Small businesses have faced a year of uncertainty, but with news of a vaccine coming to the UK, they may finally have a reason to be cheerful. However, it is important for SMBs to acknowledge lessons learnt from the pandemic, and ensure they’re not reverting back to bad habits.
New research by 8×8 uncovers the key concerns that more than 1,000 small and medium-sized business employees faced while working during the Covid-19 pandemic. They cite concerns around customer service, worries about their mental health and that of their colleagues, and a lack of productivity as high on the list of challenges they faced.
The customer conundrum
Employees are concerned for the businesses they work for, with many considering how their employers can do better to succeed long term. Over half (54%) of SMB employees believe that more frequent communication with customers is key to the survival of their company.
Yet, just 39% say that their company now prioritises customer service more than previously. Given how reliant customers are on businesses to be flexible and understanding during this difficult time, this is something all organisations must address.
Even more concerningly, over a third of employees (36%) now believe it’s more difficult to communicate with customers since the pandemic began – with almost a fifth (19%) of SMB employees feeling that their customer service has not evolved or improved due to Covid-19 and working from home.
According to data from McKinsey, a third of Europeans say a brand’s purpose is now more important to them than it was before the crisis. Failing to prioritise customer needs during the pandemic means they may not return after.
Customers were forgiving at the beginning of lockdown earlier this year, but now, they expect companies of all sizes to have adjusted to the new normal. Communication needs to be seamless, both with customers and between colleagues as remote working continues. Getting this right is the first step SMBs can take to ensuring they are repaying their customers’ continued loyalty and trust, and in doing so, support their own survival, and even growth.
Productivity is on the rise, but having effective communication tools would improve it
It’s not just customer communications that have changed during the pandemic. How colleagues communicate with one another has had to evolve virtually overnight, as have many other standard working practices.
Only 45% of respondents reported that they are more productive whilst working from home, and a similar percentage (43%) have reported that, since the pandemic started, they have been working longer hours.
Fewer than half (47%) feel that the communication tools their company has in place are helping them do their own job more efficiently, with 44% of SMB employees believing that, with effective communication tools, productivity would be the most improved business challenge.
As the country looks to rebuild its economy following the pandemic, SMBs that improve their output and productivity will bring benefits not only to staff and customers, but also to the wider economy and local communities.
SMB employees at risk of burnout
The prospect of a recovery will be music to the ears of the whole nation. Employees who have had to make dramatic changes to how they work extra hours, to help keep their businesses alive will be particularly enthusiastic about the idea of potentially returning to a more normal way of working.
While working remotely, the top three most pressing employee concerns were their personal mental health and that of their colleagues (45%), safety in the physical workplace, (37%) and being able to work effectively under lockdown restrictions (35%).
This was all set against the backdrop of other challenges encountered while working from home, which include distractions (30%), trying to balance work and family life (29%) and getting into a working frame of mind at home (27%).
Despite almost three quarters (72%) of SMB employees agreeing that being able to communicate frequently is essential to the success of their team, almost a third (30%) do not feel more connected to their business and colleagues since lockdown.
The switch to working from home has had a profound impact on all office workers, but for those working for SMBs, the transition has been particularly tough. The experience of working remotely has revealed the power of conversation, whether that is in ensuring the latest safety information gets to the right people, or in keeping customer relationships strong at a time when so many business owners are fighting to keep operations running.
What next for SMBs?
As the workforce once again shifts, SMBs need to look for partners who can help them navigate the new normal; whatever that looks like. Enabling great conversations – both with colleagues and customers – is key for success. Businesses should look for three key elements:
- Simplicity: In the fast paced world of SMBs, simplicity is key. Bringing in multiple products from different vendors can soon get complicated, so choosing a solution that’s fully integrated is key.
- Scalability: One thing the pandemic has taught us is that the future isn’t certain. While the end appears to be in sight, we can’t be sure. A communications solution should be flexible and scalable enough for both growth and streamlining.
- Reliability: SMBs need to know that their partner won’t let them down. Solutions that are self-contained are easier to fix, should something go wrong. Ensuring you have a team of experts partnering with you is also key.
The future may be uncertain, but SMBs should take this opportunity to make their business resilient against whatever economic uncertainty lies ahead.