, email is still the most popular modern business tool for communication. The recent survey by META Group, Inc., showed that more than 80% of the respondents said that email is more valuable than phone call for business purpose (META). As compared to disadvantages, email offers several advantages which make it more popular with business fraternity. Corporate houses believe email to be the strongest communication link within and out of the organization.
• It helps to disseminate information quickly, efficiently and effectively to their clients and to other operating units of the business.
• It facilitates more open and direct communication channel with all stakeholders. The client feedback mechanism of blog is much stronger than email or website and thus it helps in better understanding of clients. Thus, in longer run, blog is more effective business communication tool as compared to email or website.
• It helps in reduction of cost for communication with clients and other stakeholders.
• It helps in collaboration from various workgroups situated geographically at remote places. Some of the case studies of Google, Microsoft and Adobe can be read at http://www.scribd.com/doc/2385513/Blog-as-a-Business-Communication-Tool. It proves how effective is blog for collaborative work.
• Blogs can be linked with email and SMS. It helps in instant transmission of information as and when blogs are updated with latest information.
• Blogs are better than Websites because:
o Blogs send instant email or XML feeder as and when blog is updated. The customer has to remember to come to website to see the updates, whereas blogs manage it by sending auto-emails and feeders.
o The feedbacks can be published along with blog which helps other customers to read and it helps in solving their queries. Websites needs to be specially designed for such functions and one has to keep special staff to manage it. Blogs manage it automatically.
o The static websites are like ‘dead brochures’. Blogs give the feel of some person on other side, listening and replying to customers.
o It is less demanding or intrusive for readers, and able to reach a wider audience. Multimedia emails consumes lots of time in downloading and viewing. Receiver gets bored of managing bulky mails. Blogs do not give such botheration to receiver. The links of blogs can be shared and thus it can reach wider audiences.
• Though blogs are more user-friendly than websites, still it requires skilled hand to make optimum out of it. Ignorance on part of clients is disadvantageous to business houses in effectively communicating with them through blogs.
• As with all modern tools, lack of infrastructure in remote areas is one of the biggest obstacles in reaching out to rural market through blogs.
With all its limitations, blog is becoming quite popular among the business as well as common people. And marketing gurus are going to make hay while the sun shines – they are encashing its popularity by making innovative use of blogs for various business related communications.
• The chances of instant feedback are also far better with SMS replies rather than email, blog or website.
• From marketing to spreading awareness or getting opinion from customers, none can beat SMS. However, busy person is, it surely gets time to peep into mobile device whenever it beeps for incoming SMS.
• The SMS ensures less spam, it is cost effective and time saving.
• It is helpful in market campaign, promotion of product, survey and voting.
• For advance version of smart phones which are GPRS enabled, there are again immense possibilities. It helps in viewing websites, blogging and mailing. Thus, such mobile stands quite ahead of other modern tools in its utility.
• The software applications installed in such smart devices helps in ecommerce, paying utility bills, fund transfers etc which cannot be handled by email or blogs.
• Some of the smart mobile devices are VoIP enabled. They can be connected through WLAN for hi-speed internet which helps them in transmission of voice and video over internet connection.
• The 3G enabled phones synergize all the facilities of video calling, websites, blogs and emails in one single device.
• The ban on unwanted SMS and mobile calls may be disadvantageous to business houses.
• The infrastructure for WLAN or 3G is still at primary level and it may take long time in spreading its penetration in towns and rural places.
• So far as SMS based communication is concerned, it has better opportunities but GPRS and software application based smart devices has its limitations. The cost of devices is normally higher for common man and ignorance of using such device also pose problems for such communication channels.
Mobile devices can be used in business to increase flexibility, speed up communication for faster business decisions and contribute to an efficient and organized communication network. The 3G enabled mobile device can turn the phone into mobile business centre. Thus, mobile phones are fast moving business communication tools which in days to come may beat laptops, computers, PDAs etc to win the race and become the best business communication tools.
• It also helps in conducting meeting or video conferencing (if webcam is also connected) with various work groups from various parts of the globe. The only condition is that they all should be connected with internet.
• VoIP is also available on smart mobile phones. It really integrates business needs and optimizes business communication.
• It requires both or all the concerned people to get connected to internet through laptop or smart mobile device. It may be difficult for the travelling sales person or executive to have hi-speed internet connectivity wherever he goes.
• The internet must be of good speed and should not get disconnected in between the conversation.
• The lack of infrastructure in remote places may be biggest disadvantage for VoIP.
• They an also exchange images, videos, presentation files among each other.
• Not only that, they can make calls and have group discussion or meeting also.
• It converges email, VoIP and SMS into one mode of communication. The chat conversation can be saved and if the other person/s is/are not online, even offline messages can be sent. Thus is fulfills the functions of email. As we can talk, it fulfills the function of VoIP. Just like texting SMS, we can send and receive small messages in chat applets, it satisfies the needs of SMS also.
• It is very effective tool in problem solving as IMs provides instant responses.
• Its compliance with mobile phones gives more power. Just like SMS, people remain constantly connected through IMs.
• The reliability of chat conversation is much less than email or blog.
• For using it as serious problem solving tool, companies prefer to have scheduled chatting over IMs. But that delimits its real potential and hence people prefer to email or comment on blog or contact through website, rather than waiting for pre-scheduled timing to chat their grievances and queries with company..
Thus, IMs / Chat Applets have its own share of advantages and disadvantages as modern business communication tool. Though, it is still used by teenagers for killing time, several business houses have realized its potential to woo teenage customers and are making effective use of it in establishing essential communication links with younger generation.
At the end, the discussion on modern business communication tools may seem incomplete if social networking sites are not mentioned. Social Networking Sites (SNS) is defined by www.thefreedictionary.com in following terms:
“a web site that provides a virtual community for people interested in a particular subject or just to "hang out" together. Members create their own online "profile" with biographical data, pictures, likes, dislikes and any other information they choose to post. They communicate with each other by voice, chat, instant message, videoconference and blogs, and the service typically provides a way for members to contact friends of other members.”
Primarily, the "social networking site" is the 21st century "virtual community," a group of people who use the Internet to communicate with each other about anything and everything. One can find dating sites, friendship sites, and sites with a business purpose and hybrids that offer a combination of these. The popular SNS are Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, etc. The corporate houses have realized the power and potential of popular SNS.
Now-a-days, there are several companies having their twitter account and they create trail of ‘followers’. They tweet to market their product and services. The customers can ‘retweet’ and have discussion, ask questions and have two way communications with the company through twitter. The companies also have their pages and groups / communities on Facebook and Orkut. They make optimum use of free space provided by these SNS to have their website or blog like pages and also woo customers over such web platforms. In fact, they make use of such SNS for linking their blogs, websites and other communication channels. The advantage of having SNS is that it gives opportunity to companies to reach wider audience and it is again free of cost. It gives customers to reach the company without wasting much of their time and money.
Note: The resources from following websites is used at several places in the above article.
• META. http://www.mariosalexandrou.com/technology-trends/2003/80-percent-of-users-prefer-email.asp
• Dellow, James. For better, or worse: Living with e-mail in the workplace http://www.box.net/shared/6k8cx93sws
• http://www.movabletype.org/documentation/ business-blogging/comparing-blogs.html