By Ashish Gupta, MD SME & Health, BT Enterprise
As the UK works together to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hard not to feel inspired by the small businesses across the country who are pulling together in extraordinary ways to help others.
From providing free meals and coffee to NHS workers, to turning their hand at making hand sanitiser, countless small businesses are going the extra mile to adapt and innovate, while bearing the brunt of the business and economic impact of the current crisis themselves.
While the Government’s initiatives will offer significant relief to small businesses in financial distress, we are also adding further support for our one million small business customers to help them navigate the multiple challenges they are facing.
For some small businesses, the key challenge they face is how to adapt their operating model to enable a workforce to work from home and continue to collaborate effectively, and to interact with and serve more of their customers online. Successfully adapting to this new way of working may change their working patterns and settings forever and even open up new revenue opportunities and business models, putting them in a stronger position to thrive into the future.
Unfortunately, for others, particularly those in the most severely impacted sectors such as retail, hospitality, beauty and leisure, it’s about sheer survival. With hundreds of thousands of businesses being forced to temporarily close their doors, revenues have disappeared overnight – a particularly bitter pill to have to swallow. The worst affected businesses are having to navigate some complex issues such as furloughing their employees, how to access government grants and loans, and managing their remaining cash and resources the best they can to try and stay afloat.
Many small businesses are also having to think about acquiring the digital skills they need to stay connected with customers and colleagues during a prolonged period of social distancing. This might include using social media tools more effectively to promote their goods or how to protect their business from cyber attacks.
All of these challenges will contribute to determining whether a small business can survive or thrive during and beyond the coronavirus crisis. At BT, we are tailoring our support to meet each challenge.
Connecting SMEs to colleagues and customers whilst working remotely:
Within days of the Government’s coronavirus response kicking into action, we made sure our customers had access to best-in-class remote working tools so they could be prepared in advance of the full lockdown measures coming into effect.
We worked with our partners to rapidly introduce some special offers, free upgrades and discounted pricing across our conferencing, unified communications and web collaboration products. These offers are aimed at helping small businesses adapt to the new reality by introducing or scaling up their remote working capability and stay connected.
For example, we’ve introduced extra conferencing and collaboration tools, to allow colleagues to work together as if they were in the office, together with more user support.
Call divert solutions are enabling our customers to automatically direct calls from the usual office number to a home or mobile number, so they needn’t miss an important call if their business premises is temporarily closed. And to support temporary homeworking from mobile devices, we’ve introduced short term, 30 day contracts across our SIM only and handset plans which come with unlimited calls and texts, as well as 30 days mobile broadband plans.
Financial flexibility for small businesses:
We’re acutely aware that it’s a particularly distressing time for our 1m small business customers. I’d like to reassure them that we are making every effort to be as flexible as we can should businesses be worried about paying their bills as a direct result of the impact of Covid-19.
While I’d urge eligible small businesses to take advantage of the package of support available from the Government, we are also doing our bit by changing our policies and products to provide further support to customers most in need.
For small and larger customers who are really struggling to pay, we have several mechanisms in place to support flexible payments. Small businesses which are struggling to pay their BT or EE bill also needn’t worry about being automatically disconnected so this should provide some further reassurance.
Many of our small business customers also choose to take our consumer products and they will benefit from the removal of all caps on all our broadband packages, so every customer has unlimited data during this time. Additionally, we’ve also made all visits to the NHS online free, and as always, calling 111 is free.
Finally, our account teams are proactively contacting existing customers to ensure that they have access to the best packages and remote working solutions to help them adapt to the current crisis, and to check if they have any concerns.
Digital skills training and protecting your business:
Through our Skills for Tomorrow programme, we’re also running a series of free digital skills webinars specifically designed for small businesses, to help them make the most of technology and navigate through these challenging times. The webinars offer advice on subjects such as remote working tools, staying connected with customers and innovation principles to navigate through a crisis.
We’re working with partners such as Google Digital Garage, Small Business Britain, Fresh Business Thinking and many more to provide information, advice and help for people to do business online and to build their digital skills. There are free online resources that can help small businesses with areas such as visibility online, connecting with customers over mobile, and utilising promotional content and online advertising.
Unfortunately, a bigger online presence and remote working can bring with it greater cyber security risks. We’re already seeing examples of scammers trying to take advantage of the current crisis, and it’s critical that small businesses remain vigilant to security threats and continue to follow security best practice. This week, the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) launched a public awareness campaign to try and combat the uptick in coronavirus related scams, which BT is supporting. I’d urge small businesses to refer to the set of guidance available from the NCSC which is available at https://www.ncsc.gov.uk/cyberaware/home and to speak to their BT account manager to check whether they’re taking advantage of the security tools available to them.
By focusing on the above areas, we are delivering more value to our small business customers across the UK to help them manage their way through this pandemic. The situation continues to be very fluid and fast moving of course, so we’ll continue to listen to the needs of our customers. I’d encourage any business to get in touch with our expert teams to discuss how we can help. We are all in this together.