It’s no secret that communication is critical for business success. In fact, it’s for this very reason that more and more companies are turning to cloud communication tools as a way to better meet the needs of modern employees and customers. Cloud communication tools like email, instant messaging, VoIP and WebRTC services ultimately offer a number of benefits over other, traditional services, including greater flexibility and cost savings, among others.
Given these benefits, cloud services have become particularly attractive for startups, which need the ability to scale quickly, and on a budget. But considering how many cloud communication tools are out there, most entrepreneurs don’t have the luxury of time to spend searching for the right one. That’s not to mention the added challenge of having to test each of the tools when already wearing so many hats.
Fortunately, by knowing what to look for, you can make the process of finding the right cloud communication software for your business faster and easier. Here are the most important things to consider:
High integrability and customization
Today, all companies rely on data to help them make informed business decisions. However, no company uses one system for everything. Modern businesses have vast digital infrastructures with separate systems for email, phone, customer relationship management, accounting and more. What this means is that data is often spread out between systems, and is not available at employees’ fingertips when they most need it during conversations with colleagues or clients.
Therefore, in order to maximize efficiency and productivity, look for cloud communication tools that have the ability to integrate and share data across platforms. Instant messaging platform, Slack, does a great job of this, as its open API allows developers to customize the solution to each company’s specific needs. For our own internal use, for example, we have customized Slack to send alerts each time a new customer signs up, a lead subscribes to our blog or a colleague schedules a meeting, among other triggers.
You should also be able to integrate multiple communication solutions together. For example, video communication tool, Zoom, offers a Slack add-on that makes it easy to schedule video conferences from within the instant messaging service.
Intuitive user experience
While high integrability is a key attribute of any good cloud communication tool, this doesn’t mean that good solutions should be complicated to use. The best solutions are those with simple, intuitive user experiences. In fact, the more functionality a system has, the more this matters. Ironically, this is where most cloud communication providers fail.
As a founder, a good practice is to sign up for a free trial and play around with the system yourself. If you are very tech savvy, then make sure to invite a few less tech savvy co-workers to also use the platform for a week or two, before committing to use a product. After all, it’s your IT guy who will be helping the employees when they run into trouble, and the easier a product is to use, the less support he will be doing. Time is money.
A prime example of an intuitive interface is Google’s Inbox extension for Gmail, which makes daily email workflow a breeze. It’s essentially a stripped down version of Gmail, focusing on what’s most important for email: reading, sending and making sure you don’t miss anything. Other good cloud communication tools should be similarly easy to use.
Regular updates and improvements
Along the same lines of providing a good user experience, cloud communication providers should also regularly update the service, fixing bugs and adding features based on user feedback. Sometimes you don’t know what new features are going to make your experience better, which is the benefit of finding a provider that constantly updates and releases new features.
Accordingly, look for a provider that releases new features once to twice per year, along with mobile updates and bug fixes at least every month. A product that doesn’t develop new features is either a sign that the owners have moved on (perhaps it was acquired by another company that doesn’t funnel and prioritize resources), or that the product is in such bad shape that all of the team’s time goes to fixing bugs. Either way, it’s a sign to stay away from these products.
Commitment to data security
Data security has always been important, but with the GDPR recently having come into effect, it’s arguably more important than ever; especially considering the hefty fines for businesses that don’t comply. As such, your provider should be willing to sign a data processing agreement (DPA) with you as part of this new requirement.
However, GDPR is really the minimum level of compliance you should look for in a communication provider. Any company that discusses customer payment information over the phone, email, chat or any other form of communication, should check to make sure their cloud communication provider is PCI compliant. And if you’re handling medical data, you’d want them to be HIPAA compliant, too.
A good provider of cloud communication software will make sure that all data is encrypted at transit, at rest and while stored. While the last two are hard to check, a good start is to ask which company the provider uses to host its services. If it uses Amazon Web Services (AWS), for example, that’s a good sign because AWS has some of the highest security measures possible, and boasts various compliance certifications. A bad provider, on the other hand, might only encrypt data in transit, and not protect against unauthorized access to their data stores.
Transparent and fair pricing
While many providers would be hesitant to admit it, the truth is that certain businesses can get away with the free communication solutions that are on the market. Skype and Google, for example, both work well for some businesses; particularly those that are early in their life cycles and are still building their products, or have recently launched. However, when it comes to actually communicating with customers, these solutions typically won’t cut it.
In my opinion, a business should pay close attention to its image in everything that is customer-facing, from its phone systems to its business cards, because, at the end of the day, the way your customers perceive you and your product sets the bar for the size of orders you’ll get, how much you can charge, and so on.
For most services, the level of customer support is a critical consideration. However, when it comes to cloud communication tools, customer support is (contrary to what you may believe) really a secondary concern. Ultimately, if you do the due diligence of finding a tool that works well and is user-friendly following the criteria above, it shouldn’t require too much technical support. After all, this is one of the main things that makes SaaS products like cloud communication tools so unique and attractive for startups.