How a telco helps SME’s during a pandemic with Lisa Corcoran Vodafone

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We’re delighted to bring you part two of our interview with Lisa Corcoran Head of SME Business, Vodafone, Ireland. You can read part 1 of this interview here. 

Lisa was talking about the cost for SME’s, so we’ll continue from there.  

So we focused on helping them with a suite of connectivity offerings, Ronan, so, mobile, we’ve launched a new suite of unlimited mobile solutions that have additional offers layered on top that can help them remote working.

Yeah

We’ve also launched Gigabit. A Gigabit awareness, to help them to understand that they can have whatever speed is relevant to them. And we’ve simplified those offerings into two basic broadband offerings at really good price points within the market to help them to achieve, and get that connectivity.

Over time, we’ve also seen that they needed to get access to good quality broadband at the right price. They also needed to get access to mobile broadband. So, what we’ve seen in terms of smaller type SMEs, they moved on. They needed additional broadband at home.

And then we saw larger type SMEs wanting, as they moved quite quickly to homeworking, we saw them rely on mobile broadband.

And two pieces that we saw evidenced in that initial lockdown period, over the prior year, we saw mobile broadband, and those larger SMEs, grow by 17%.

What else did you see?

And we saw, in terms of the lower end, in terms of the smaller SMEs, their fixed broadband, alongside a solution that we brought to them, Walk Away Working. And what I mean by Walk Away Working, Ronan, is, we go in and we make sure that we install the broadband, and that they are live on wifi before we walk out the door.

So, it’s been really helpful to those smaller customers. We saw that increase as well, by 14%. So, we’ve seen the evidence of the support that we’ve given to SMEs throughout this period. We’ve seen it evidenced in the numbers, and we’ve seen it evidenced in the feedback.

So, what we really want to do is, we want to continue on that journey, to champion SMEs. We want to be their ICT partner of choice, and we want to meet all of their needs, in a really fast pace, and an accelerated environment, that’s changing so much.

And we are looking at a more holistic model that will provide consultancy advice, and also moving towards SAS, and a converged portfolio of solutions for our customers.

And we also know from research that we’d done previously, Ronan, like a couple of years ago is, that one of the strongest characteristics that our SME customers look for, whether it’s Ireland, or elsewhere, is trust. They want to trust their ICT partner, and we’re positioning ourselves to be that trusted partner.

Yeah, because I’m thinking, SMEs are the backbone of Irish business.

A hundred percent.

If we don’t support them, how is that business going to be in the future, where will it be?

Your point is absolutely right. They are imperative to the backbone of our economy. So, we all know that we are an SME country. Over 50% of our turnover in the country is SME. And there is a steeliness about SMEs as well, Ronan, in Ireland. Though they’ve been challenged financially, there’s a wonderful resilience, a sense of community emerging, which is huge in Ireland. Innovation, and creativity that is really the silver lining of this whole thing. In terms of that piece for SMEs, we’ve seen many companies adapt their business very quickly.

We’ve got this insight from our customers, it was brought upon by necessity. Backs against the wall, mortgages to pay, employees to keep in jobs. They were taking that all very seriously. Children to feed and clothe. So, it was a real necessity, upfront, for them to actually find a way to be resilient. But I think that emerging piece has now turned into something that is really paving the way for their digital future, and their plans to actually do that. And some of them have had the headspace to actually focus on that.

One example, Ronan, if you could indulge me. There’s one company that we have, we’ve talked to, a company called Elite Event Management, they’re in Kerry. Oliver, Oliver Kirwan, and his team have transformed throughout COVID.

Tell me more.

So, during the pandemic, they had to adapt and change. So, not from an entrepreneurial, or innovative perspective, but as I said earlier on, from a pure necessity, and to keep the lights on.

Yeah.

So, earlier on in the year, they’d 14 events planned for 2020, and they just got one finished in March, and that was it. The pandemic turned the taps off, and they didn’t know, and still don’t know, when that tap will be turned back on. So, they’re a bricks and mortar events company, and they are now in the process of transitioning into a tech company. They would say this to us, so, we’re using our customers to give us this insight, to help them as well in the future.

Yeah
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So, we’re talking to our customers constantly, so that they would say that SMEs are resilient, and they’re adaptable, and this is something that a small business has to do on a daily basis. SMEs have teams that are small and have a certain skillset, and it’s not always the same as larger organisations.

So, they do need us as a larger organisation to step in and help to guide them with the tools, the guidance, and the upskilling. There is a huge appetite now at the moment, to upskill themselves to transform digitally.

So, they do everything from financial planning, to HR, to marketing, to legal, to sales, to business development, to strategic planning. So, I think for Elite Event Management, once they were able to keep the lights on, they then spent a lot of time over the pandemic period of time, overhauling their long-term strategy.

They’re in the process of fine-tuning themselves as a technology company for the future. They’re just about to launch a new sports and fitness tracker app, called Hot Foot. It’s an app that allows the community of runners and cyclists to create thousands of running and cycling routes for people to take part in using the Hot Foot platform, which is driven by the athlete, and multi-sport community.

So how have businesses and ordinary SMEs coped with COVID-19, and how have they held up?

I think as I was saying to you earlier on there, I said, I think they’ve been really challenged from a financial perspective. But, as I was saying to you, I think that there’s a wonderful resilience and a community spirit. The other part that we’ve seen within SMEs in Ireland particularly, Ronan, is, we’ve seen a growing movement to support local Irish business. And also, if we think about the two things that we’ve married is, the connectivity, but also alongside, the advice that they need, and that community spirit.

Yeah.

So, one of the things that we’ve also done as part of helping them, and that hold up and helping them to actually pave their digital future and the way to their digital future. We’ve launched a communication plan, as such, and a road map. But one of the elements of that has been to actually emphasise, and remind them that we have experts in our retail footprint, across Ireland, that can help them.

There are business and retail experts that can help them with their business solution, either over the telephone, or they can call in. We’ve promoted a campaign locally, to actually help customers to come and seek that advice that they might need in terms of their digital plans, and the connectivity that they might need in the future.

In terms of how are they holding up? I think it’s a mixed bag. There are some that are really struggling, in particular verticals. It’ll be interesting to see now what plays out with Brexit, in terms of seeing how some of those verticals, and how our outlook might be more optimistic, or maybe a little more tempered, based on how that pans out.

There are obviously some verticals and some sectors that are suffering. So, we’ve seen, from a hospitality perspective, as we were talking about our long conversation at the beginning, have really struggled.

However, we do see that people are optimistic, and we can see SME being optimistic around, if the vaccine is delivered, we’ve also seen other countries call out that. The resilience is quite instant, once the pandemic is over. So, we can see that sentiment within SME in Ireland.

Because to me right now, I’m thinking, hospitality, restaurants right now, are going through a tough time.

Really tough.

And also, so are pubs as well. In some cases, I don’t see the need why pubs should be opening. Because at the moment, when you’re drinking, you can’t practice self discipline. You’re going to be bunched together. Because once you’ve a drinks in you, who knows what you’re going to do, and that’s hard to police. Plus for the publican, that’s not fair for them, for to handle a rowdy crowd.

Yeah, I agree.

And also, with restaurants, just now, with how do they get food in. How can they get supplies in, if the suppliers aren’t fully working during the pandemic. And if they suddenly get supplies in, then they’re told, “Oh, by the way, you have to lock down again.” So those supplies in their fridges and freezers, that cannot be used.

Yeah, and we’ve seen some of those hospitality sectors pivot to actually trying to do take away. So, that hospitality sector, and even, to be fair Ronan, we’ve seen some of those businesses use technology as solutions. So SMS has been huge, it’s made a comeback over the last year in helping customers to either get a message to say, “Your take away is on the way.”

Or even, from a retail perspective, we’ve seen SMS being used quite widely, to actually tell customers they can come. If it’s a click and collect message, or that they can come to get into their appointment, where we’re trying to manage customers. And how many customers are in retail at any one time? But I agree with you. It’s not finished yet. And there are some sectors that are still quite challenged, and hospitality being the key one at the moment.

I’ve seen a jump in the past few years, where companies that were just bricks and mortar, are now seen as a tech company. If you go to McDonald’s, and you go to order food. You go and there’s a touch screen, and you order your food via tech. So, I look at McDonald’s as a tech company selling food.

Right now, you’re seeing businesses that have pivoted, because of the pandemic, to go online. So that company you mentioned earlier in Kerry, I now see them as a tech company offering sports solutions. So, you’re going to see in the future that everyone’s going to be a tech company because they’re using tech to provide the service.

Yeah. Absolutely. And that piece that I’d said to you earlier on, about winning customers, and keeping customers. Absolutely. That technology is going to enable them to deliver a service, or to deliver their business in the future.


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