8x8 Small Business Virtual Forum blog November 2020

Work during lockdown – a look back at the big conversation with small businesses 

The 8x8 Small Business Virtual Forum took place towards the end of last year, giving like-minded business owners a chance to connect with each other and share their experiences during these unprecedented times. 

Hosted by Chris Angus, Senior Director at 8x8, we were joined by panelists Paul Maleary, Managing Director of Ex-Job, and Anna Elliot, Sales and Marketing Director for Eversfield Organic Ltd. The session focused on discussing the highs and lows this year has brought with it and offered business owners advice on how to keep their operations running smoothly in 2021.

Discussion highlights:

Caring for customers

With a surge in phone orders, Eversfield Organic needed to minimise lengthy call queue wait times. “We quickly expanded our customer care team to meet the increase in demand,” Anna explains. “People are happy to wait for a delivery slot, but they don’t want to wait in a call queue for too long. We’ve adopted the 8x8 phone system, so our customer care executives can continue to support the phone lines, even when working from home.”

Key takeaway: Plan ahead for peaks and troughs in demand (both for people and technology), and always put the customer first.

Building your brand muscle – even when times are tough!

Working in recruitment, Paul found the start of lockdown challenging at times: “Work fell away and contracts were canceled – so I started a volunteer group. Within no time we had 2000 people – and it’s now up to over 7000 people across the UK. We did everything, from taking a mother of a 12-week premature baby to and from hospital, to collecting the tins for the Poppy Appeal. Ex-Job Community Volunteers is an extension of our existing brand – so it worked out well for us too. Even when we weren’t doing so well, we continued to strengthen our brand through offering our support to the community – some may call it our CSR initiatives.”

Key takeaway: Brand building doesn’t always need a big budget – just your kindness, support, and some time. During tough times, supporting the community can strengthen your brand and increase loyalty further down the line.

Consideration for remote workers 

Anna highlights the importance of ensuring remote workers don’t feel they need to be constantly available. “We found remote workers do have a tendency to keep working, so we encourage them to take breaks and step away from the technology – phone system, computer and everything,” she shares. “We also want to ensure people feel safe to come back into the office when the time comes – by putting the right protection in place.”

Chris noted that at the start of lockdown earlier last year, his team at 8x8 already had the tech in place to start working from home immediately. The challenge, as he writes in his LinkedIn blog, was more around ensuring that his team knew what was (and what wasn’t) expected from them while working remotely. 

Key takeaway: Managers need to understand and adapt to the changing needs of remote workers.

A helping hand from digital technology

When the first lockdown was announced in 2019, Anna had to cancel a series of planned events and extend her digital strategy. “We decided to double our marketing team. We now have someone purely working on social media because it’s really important for us to communicate to customers. We are using Google Ads – really targeting and segmenting who we want to reach. We also have a unique phone number on our Google Ads so we can track exactly how many calls are coming through and see which are most effective.”

For Paul, the big thing has been using video to interview candidates. “The fact that I am able to see a candidate through a web camera does matter, as first impressions count. Everyone has the technology in one form or another – whether it’s 8x8 or WhatsApp.” He plans to continue using the technology even when things return to normal: “We have candidates at the moment from the north of Scotland – it’s not feasible to go up there, nor time or cost-effective, so we will use video technology instead!”

Key takeaway: Digital technology can help you make the best use of a small budget – whether that means targeting and tracking your marketing spend or reducing travel costs through the use of video conferencing.

Words of advice for all business owners out there for 2021 …

Paul’s advice to fellow entrepreneurs is: “Use the knowledge of people around you to help move your business forwards at no cost. And make sure you form part of your local community. My community is far-flung – I have 43 police forces across the country, but if your local community doesn’t know you, you won’t get your name out there.”

Anna’s key piece of advice is: “No idea is a wrong idea. Embrace it, make it targeted and measure it. There are so many platforms out there – most things are measurable with social media or reporting tools. Take that risk – whether it’s small budget or big budget – and trust that it will work.”

For more small business advice, check out our Business Owners’ Toolkit: 6 steps to running a successful business.

To listen to the 8x8 Small Business Virtual Forum in full, view the video on our website.