Having dealt personally with thousands of businesses who have moved to outsourced communications support, Moneypenny CEO Joanna Swash believes businesses should ‘stick to their knitting’ – that is to do what they’re really good at and get experts in to help with the rest.
Having observed the experience of Moneypenny and companies across many industry sectors who have had to deal with operating restrictions and forced closures and are now picking up the pieces Joanna shares her advice on how to move forward.
How can businesses survive and thrive in this environment?
It’s very easy to maintain the status quo when running a business, but a crisis like Covid-19 leads to change and we have all been forced to be creative, innovative and adaptable. Business leaders will have learnt a lot about their business and their customers, which will prove to be useful knowledge for future business development. It’s more important than ever to analyse your business data pre and post-COVID-19. For example, at Moneypenny, we’ve discovered that despite a boom in the use of social media to contact businesses, the telephone still remains the most important communication method for customers to connect with businesses, as 43%* of businesses say phone calls were even more important during the lockdown.
No-one likes to make cuts in business, but these may be necessary to ensure business survival. Those who enjoy gardening will know that pruning can stimulate new growth. Don’t be afraid to outsource – many businesses might be tempted to make savings by trying to do everything themselves, but it really does pay to outsource certain functions like communications as this can be handled by experts more easily and cost-effectively than you think, leaving your staff free to focus on the things they are good at.
What are the specific challenges posed by a COVID recession, as opposed to any other?
It’s hard to start a list. The magnitude of this change cannot be underestimated. We will have Pre-COVID and Post-COVID comparisons, just as we did pre and post-war. I struggle to see where’s there’s no change. The big one for business practice is communication and interaction. Take Board meetings over video: they work brilliantly. Why would we fly to get together currently? Also the value we place on the true face to face interaction is now priceless.
Rapid changes in pace and scaling up and down is a challenge for any business. It is now more important than ever to respond to customers promptly. People are inherently impatient and as lockdown restrictions are eased further, clients will go back to expecting quick responses to their enquiries and calls. As enquiry levels increase again it will be vital for small businesses to have the resource in place to cope with these demands.
Change is happening so quickly and it is imperative to ensure you can react just as fast. The simple fact is that no person in the world knows what’s coming, but they all agree it involves massive change.
How can businesses counter these?
It would be good to have innovative solutions other than taking your business online. Now is the time to look at what is possible with your team and embrace the new normal. You are their motivation. Your belief and enthusiasm must be strong and under no circumstances is this the time to share tales of woe, hardship or impending doom. If you think the sky’s going to fall in, your team will too and it surely will.
P&L is key, but that this is just good practice. It’s a maintenance job. The most important thing is to empower the people who are driving the business to focus on creating efficiencies at the same time and if this is done well they will step up to the mark. Everyone loves responsibility and an opportunity to shine. The virus has changed the landscape forever. It’s reset and now is the time to speak to your customers and look at what they need and then to respond quickly. For example, when the property market started to open up we realised our clients needed to be able to scale up quickly and in some cases with a smaller workforce. We set up a new service where we are helping them with outgoing calls as well as answering their incoming calls, Digital Switchboards and Live Chats.
Invest in tech
We’ve seen a big increase in businesses using tech during the lockdown, with use of tools like Zoom, Google meets and Microsoft teams booming and this is only going to continue, especially in the communications space. The companies that embrace new techs, such as live chatbots and AI will reap the benefits. Far from removing the human equation from business, our experience has been that tech has stimulated human dialogue, for example, use of Workplace by Facebook by our staff has led to a proliferation of online quizzes, celebrations and info sharing.
What common characteristics do successful SMEs have? Agility, creativity etc? What makes a business resilient?
A passion and drive to succeed and a can-do attitude makes a business resilient. They need to believe in their business 100%and be willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes, being persistent, no matter what.
A key lesson we have learnt at Moneypenny is to recruit people who are better than you at every single aspect of the business. That’s the only way any business can truly scale. If you’re the best recruiter, you’re the best business person there is and when you make mistakes, which you will act quickly. When I meet up with a client, they’re by far the best people to learn from. They like to know that they can influence the business going forward.
How will they retain/win back nervous customers?
People will want reassurance and expertise and even after lockdown is fully eased some uncertainty will continue and reassurance comes from being accessible and efficient around the clock.
Respond to customers promptly
People are inherently impatient and as lockdown restrictions are eased, clients will go back to expecting quick responses to their enquiries and calls. As enquiry levels increase and the world adapts to the new normal it will be vital for SME’s to have the resource in place to cope. We have noticed that call duration has increased during the lockdown and this is largely due to callers craving human interaction, however, life after lockdown might see call durations and volumes return to normal, but our desire for meaningful human interaction will remain.
Treat callers as individuals
A recent Moneypenny survey* showed that 59% of people calling businesses consider being treated as an individual to be more important than the speed at which their needs were met, or an issue resolved. During a pandemic, the need to be heard is more important and the businesses that do it well will be remembered for it. Longer interactions provide more customer insights and it is possible to gauge appetite for a certain product offering, improve the understanding of audience segments and to tailor products and services accordingly. Real people who can show interest, empathy and urgency stand out and make callers feel important and valued.
Finally don’t underestimate the power of the phone for winning new business
Despite a boom in the use of social media to contact businesses, the telephone still remains the most important communication method for customers to connect with businesses in the UK.
We traded through the 2008 downturn well and sustained growth through keeping a glass half full approach. We’re there again. The world’s changed and the losers will be those who don’t embrace that fact and recognise the opportunity. One thing that’s certain is that every business out there has taken stock of where they are and where they’re going. This is a fresh start. People are more open to new ideas, new ways of working and accepting change more so than has ever been the case in our modern history. If ever there was a landscape for opportunity and growth, this is it. Seize it and profit from it.