Emerging successfully from an economic downturn and global pandemic is no easy feat, especially if you are an SME business without large cash reserves to see you through. How do entrepreneurs combat these difficult times and come out the other side relatively unscathed?
Warren Bonheim, MD of Zinia, a leading ICT and telecoms provider, shares his strategies for success that have seen Zinia thrive through tough times.
Embrace customer reviews
Word of mouth has to a certain extent been digitised with many customers often deciding who to contact off of google and social media reviews. This strategy embraces transparency by asking customers to go public with their experience across digital platforms.
Bonheim says feedback directly from the mouths of the customer has a unique way of driving a culture of continuous improvement and dedication to customer excellence.
By focusing on customer experience as a priority in your business, you can determine if you are delivering on your service promise or not. Simply asking what your customers are saying about your business also allows you to benchmark your service and find a starting point to improve. However, exposing your business by actively seeking out customer reviews is not without risk.
“Opening your business up to customer feedback is daunting because there is absolutely no control over what people will say,” says Bonheim. “In addition, it is human nature to criticize and not take the time to give positive feedback.”
Whilst this approach may open a business up to negative reviews, these reviews allow business decision-makers to create targeted intervention programmes to improve their services that are far more resource-efficient in the long run.
Invest in people and service
During tough times leaders may seek to cut costs through their wage bill. However, making a strategic decision to not carry out retrenchments may be better as it allows you to protect the livelihood of employees who make a high level of customer service possible.
This also proves that you are loyal to your employees, preserving employee satisfaction and motivation which leads to a productive and positive company culture.
Zinia made the decision to stand by their employees and demonstrate their commitment to personalized service by limiting retrenchment during the Lockdown. They also improved the customer experience by incorporating easy to understand tools, sales documents, processes, checks, SLAs, and customer satisfaction surveys to make dealing with the company effortless. In the same way, links to provide customer feedback are readily available at a variety of touchpoints, making it easy for customers to share their thoughts.
Getting buy-in from executive-level members is also imperative to implementing these strategies. Reviews both positive and negative should be monitored regularly by executive level company members. This allows positive reviews and the employees responsible for them to be given validation and recognition. Negative reviews can be investigated and the challenge properly identified – be it in processes, people, or systems – to inform future strategies on how to improve the business.
Bonheim says, “When we get a positive review everyone at Zinia celebrates, and when we get a negative one, we see it as an opportunity to learn. It is difficult not to take a negative review personally at Zinia because every staff member is so passionate about customer service. However, we know we are doing something right when 97% of our customers rate us a 4 out of 5 and above for service excellence.”
Creating a positive service culture internally through internal communication initiatives and leading by example is essential. After all, if your company members don’t believe in what you are doing you will struggle to implement any strategy within the company.
Another strategic decision that paid off for Zinia was investing in a digitization strategy in 2018 that carefully considered which key business processes could be automated to support, manage, and sustain the businesses growth.
Automation has an incredible capacity to drive efficiencies and ensure that customer service is not compromised by lightening some of the manual administrative load. Investments in IT systems, customer engagement and ticketing, productivity monitoring and more, allowed Zinia to remain strong during 2020 when other businesses struggled.
The leader’s investment in an IT managed services platform known as ZMS allowed them to virtually manage their customer’s IT and network environments; improve efficiency and productivity of their own internal resources; proactively service their customers and minimise their downtime.
Effective digitisation has the benefit of allowing a company to be flexible and pivot according to challenges, big or small, that they may face. During a crisis situation like the pandemic, a solid digital infrastructure allows for remote working when needed, providing everything that the employee needs – internet, access to business systems, telephony and so on – so they can work productively.
Any good business strategy should focus on implementing the systems and controls necessary for the company to scale and provide the flexibility to react quickly. In Zinia’s case, their combination of systems and entrepreneurial flair allowed their team to quickly investigate the implications and opportunities within the crises when international rumours of a lockdown first began.
This resulted in the company being ready for lockdown with remote working solutions that included hosted VoIP (Voice over IP) PBX and custom productivity tools that could be delivered virtually. These solutions answered a very real business need in the market: How to manage employee’s remote activities and identify operational inefficiencies, productivity trends and prevent any IT security risks of remote working.
Embracing a digital way of interacting includes benefits such as increased sales activity and output of work, reduced travelling costs, reduced time spent travelling, reduced printing costs and so on.
Using these business strategies above can combat downturns in the economy, provide consistent feedback on business health and help clients trust organisations that deliver value in today’s world. Creativity and innovation are key to running any business, but especially in rapidly changing climates, they can make or break your success.
Businesses with strong growth strategies, forward-thinking decision-makers and positive workplace culture are emerging from the pandemic stronger than ever. Whilst many will agree that a fully work from home approach is not sustainable, with the correct strategy and investment in infrastructure we can effectively marry in office and work from home scenarios and create more resilient companies, with leaner operating models and more positive culture that recognise and support the human element of successful businesses.