Can technology save Small and Medium Enterprises?

‘The new normal’ of today’s pandemic has very quickly added Zoom and Microsoft Teams to our lexicon. While we have gone past (thankfully) from the earlier days of hoarding toilet paper from a supermarket run, we also seem to be forcefully embracing online ordering (online grocery sales increased 75% in May 2020 and added 1.6 million new digital shoppers, more than in the last 5 years) and digital payments.

Call it the power of adaptation but many businesses today are seeking new ways of adopting technologies to survive or dare one say, even thrive.

In a likely era where face to face customer meetings will be rare, negotiating with your suppliers will be on a video conference, weekly staff meetings are zoom invites – what should businesses do to grow, to thrive?

Our work with our clients is strongly pointing to the need for adopting a wholesale approach to making businesses digital. Such a company keeps a steady eye on their customer needs and habits, looks at every function with a digital lens and then attempts to integrate them all into a digital enterprise.

We’d like to offer the blueprint of such a fully digital enterprise:

Sales

Adopt digital approaches to generating demand such as web campaigns, social media outreach programmes and e-promotions. Use video clips to show how you can solve your customer’s problems and then link these campaigns into a consistent call to action by directing customers to your ecommerce site. Promise a delivery time to your customers and take payments online (especially if you are B2C business). As your sales increase measure which campaigns or channels are generating more leads and then increase investments in those channels, while reducing spend on others.

Slerp (London based startup) provides an easy to deploy ecommerce platform with services to get a small and medium enterprise become an online player. They’ve seen a 5x increase in their revenues the last 4 months.

Order Fulfilment

The recent surge in online delivery is a testament of changing consumer habits and expectations. Taking orders is good but not being able to deliver them on time can cost you customers and goodwill. A robust order fulfilment system is a must. Work with your shipping and logistics providers who will in today’s time be willing to promise guaranteed delivery times (even if they take a day longer than before). Place an expectation on your suppliers to electronically integrate shipping and delivery notices with your systems so that you have real-time visibility of incoming stock. Ensure you are able to clearly tell your customer when they should expect their order to reach them and how to trace their packages.

Vos Voco, a technology upstart, is building tools that help enterprises improve quality of delivery and automate reordering and fulfilment processes.

Customer Support

If you run a call centre give your support reps easy and quick access to customer orders and complaints information when helping customers. Explore digital interactions with your customers using cost-effective methods like chatbot services that can easily handle 70% of standard questions that your customers typically need help with – reducing your call centre expenses while improving customer experience as your customers get quicker answers. Explore modern analytical tools like ‘customer sentiment analysis’ to get insights into what your customers are saying about your product or services, rectify those product issues and then run a digital campaign letting your customers know you have heard them and taken action on their recommendations. This so called closed-loop customer interaction system is known to improve net promoter scores (NPS) manifold.

Employee management

While working from home isn’t new the pandemic has sufficiently proven that it is not only practical but also desirable. Work from home reduces commute time, lowers costs of absenteeism and improves employee wellbeing. A large insurance company has implemented a virtual coffee morning session where staff are matched based on work interests and paired up to get to know each other over a zoom session – thus improving internal networks. Many companies have signed up for inexpensive enterprise mobile applications that provide physical health and wellbeing support such as online group cardio exercises that can be done at lunch time from home. Microsoft 365 and Google docs are increasingly being used as document collaboration tools. Use electronic signatures, offered by numerous companies, and you have legally valid supplier or customer contracts ready for dispatch.

Backoffice Operations

If you are in the cash and carry business being able to accept digital payments will remove any impediments and cost of taking cash from your customers. Becoming a digital enterprise will help with filing your corporate taxes. Imbibe the culture of moving away from paper (receipts, orders, contracts) and you will find operational expense reduction sources that could pleasantly surprise you. Collaborate with your accountants online and sign up for SaaS based financial software management solutions (like Xero and others)

Clearly none of this is easy. Yet every business, however small, has the opportunity to critically assess what their strategic priorities are in this environment – and begin a progressive approach to digitalisation.

Technology won’t save all but might help businesses become more resilient to future upheavals.

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