4 Ways in which COVID-19 has impacted digitalisation in British SMEs

Published on 25/06/2020 by Sonia Navarrete

The effects of the pandemic on businesses are already noticeable, the world has changed and the ‘new normality’ is still uncertain to us. But what have we learned from COVID-19 and what will be its legacy for the future?

To find out, we asked 412 businesses in Britain how they’ve adapted to the crisis and how it’s impacted their business and its digitalisation. For more detailed info on our methodology, scroll to the bottom of the article.

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We have observed four ways in which the pandemic has impacted SMEs:

  • Over a third of companies (39%) didn’t have a business continuity plan in place before the crisis.
  • 51% of SMEs have had to make an investment in software in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
  • Companies are forgetting the importance of brand image in the short term.
  • Employee retention is key to business survival.

1.   Business continuity plans will become the norm

The results of the survey showed that a third of SMEs in Britain believe they will only last until the end of the year with the current measures. In addition, 39% of the surveyed decision-makers stated that there wasn’t a business continuity plan in their company before the pandemic.

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Having a solid plan for unexpected events is crucial. The price of not having a plan can mean loss of data and making the business more vulnerable.

A successful business continuity plan outlines procedures to ensure that the core business functions (business processes, human resources and assets) resume as quickly as possible after a natural disaster or a cyber attack.

The Business Continuity Institute (BCI) provides advice and resources for businesses that look to develop a plan as a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Tip: Business continuity software with features such as continuous backup, encryption, and data storage can help your business prepare for an unexpected crisis or a cyber attack.

2.   Software will become (even more) a vital tool for SMEs

The results have stressed the importance of having a business continuity plan, but having the right software is almost as vital.

Most purchase decisions made during the crisis were decisions based on ‘patching up’ – like implementing software that allows employees to work from home when the lockdown began.

This has impacted the way companies have based their software purchase decisions, over half of decision-makers (51%) have been forced to invest in new software due to the pandemic.

It is not a surprise that the most popular software that companies are using are remote desktop software, live chat software and video conferencing software.

In addition, 76% have had to change their offering to adapt to the crisis. For example, companies offering events are now offering virtual events via streaming.

Industries like tourism and real estate use virtual tour and digital signature software to continue to serve their customers. Most businesses had to reallocate their annual software budget and move the timeline six months forward due to the pandemic.

The pandemic has not only impacted the software buying decisions in companies but also, in some cases, it has become critical to change their business model to be able to keep operating.

Tip: Before making a purchase decision, it is important to have all the information available. Reading third-party reviews is a good way to get a user’s point of view of that software. A recent study showed that peer opinions are trusted more than experts’ in Britain when looking to buy.

3.   Why brand image still matters in times of crisis

Reputation and brand image are key to business success, especially in times of crisis. This doesn’t have to be negative, on the contrary: It can present an opportunity for companies to assess their image and also rethink the way they present themselves in front of customers.

During times of crisis, brand image can be one of the forgotten priorities for SMEs when looking to survive – 60% of managers surveyed don’t consider improving brand image important.

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Lisa Starita, Analyst at Gartner, advises companies how to adapt their marketing strategies during COVID-19. She states that one of the key elements for companies is to listen to customers:

“Now more than ever, it’s important to know what customers feel and do, and why. Set voice of the customer (VoC) programs to listen for references to COVID-19 or other shifts. Use social listening to monitor customer discussions about health concerns or information needs relevant to your brand.
Ask sales and account management teams what they hear from the front lines. Monitor customer care emails, phone calls and service chats for changes in concerns or sentiment.”

 

Tip: Keeping your customers informed and having that sense of proximity will help your brand image. Using tools like marketing automation software or email marketing software can help with the regular production of customer-oriented newsletters and emails where customers can be informed about the latest news.

The role of social media in keeping customers engaged

Social media plays a crucial role in keeping customers involved. The majority of people are turning for information, communication and social interaction as the crisis progresses.

E-commerce consultancy Wunderman Thompson shares some tips for businesses to engage with customers during COVID-19:

“[Social media] this is where you should be, to be part of the conversation, to keep your customers up to date with changes in your services, to offer advice and information they might find useful, and to flag up that you are still open for business.”

 

Tip: With the right social media tools it is easy to create, update and monitor content on different social media channels.

4.   Employees become pivotal for SME survival

The UK Government launched in late March the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, also called the furlough scheme. With this scheme, employers have financial help to continue paying part of the salaries of the furloughed staff and also prevent redundancy.

The first phase of the scheme finishes at the end of June and will close completely at the end of October. According to the Treasury’s latest figures, more than 9 million British workers have been put on the scheme, at a cost of £20.8bn.

Aside from the Government’s support, companies have had to rethink the way in which they operate. One of the ways in which managers have tackled this situation is by reassigning staff to other departments.

When we asked managers and decision-makers in British SMEs if the pandemic has had an impact on staff, 60% of respondents stated that they have reassigned employees to different roles in response to COVID-19.

Not that they weren’t before, but the crisis has brought this to the top of the priorities list for businesses. Retaining employees (45%) and maintaining employee productivity (49%) are two of the main concerns for managers during the crisis.

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The crisis has meant for many companies that some roles are not relevant for a time and the person needs to be allocated to another department temporarily.

For example, if the company is not hiring for a while, the recruitment department can be allocated to other departments that need staff and can help with those tasks in the interim, like administrative or customer service tasks.

Keeping employees productive is almost as important as keeping them itself. Brian Kropp, Distinguished VP, Research at Gartner, stresses the importance of taking into consideration their emotions during the pandemic:

“Most organisations have focused on scenario planning and necessary operational responses to ensure business continuity. However, these plans often do not address, nor impact, employees’ ability to focus on their work.”

 

Tip: Almost half of the managers (49%) consider that maintaining employee productivity is key for the survival of their business and remote working is here to stay. Investing in collaboration tools that make working remotely smoother, as well as investing in virtual team building activities to avoid saturation will help staff feel motivated.
Looking for Business Continuity software? Check our catalogue

* Survey methodology

Data for the “Software Trends” study was collected in May 2020 from an online survey of 412 employees and small and medium-sized business owners whose operations could be carried out remotely as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The survey data used for this article comes from 412 participants who qualified to answer. Among the 412 participants surveyed are 285 managers (management, senior manager, executive management and owner) who are involved in software decisions in their company as well as 127 employees without management and decision-making functions. The information in this article corresponds to the average of all surveyed participants.

Note: There were several answer options available for the graphics so that the total of the percentages exceeds 100%.

This article may refer to products, programs or services that are not available in your country, or that may be restricted under the laws or regulations of your country. We suggest that you consult the software provider directly for information regarding product availability and compliance with local laws.