During the pandemic, small and medium businesses developed new survival skills. They learned to adapt to new rules and regulations, manage supply chain shortages, and create environments that motivate employees—all while continuing to serve customers and grow their business. Those who emerged stronger than ever implemented agile and modern technology tools that streamlined business operations and served customers in the best way possible.
Businesses discovered new ways to connect with customers.
Many industries expanded their online presence and found innovative ways to keep business moving forward. Healthcare organizations implemented technology tools that allowed patients to meet with physicians from the comfort of their own home—preventing a lapse of necessary care and opening opportunities to those who found it difficult to visit facilities even before the pandemic began. Realtors who were deeply affected by social restrictions also created 3D virtual tours online and met with customers virtually.
When Bristol Dental Specialists set up its first virtual consultation with a prospective patient, it was skeptical that a video meeting could rival the experience of an in-person consultation. However, it found that it was the perfect way of triaging. “I can get to know a patient and set their expectations for treatment before they even set foot in the office,” Dr. Adrian Watts says. “Meeting first … makes us more productive. When a patient steps into the room after a virtual consultation, we are already up to speed.” As a result, the dental office is working together better than ever to provide patients with a personalized experience that sets them apart from the competition.
Priority Bicycles was just gaining momentum when COVID-19 sent the young business in an unexpected direction. “After celebrating six years in business, the pandemic hit and suddenly our business fell off a cliff,” says Dave Weiner, Founder and CEO. The retailer created a virtual showroom that brought in customers from around the world. “The experience has helped us create connections with customers we wouldn’t have reached in the past, as well as provide great customer service to our existing customers. Every customer who has a virtual visit with us either buys a bike or sends a follow-up telling us how much fun it was to chat with us and see the showroom.”
House of Lilac, a flower company, relied on e-commerce and not only continued serving its customers but expanded its product line to include more-shippable products, dried florals, and more. Technology also helped the company’s founder, Melanie, to build a following on social media. Melanie’s women followers were captivated by her insights as a mother running a business. As a result, she established the Flower Club where women receive weekly emails empowering them in some way—growing the business beyond creative design and florals to hosting a community that brings women together.
Businesses also found new ways for employees to work together.
Employees whose workspaces went from a dedicated physical environment to spare bedrooms and sofas at home felt a loss of connection and focus—and with nearly two job openings for every job seeker, finding ways to improve employee wellbeing became paramount. Businesses that created collaborative work environments increased employee morale and kept business moving forward. This included storing documents in the cloud for team collaboration, which saved time emailing documents back and forth; and most especially, conducting video calls to stay connected and share information and experiences—including business meetings, coffee chats, and morale events that helped employees feel engaged and fulfilled.
Tony’s Chocolonely, a Dutch chocolatier who aimed to end slavery in the cocoa industry, made sure that employees stayed connected to every part of the supply chain by setting up remote work sessions, sharing live documents that project teams could author simultaneously, and organizing themed meetings to make work interaction fun. They also championed employee-organized moral events such as virtual book clubs and digital happy hours. For a company that is “serious about people,” using tools like Microsoft Teams helps Tony’s build a workplace that puts employees first. “That’s what motivates us to keep doing this work,” says Iller Drachman. “We’re all connected to achieve our goals, one chocolate bar at a time.”
The Australian nonprofit, Cahoots, who serves people with disabilities, grew its team during the pandemic—doubling in size in just three months. They were able to attract new superstars to their team and work with people they wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. Adapting the business while simultaneously hiring new staff required nonstop collaboration between Cahoots team members, and the right tools, to not only accomplish more but to become more inclusive and stay uniformly aligned on key messaging. Embracing digital tools helped Cahoots extend its reach, empower employees, and increase the organization’s social impact for more families in need. “From an efficiency and an inclusive perspective, working collaboratively on documents is great not just for people living with disabilities, but for people at home caring for children or elderly parents.” says Jess Karlsson, CEO. Today, Cahoots’ employees of all abilities collaborate and contribute to the organization’s success. In addition to company growth and employee empowerment, “Cahoots saved 41 percent of its annual revenue using Microsoft tools to help save on travel costs, meetings, and training. We also avoided loss of revenue by giving everyone the tools to work effectively from home.”
This digital shift is only the beginning.
While COVID-19 presented enormous challenges for all of humanity, it also presented new opportunities that helped many small and medium businesses emerge stronger and more resilient than ever. Many who thrived viewed the accelerated adoption of new technologies as an advantage that helped businesses streamline operations, increase efficiency, reduce costs, offer more-personalized services to customers, and make it easier for employees to work together to achieve more. And the trend continues as the world returns to normal. It is estimated that by 2025, 30 percent of small and medium businesses will shift half of their information to the cloud to drive business agility and future resilience, as well as leverage live-streaming technologies to launch new products and enhance customer experiences.1
To learn more about how Microsoft 365 can help your business, please visit https://aka.ms/Microsoft365-SMB.
1 IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Small and Medium-Sized Business and Digital-Native Business 2023 Predictions