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Two and a bit years later, the idea of “normal” remains a bit of a grey area for many SMEs, argues Ryan Cohen from Merchant Capital. He believes the biggest lesson SMEs can take from Covid-19 is how to shape the best “new normal’ for themselves – and that starts with finding the best way to add value to customers, staff and partners alike.
It seems like a lifetime ago that we entered what we thought would be a quick lockdown, and then get back to business as usual. Two and a bit years later, the idea of “normal” remains a bit of a grey area for many SMEs.
We lost many things during Covid. We lost friends and loved ones. Many lost their businesses and livelihoods. We lost the ability to really connect with people face to face. You can Zoom and Teams all you like, and in many cases, it’s quick and efficient. But I’ve seen first-hand in the past few months that you just can’t beat the value of in-person contact.
Covid changed many businesses
To use the language of the pandemic, we ‘pivoted’. Sit-down restaurants started deliveries. Retailers moved online. Businesses transitioned to remote working. Everyone started using technology more effectively. And now that we’re moving cautiously to a mask-free post-pandemic reality, businesses are asking: should we go back to the way we were?
For me, there are three choices. One, you can pivot back to a pre-Covid reality. Two, you can stay with the new reality. Or three – and this is the camp that I sit in – we can forge a new hybrid approach to life and business that combines the best of both worlds.
Let’s face it, certain things won’t change back. Remote working is here to stay, and the surge in e-commerce isn’t going to slow down. But the biggest lesson we can take out of Covid is how to shape the best ‘new normal’ for ourselves – and that starts with finding the best way to add value to our customers, staff and partners alike.
Say you’re fully back in the office, but you’re struggling to get to everything because you’re losing two hours a day to traffic and commuting. Why not do high-value meetings face to face, and the rest by Teams or Zoom?
If you’re seeing strong growth in your e-commerce channels, don’t stop leaning into your brick and mortar operations. Commerce is commerce, no matter where it happens – and if you’re able to create a dual approach, you’ll be able to build a more multi-dimensional and robust business in the process.
SMEs adding best possible value
It all comes down to one fundamental question: how you add the most value possible to your customers and partners? Don’t turn off e-commerce because people are shopping in-store again: use the opportunity to cross and upsell. Don’t stop food deliveries because people are dining out again: find ways to create a great experience, regardless of whether they’re eating in their living room or your restaurant.
Convenience is important. But great customer experiences are the future, whether they’re delivered in-person or virtually. If you can ensure your business is optimally equipped to service and support the requirements of an ever-evolving customer, you’ll be well on the road to success.
My point is this. The world isn’t binary. You don’t have to choose one approach, or the other. In fact, finding a blended approach is likely to enable you to do the simple things at scale using technology or remote working, while freeing you up to nurture the relationships that really matter in your business and your life. Now that’s a win we can all get behind.
- Ryan Cohen is the chief relationship officer at Merchant Capital providing business funding for SMEs in South Africa.