Small to medium enterprises (SMEs) in the Middle East and North Africa contribute approximately $1 trillion to the region’s economy every year. However, crises like the Covid-19 pandemic remind us that no economy is safe from challenges.
While many economies are re-opening, the pandemic has drastically changed the way people shop and use products, services and technology. It has also changed how organizations approach their day-to-day business. Many SMEs are quick to act – thanks to either their size or singular focus. This gives them a unique opportunity to build business resilience and ensure recovery by focusing on their customers, their team members, and processes.
How to help the UAE’s SMEs through the coronavirus crisis
Every nation recognises the economic importance of SMEs so more needs to be done to help them navigate these unprecedented times
Since social distancing has become the new normal, customers increasingly appreciate businesses that use creative ways to engage and indulge them. For instance, rather than eat at a restaurant, a family might prefer to create a dine-in experience at home where they are comfortable in their environment.
From e-commerce and contactless deliveries to digital payments and virtual malls, people are shopping for things that reflect their health and safety priorities. Nielsen reported that before Covid-19 only 21 percent of people in the UAE shopped online. Today, the number has increased to 41 percent.
With changing consumer behaviour, small businesses can take advantage of the new opportunities created by Covid, addressing customers’ new priorities, and maintaining a positive relationship with them. This way, you will be able to retain existing customers and potentially widen your market outside of your geographic area.
No company, regardless of its size, is immune to economic or environmental challenges. To gain your team’s continued support in delivering the best service, it’s important that you are transparent from the very beginning about future plans and considerations and seize every opportunity to re-engage with your team. Even as the situation normalises, make it a business practice to keep them informed on how you plan to prioritize their health and safety, especially if their job role requires them to be in the field, interacting with customers.
Do regular catch-ups with your team to make sure they feel comfortable and understand the changes the business is going through. Explain what is expected from them and discuss the pain points or challenges they might face with their work.
Understanding the processes of each department, from inventory and warehouse management to transportation and product orders, helps you deliver a better customer experience. Most SMEs are made up of a close-knit team, where all members practice an “all hands on deck” approach to business.
Small technical blind spots may turn into business issues in times of crisis, when the organizations are further stretched. For example, if a retailer only stocks products when a customer places their order online, less visibility across your logistics process might lead to delays in scheduling deliveries or miscommunicating the committed delivery timeline.
To be better prepared, continuously imagine the “what if” scenarios, such as how your logistics partner can support you in notifying customers about delays in advance or update you on the border restrictions in certain areas.
Where possible, divide the vulnerabilities you find in a process into phases so that you know when something needs your urgent attention. This way, you can make quick decisions and assign additional team support where needed.
Covid-19 has revived the importance of preparation and planning for business continuity and recovery. Using e-commerce to bring your services closer to people, being team-focused and having greater visibility across all processes will help to effectively manage demand, distribution, and deliveries.
Doing so will meet customer needs in a convenient and considerate way, which is key for business recovery. In short, by strengthening and enabling three pillars of business continuity: customers, team members, and processes, SMEs will achieve business resilience, ensure business continuity and emerge stronger despite challenging times.
Taarek Hinedi is vice president of FedEx Express Middle East and Africa Operations