Neil Stone, head of marketing for UK-based survey and questionnaire tool SmartSurvey, explores a seismic shift in the way we now work — and why it’s more important than ever to stay in contact with customers and employees.

Since the arrival of COVID-19, our ways of working have changed dramatically, with businesses of all shapes and sizes forced to re-think their priorities, plans and processes. Organizations all over the world have had to pivot their business models, rapidly transforming to a more digitally-led operation to continue trading.

Entire workforces are now remote and rely on greater use of digital tools to meet the needs of a new, socially-distanced world. This presents great opportunities for SaaS and Cloud providers. But as more businesses look to them for digital support, it will require just as much of a shift in approach for vendors as the many businesses they’re helping, if they’re to fully realize the benefits from this extra demand.

We’ll explore the challenges and opportunities of this new working norm — what it means for providers, the customers they’re supporting, and how collecting and analyzing data can help businesses of all types stay better in tune with their customers’ needs.

The use of solutions such as VPNs, cloud-based project management, collaboration, document storage and video conferencing tools are increasingly commonplace. Businesses and remote workforces everywhere have been embracing digital transformation and increasing their use of digital to stay agile and operational in our new, socially-distanced world of lockdowns and restrictions. In fact, according to research carried out on behalf of global software company Episerver, in a poll of 600 worldwide decision makers about digital experience tactics and technology:

  • 82% of B2B organisations have already undergone a digital transformation project;
  • A further study highlights that 57% of companies plan to further increase their use of cloud tools due to COVID-19.

A paradigm shift is occurring — the rapid move from physical to digital interaction

The pandemic has been the catalyst driving the change from physical to digital communications. A fantastic illustration of this is the acceleration in usage of collaboration tools such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, with the latter’s user growth jumping 70% to 75 million daily active users.

A Slack or Teams video call may lack the kinesthetics and tangibility of an in-person meeting; however, the outcome is the same, and there are other benefits which businesses are rapidly realizing.

Video meetings are now an accepted way of doing business and are driving down operating costs, with a significant saving in travel time and fuel costs, as well as less harmful emissions being pumped into the environment through unnecessary travel. These are all factors which mean, in the future, the Face-to-Face meeting will be more of rare occurrence — perhaps saved for bigger deals, where that personal touch can make all the difference.

The challenge of digitizing paper

Besides the digitization of many physical interactions, there is also an increasing need to digitize paper-based processes. For years, business has been trying to reduce paper; it’s expensive, inefficient, and has a significant environmental impact. Now that workforces are remote, businesses want to further reduce their use of it.

By digitizing paper-based process, businesses can streamline their operations, better connect and communicate faster with their disparate workforce — and at the same time, minimize the risk-potential for infection through unnecessary handling of paper documents and folders.

Fortunately, with today’s software solutions, it’s simple to convert paper-based processes into digital assets such as online forms and contracts.

Bricks and mortar

It’s not just office-based businesses that have had to adapt their model to a more digital-first approach, but those running traditional bricks and mortar operations, such as retailers. In the UK, well-known brands including Marks & Spencer’s, John Lewis, and Curry’s PC World have all had to adapt. At the height of the UK lockdown, these brands and many others needed to shift their operations online when their physical premises were forced to close. It was very much a case of ‘evolve or die,’ and we may well see this digital Darwinism be the success or failure of brands over the coming years.

As we continue to live with COVID-19, consumers have become happier and more comfortable buying online, and many retailers have needed to further expand their e-commerce operations to cope with increased demand.

While this is currently a safer way for consumers to make purchases, many retailers are likely to want to maintain a strong e-commerce focus even after the pandemic finally comes to an end, as consumers’ shopping habits are likely to have changed permanently. We’re seeing this in B2B markets too, with those businesses who weren’t traditionally digitally-focused, now establishing more self-serve models and encouraging their customers to try and buy online.

Digital is transforming operating models

Digital transformation has been a buzzword for the last ten years — and there’s no doubt there’s been a growing shift to embrace the opportunities presented through technology. Organizations across the globe will be reviewing their operating models and realizing that digital tools and remote working can drive a significant reduction in overheads. When society does return to a more normal footing, the combination of reduced operating costs and increased profits will be very difficult to shift away from for the simple fact it’s just a better business model. 

Change is a good thing, but can Cloud and SaaS providers keep up?

The pace and scale of digital transformation witnessed this year has been immense and it looks like a trend that’s only set to grow further, whatever our future looks like longer-term. The momentum digital now carries presents significant opportunities for cloud and SaaS providers. However, if they’re to fully realize the benefits from this growing demand, there are some challenges they will need to overcome:

  • Firstly, if they are to provide the right support, they need to better understand the challenges that businesses are facing with this new digital operating model; those who’ve already migrated will have done so with varying levels of speed and success.
  • For those that are still yet to migrate, providers need to consider the varying size, shape and type of industry these businesses work in, and how some businesses may be initially better-equipped than others for digital transformation.
  • Ultimately, it’s about fully understanding the customer’s unique circumstances and challenges to figure out how well a digital strategy can be dovetailed into their existing business proposition.

In light of the pandemic, vendors also need to consider their own business models too — and if they are required to adapt to meet the needs of customers in today’s socially-distanced business environment. For example, if a vendor were historically focused towards on-premise installation with a high-touch implementation, they may need to consider pivoting to a cloud solution with remote implementation.

As digital footprints grow, security will become a top priority

The emergence of the pandemic forced countries around the world into lockdown. This created an immediate need for businesses to upgrade their digital capabilities to facilitate remote working and allow for diversification of existing operating models. This was essential to be able to continue to generate revenue in a socially-distanced world. With more software, businesses face a new challenge of a larger digital footprint, which increases the vulnerability of that ‘surface area’ to attack from hackers and other cyber threats, and makes the requirement for that software to be secure more important than ever.

As digital footprints continue to expand, application security will come under greater scrutiny as businesses realize they are now more vulnerable than they were before. The increasing threat of data breaches and associated fines need to be mitigated.

This places responsibilities — both on vendors, and customers themselves — to ensure security is a top priority. Vendors need to ensure they have the right systems and processes in place, and customers need to understand what security provisions and assurances they should be looking out for, in order to know they are making the right choice.

Besides some of the more standard security provisions such as firewalls, anti-virus and encryption in transit and at REST, businesses can gain the greatest level of security assurances about how their data will be managed, accessed and stored, by looking for providers who hold key accreditations such as:

  • ISO27001 – ISO27001 accredited companies are set up to minimize risk, provide business continuity and ensure employees follow best practices and procedures that effectively manage data and keep data breach threats to the absolute minimum.
  • Cyber Essentials Plus – one the best industry accreditations for managing cyber-attack risks. Registered companies need to undergo the testing of five key cyber security controls that they need to have in place including boundary firewalls and internet gateways, secure configuration, access control, malware protection and patch management. During testing a qualified assessor simulates a range of cyber-attacks to ensure the systems in place provide the level of robust security required.

Using feedback data to ensure product market fit

As with everything in life, things continue to evolve, including the perceptions of those you’re trying to engage with. If you’re to provide the products and services with the right level of support in the way that best fits your customers’ requirements, you need to find a way of keeping pace with their changing perceptions and behaviours.

An effective way to track this change is by regularly gathering feedback. Online survey software — such as that provided by SmartSurvey — provides a simple and cost-effective method of collecting and analysing feedback data irrespective of audience size or location. With your data collected and analyzed, you’ll be more informed about your customers’ wants and needs, enabling you to change your proposition and operations to better meet their requirements.

This need for feedback will be even more important in the future, as eventually — whether through vaccination, herd immunity, or some other route we can’t yet see — the pandemic will come to an end. At that point, we will need to take stock. There may be opportunities for a transition back to a more traditional business model — or perhaps, society will be irrevocably changed and prefer digital over in-person interaction. When the time comes, and these decisions need to be made, it’s important to collect feedback from your customers and understand what they want so you can make a smart decision, or it could be a costly a step in the wrong direction.

While we’ve never been so distanced, there are more ways than ever to stay connected

With so many companies undergoing digital transformation and looking towards cloud services and SaaS solutions to support their operation’s in today’s climate, the future looks extremely bright for the technology sector. When life does return to some level of normality, the demand for digital services and products will only continue to grow.

With so much change occurring at pace, in a time when we have never been so distanced from our peers, customers, and society it’s imperative to stay connected. There is a real risk of businesses losing touch, not just with their customers, but their employees too, this combination could hurtfully impact growth and must be avoided.

Fortunately, there are solutions out there to help overcome this challenge. Online survey software like SmartSurvey provides a highly-flexible platform to engage both employees and customers, allowing businesses to take the pulse of their operational and market health – and ensure they take the corrective actions needed to stay on top of change, ensuring a positive and profitable future.

Leading brands are already running these types of feedback programs at scale. They realized years ago the value in aligning their operations with the wants and needs of the customers, and their employees who work hard every day to deliver their products and services. Get the combination of happy customers and engaged employees right and it’s a potent mixture for fuelling growth.

For those that already dominate the market, comprehensive feedback loops empower them to better defend their position and increase the gap between competitors. For those that aspire to become a leader, you need to be listening to your customers and employees. They are your best source of learning to understand more about what needs to change or be improved. Every business has access to this rich source of insight; the key to unlocking it is having the right tool to collect and analyze the data to consistently drive positive change — and achieve a competitive advantage.