The shockwaves of last month’s vote to leave the European Union are still rippling through the UK’s business community, with the outcome of Brexit still far from clear. This is particularly an issue for UK companies who do large amounts of business abroad and depend on customers in not just the UK, but across the EU. Businesses have to adjust to a new reality without much information on what lies next. Many are also re-evaluating how technology might help them navigate the uncharted waters ahead. What is increasingly clear is that businesses need to use technology to plan not just for the future they expect, but also for one they might not.
Brexit: Headache or opportunity?
It would be a real shame indeed if the UK’s decision to leave the EU meant that British businesses retreated from their customers or clients abroad. The recent fall of the value of the pound to a 30-year low against the dollar may cause headaches for certain sections of the UK’s economy, but it also creates a huge opportunity for exporters who now find their goods much more competitive abroad, as well as the UK’s tourism industry. Now is the time for UK businesses to make the most of their customers and clients abroad and show them that Britain is very much still open for business.
What may well change after the UK’s official departure from the EU, is how best to provide customer service abroad. With a falling pound and a potentially more complicated system of relocating employees abroad within the EU, UK businesses may be less inclined to establish or maintain offices overseas. Some businesses might instead make the decision to centralise their efforts in the UK to serve their customers around the world.
The problem, however, remains that most people want to feel like the customer service they receive is local and relevant. When we really think about it, most of us would think twice about calling a support phone number if it had an international dialling code, or would not even make the decision to buy from that company in the first place. People don’t want to get stung with expensive international calling charges or risk ending up speaking with someone who doesn’t understand their particular complaint.
Transforming your customer service
Fortunately, advances in telecoms technology can help. Gone are the days when a telephone line actually meant a single fixed copper line. With next generation voice over IP solutions, making calls over data connections delivers much greater flexibility and allows businesses to adapt in a world of sudden uncertainty caused by, say, a referendum to leave the EU.
For companies looking to scale down remote offices and run more services from the UK, having voice calls delivered over data is useful in two ways. The first is that it’s scalable. Unlike old ISDN lines, installing extra phone lines for new employees doesn’t mean waiting months having to install any new cables or dig up your car park. The second is that it allows much greater flexibility when it comes to what phone numbers you can provide.
As already mentioned, when your customers or clients take the step to pick up the phone and speak to your business, they expect someone who can actually help them on the end of the line. Either rightly or wrongly, many people also equate this to being local – people want to think they’re speaking to someone down the road. By using voice over IP and SIP solutions, businesses can offer phone numbers not just to different countries around the world, but to specific regions. Businesses can have their cake and eat it, offering local services while also consolidating their workforce back in the UK.
While the value of the pound may continue to sink, decisions will be made in boardrooms across Britain which might ultimately lead to the winding down of satellite offices and the relocation of staff back to the UK. Even weeks later, the outcome of the referendum is unclear, and it will be many more before we know what form Brexit will take. However, while uncertainty continues to shroud the future, businesses should look to any big structural changes as an opportunity to modernise their telecoms and overseas customer service. Brexit will not be the last (somewhat) unexpected event to hit businesses in the UK. Any technology you put in place should therefore not just be ready for the future you anticipate, but also for the future you might not.
Duncan Gooding, Director of Enterprise and Direct Sales at TalkTalk Business