The world of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) is changing fast. New technologies offer companies of any size the ability to level the playing field — if they’re utilized correctly — but that technology is also something of a double-edged sword.

“It's incredibly tough to be a small business,” says David Van Der Steen, senior director of small business marketing at 8x8 Inc., a cloud communications solutions company. “The landscape is changing, competition is everywhere and customer expectations are continually rising as technology advances.”

Collaboration is the key

What many small businesses may not realize is that their own communication processes are the foundation upon which they build customer experiences. Employees need to collaborate with one another in order to effectively engage customers.

“Collaboration is essential for small businesses, regardless of the type of business you have or the industry you are in,” says Van Der Steen. “While collaboration may seem like an ‘internal’ concern, it directly impacts the speed and quality of the customer experience you are able to provide.”

Fast-growing SMBs know the effect communication and collaboration have on their business, and they are willing to invest in technology to reach their business goals. According to SMB research firm Bredin, over 40 percent of fast-growth companies adopt or develop technology aggressively to support success, resulting in improved functionality across the company and increased employee satisfaction and productivity.

Engaging the customer

Through collaboration, the silos that traditionally separate teams are no longer an issue. Knowledge flows more freely, and customer queries are answered much more quickly than at companies where collaboration isn’t a priority.

Van Der Steen sees collaboration as the jumping off point from which SMBs can connect with their customers. “I look at customer engagement from a holistic viewpoint — any interaction between a company and their customers. Customer engagement is a two-way street; you have your customers reaching out to you in the standard kind of fashion, but you've now got a lot of options and opportunities for companies to reach out to customers as well.”

Samuel Wilson, 8x8’s senior vice president of small business & e-commerce, agrees: “To me, customer engagement comes down to ‛treat people as you would want to be treated.’ This is super important for a small business because a small business is flexible and agile, but what it doesn’t have is scale. Where a big business is impersonal, a small business can just be overwhelmed.”

That big-company feel

Wilson sees software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud communications and collaboration as crucial for SMBs trying to drive customer engagement and growth. “The wizardry behind the cloud-based tools is that you can now do big-company customer engagement at the small-company size. And customers are starting to expect that at all levels.”

The good news is these tools are no longer prohibitively expensive. “Today you can provide a lot of services that in the past were deemed high-end at low prices — things like toll-free numbers, video conference calls — for that big-company feel.”

The right partner

For most SMBs, knowing what technology you need to grow quickly is the easy part. The hard part is identifying the right partner to take them there.

“You want a provider that’s stable and has been around for a while,” Van Der Steen advises, “because they’re going to be able to grow with you. The beauty of the SaaS portion is that you can invest in a partner that has those capabilities, and then you can slowly bring them online as your customer base changes.”

For his part, Wilson is eager to discuss what companies like 8x8 can do for small businesses. “We can give you one phone number, with virtual numbers on top of that in 46 countries and 50 states — but they’ll all be ringing where you’re based. To everybody in the world, you look like you’re a local business — you have a website and a local phone number. That’s incredibly powerful.”

Cloud communications can give even the smallest business that big-company feel — if they have the right partner. To learn more about how cloud communications can help your business form the connections that will grow your business to new levels, visit www.8x8.com/smb-collaborate.