Answer the call: Verizon Business gives SMBs a technological edge

For today’s small and medium-sized businesses, this is anything but business as usual.

The prospect of a recession can now be added to a list of worrying conditions – which already include rising interest rates, ongoing supply chain disruptions and labor shortages – that could make SME executives want to bury their heads in the sand.

However, even during an economic roller coaster, these companies remain remarkably resilient, according to Verizon Business’ third annual State of Small Business Survey. Conducted in August by Morning Consult, the survey collected responses from more than 600 small and medium-sized businesses across the country.

“Here in Chicago, 79 percent of SMBs report their business is much better today than it was a year ago, compared to a national average of 70 percent,” said Mark Tina, vice president of business sales at Verizon Business.

Tina emphasized that technology is critical to helping businesses adapt and thrive in uncertain times by “making it easier for customers to interact with businesses, and for businesses to transact and do business.”

Crain’s Content Studio sat down with Tina to discuss how Verizon is supporting the resilience of SMBs in the Chicago area with its suite of integrated connectivity and security tools. The goal, he said, is to give companies of all sizes the technological edge to not just survive, but thrive, in this post-pandemic landscape.

Crains: The results of the third annual State of Small Business Survey were released last month. What does the survey say about how small business executives feel in the current business climate?

Markus Tine: Much of the unease they face is centered on inflation and supply chain constraints and the issues these challenges bring. For example, nearly half (44 percent) of survey respondents said they are concerned about supply chain issues impacting sales during the all-important holiday season, and about one in three (35 percent) are concerned about economic difficulties and inflation that affect their sales . There are also cybersecurity concerns. Unfortunately, many business owners get hacked, so it’s perhaps not surprising that over 70 percent of respondents see network security as a top concern.

On the bright side, 56 percent of respondents believe they will be better off a year from now than they are today, and as I mentioned earlier, they already feel like they’re in a better place than they were a year ago when they leave the year come out pandemic.

Crains: I’m glad you brought this up because it seems counterintuitive that SMEs would be optimistic given the current economic and business challenges. What drives this optimism?

Markus Tine: They are finding new and innovative ways to connect with their customers, primarily through digital interaction. I’ll give you an example.

EverWash has car washes throughout Chicago. They recently used part of a $6 million Series B funding to deploy our fixed wireless access — which is essentially broadband directly over our wireless network — to enable digital video kiosks where customers click Access on-demand service and sales support. The technology also enables their technicians to diagnose and solve any problem in the car wash remotely. They actually redesigned their model to resemble a gym membership, where customers pay a monthly fee and have their car washed as often as they like. So they are changing their revenue flow through the use of technology.

Crains: It’s a trend we can see more broadly in the survey results, where nearly half (48 percent) of the technology additions being made by small and medium-sized businesses were initially intended to drive customer acquisition, and 53 percent of those expanding their tech stack have invested to better engage with existing customers. Are SMBs seeing connectivity in a new light since the pandemic?

Markus Tine: One hundred percent. Today more than ever, employees are working in the field or from home. However, these employees still need connectivity to each other and to data tools to continue providing superior service to their customers, and that specifically requires mobile connectivity such as our fixed wireless access connectivity. Now a fixed wireless access product – a phone, tablet, kiosk or whatever – no longer requires a fiber optic connection at home or in the office. This connection is provided directly over our wireless network. And that has allowed these companies to innovate truly digitally and implement and scale quickly, and it’s also very affordable.

Crains: Nourishing Hope is one of the Verizon Business customers who have benefited from another connectivity solution called One Talk. Can you tell us more about One Talk and its impact in helping Nourishing Hope continue the vital service of feeding some of the city’s most vulnerable residents?

Markus Tine: Nourishing Hope is one of Chicago’s largest pantries. It also provides mental health counseling, employment and housing assistance, and serves the city as a whole. Its technical infrastructure was outdated, so we worked with the leadership team there to implement and deploy the One Talk service, a voice-over-IP phone system that allows the organization to use what was like a legacy desktop, extend to the mobile environment. This desk phone can now connect to the broadband network without a fiber optic connector coming out of the wall, and employees can receive their office calls and messages anywhere in a mobile environment.

This is tremendous for Nourishing Hope because it allows the organization to better connect with staff and volunteers and ultimately serve clients more efficiently and effectively at a time when it sees a greater need. The nonprofit has 50 employees and continues to grow as inflation drives up prices and food insecurity rises, adding more families who can’t afford to buy groceries or face difficult choices between groceries, medicines and bills.

Crains: What other offerings from Verizon Business are helping SMBs thrive in this tough economy?

Markus Tine: We’re seeing many more customers using our BlueJeans by Verizon video conferencing tool. It’s an enterprise-class collaboration platform that supports the “anywhere, anytime” working model that SMBs are adopting to stay connected and competitive.

Last year we also launched Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, an online resource where SBM leaders can log in and learn more about going digital and connect with Verizon subject matter experts—all for free. We have over 125,000 users on the platform that we continue to invest in and make more stable.

And of course, security is paramount during this massive shift to working from anywhere on any device. We have a variety of solutions ranging from devices to network security to help our small and medium business customers operate securely wherever they operate.

Every business is unique, including how far along the digital journey they are. That’s what makes it so exciting from our point of view, because we can pick them up where they are and help them find an affordable way forward.

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