The COVID 19 pandemic has affected all of us in one way or another, but possibly the hardest hit are small and medium businesses (SMBs) that continue to close shop across the country. Yelp estimates that 60% of the closures due to the pandemic are now permanent.

With jobs lost, businesses shut down, and the economic hardship many now face, many consumers are understandably cautious in terms of spending. Besides, the lockdown and its impact will continue to pose operational challenges to businesses for the next few months. Many business are going into 2021 facing lower consumer spending and continued restrictions on the movement of people.

This brings us to the question –what can really make a difference and help businesses survive the pandemic? The short answer – innovation!

The very entrepreneurial spirit of Americans – adapting to change, overcoming challenges in creative ways, and utilization of available technologies to reduce business disruption – has helped businesses stay afloat in a time when many are sinking fast.

Here are some tips for businesses to overcome the potentially debilitating effects of the pandemic – around 6 focus areas – to not only survive, but create an advantage enabling them to surpass the competition:

  • Revolutionalize the Delivery of Services
  • Leverage Remote Workforce
  • Cloud Transformation
  • Automation
  • Service Innovation
  • Upskill and Leap to Next Level

1.      Revolutionize the Delivery of Services

It’s difficult to predict when the lockdown will end and normalcy will return to everyday business operations. That doesn’t mean you have to close shop and go home. It just means that you must find new ways of serving your clients. And, a variety of establishments are already doing it. Consider these:

  • Restaurants are focusing on take-outs and food ordering apps to serve their customers.
  • Schools are conducting their classes via online video apps. Even ivy league institutes have been doing this for some time now.
  • Fitness trainers are hosting out-of-home workouts for their clients.

The list goes on. The good thing about these options is that these businesses are not inventing new technologies; they are just changing how they operate using available technologies.

2.      Leverage Remote Workforce

Since the beginning of the lockdown, you’ve been likely bombarded with news and social media updates on how other businesses are resorting to a remote workforce to ensure business continuity. Perhaps, you’ve given it some thought too, but are wary of the unknown and uncertainties that come with it. So, here’s some motivation to help you take the plunge:

  • The availability of technologies like Zoom, Google Meet, and other team collaboration apps have made remote working seamless for various employees in roles such as accounting, HR, IT support, and so on.
  • As employees spend more time at home with their loved ones, their productivity is increasing. That’s right, the remote workforce is more productive and happier Clearly, the fears of loss in productivity are now proving to be unfounded.
  • Working from home reduces the employees’ expenses on commute. Employees who witness these savings may deliver better results for the company, driven by higher employee satisfaction.

3.      Cloud Transformation

Cloud transformation was already a hot trend among businesses in every industry and economy worldwide before the pandemic. COVID-19 has only accelerated the adoption of the cloud. Here are some ways the cloud is helping businesses in the times of the pandemic:

  • Improved Resilience

With everyone locked in their homes, internet usage has skyrocketed. However, the people who maintain and upkeep digital technologies in organizations are stuck at home too. So, the digital surge combined with limited maintenance has resulted in increased outages.

Cloud systems offer superior resilience against outages – built-in data backups, recovery tools, and robust security features – that limit disruptions significantly.

  • Improved Scalability

The elastic nature of the cloud makes it possible for organizations to manage unexpected changes in consumer demand seamlessly and effortlessly. They can scale their digital resources up or down to match the consumer demand and pay only for the resources they utilize.

  • Improved Data-driven Innovation

The cloud is designed for data. It offers organizations powerful data manipulation tools they can utilize to extract highly useful insights from their consumer data. They can improve their existing products, develop new ones, or target new markets or audiences based on these insights. The potential is unlimited.

There are several more benefits of cloud that have made it a powerful enabler of business, even pre-pandemic:

4.      Automation

Automation is enabling businesses to streamline their operations and simultaneously improve customer satisfaction. Chatbots, for instance, allow businesses to engage their audiences in natural, human-like conversations. They offer quick, accurate, and timely responses to your potential customers, and even guide them through the purchase journey.

Likewise, robot process automation (RPA) can be used to automate a sizeable number of repetitive, low-level tasks, thereby freeing up your precious resources to focus on what really matters.

Another more common example of automation is self-service checkouts. Solutions like chatbots and self-service checkouts offer a win-win solution for both consumers and businesses. The increased customer satisfaction, lower costs of operations, and enhanced performance all add up to fuel your revenues.

5.      Service Innovation

A bit of creativity can go a long way in attracting previously ignored customers. For instance, meal buckets like Family Specials, Friends Specials, Weekend Combos, etc. can fetch high-value, low-volume orders from both current and new customers for restaurants.

McDonalds, for instance, has gone all out on its drive-thru and digital experience push. As part of its digital push, it has installed new point of sale (POS) systems that allow its customers to browse the menu, select items, make payment, and place an order with zero in-store contact. This minimizes the risk of infection, while demonstrating to their customers that the company cares about their health.

Likewise, fitness centers can use fitness apps to track their customers’ exercise regimen daily and offer them personalized advice. Such a personalized experience can go a long way in winning the loyalty of customers.

6.      Upskill and Leap to Next Level

For many businesses that witness frenzied activity during non-pandemic times, the lockdown can be a terrific opportunity to undertake the business improvement projects they’ve been putting off due to time crunch.

Free and premium online learning resources like Coursera, Datacamp, Codecademy, EDX, FuturLearn, and several others offer basic to specialized courses on almost everything under the sun. Upskilling your staff allows you to target new customers, new markets, and new needs of the consumers. You may emerge out of this lockdown stronger.

Conclusion

These are not normal times. Businesses cannot continue to operate as they did under normal times and expect to come out unscathed. As it goes, they must undertake desperate measures, exercise their creativity, and transform their business to generate new avenues of revenue. They must reinvent how they do business.

To examine more cloud-driven opportunities for your business and identify new sources of revenue, get in touch.

-Mir Ali, Field CTO

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