Life during the lockdown: How SMEs are using technology to serve their customers
SMEs, in particular, are having a difficult time in coping up with the lockdown. While for some it has disrupted the flow of work, for others, it has emerged as a mere bump on the road.
The Covid-19 outbreak has brought the world to a standstill. From big enterprises to small and medium enterprises (SMEs), the everyday operation of most companies has been affected severely due to the virus outbreak. This, in turn, has led to a massive change in the way companies, no matter how big or small they are, function.
While, on one hand, employees are working remotely to ensure that their companies remain up and running, on the other hand, companies are embracing new technologies (and utilising existing ones in a better ways) to cope up with the present circumstances.
SMEs, in particular, are having a difficult time coping up with change. While for some the lockdown has disrupted the flow of work, for others, it has emerged as a mere bump on the road. We spoke with a couple of enterprises on the matter and they all had a mixed response as to how the lockdown had affected their working and how they are coping up with what can be called the 'new reality'.
"The current global crisis is having an unprecedented impact on people all around the world, and we are humbled that people and businesses across India are finding WhatsApp to be a lifeline to stay in touch with those that matter most --their friends, family members and customers,"Abhijit Bose, Head of India, WhatsApp said in a statement to HT Tech.
How has Covid-19 affected their functioning?
Let's Learn Together is an Assam-based startup that provides affordable coaching to students for competitive exams in regional languages. They have a dedicated studio where their team of faculty members record their lectures on various subjects in video and audio formats. This is then distributed to their student base, which now comprises more than 600 students. "Due to the lockdown, the software and hardware we have been using are not available to all our teachers and the file size poses a challenge as well, as they aren't easily transferable," founders Upal Jyoti Baruah and Daydeep Chetia told HT Tech.
Similarly, FanatiXx Publication, which is an ISO-certified publication house, which provides publishing services including book formatting, manuscript editing, cover designing, web development, inventory management, and marketing services to writers, is facing issues with printing and distribution of books.
"The ability to print and distribute is a key function for any publisher which unfortunately is completely closed at this time. Publishers around the country are facing this problem, thus affecting our normal functioning," founder Hemant Bansal told us.
On the other hand, School of Accelerated Learning (SOAL), which uses artificial intelligence to provide product-oriented learning to students, is sailing smoothly through the lockdown. Founders Raj Desai, Pratik Agarwal and Varsha Bhambhani told us that while their offline operations had been affected by the viral outbreak, their overall functioning has largely remained unaffected by the lockdown.
"The COVID-19 lockdown has affected our offline operations, but we have seamlessly transitioned into a completely online program for our learners through our virtual learning platform, Delta. Delta is a smart environment for our learners to engage, consume, and build. This proprietary platform allows us to track learner-progress, evaluate their work, and give them feedback as well," team SOAL told HT Tech.
How are they coping up with lockdown?
Amid the coronavirus lockdown, SMEs are leveraging networking platforms such as WhatsApp and Instagram to stay connected to their customers. They are also utilising other technologies like Android apps and Kindle to get their work done.
FanatiXx Publication, for instance, is using WhatsApp and live seminars among other things to engage with their writers. "We use WhatsApp groups, status, broadcasts and direct messages to make people aware about the various programs in order to engage with them," Bansal said adding that his company was also planning on "introducing BooksClub.in, and myauthorshub.com to engage more readers and writers. Providing free e-books with the help of Kindle, online sessions, and conducting live seminars and workshops over WhatsApp are some of the functions that we are striving to keep active at this time."
While FanatiXx Publication has turned to e-books and WhatsApp in these testing times, Let's Learn Together is using some basic Android apps to record audio lessons bringing the studio into the homes of its faculty members. "As a solution, we modified our system and now use screen recorders (on Android phones) and headphones for audio support," the founders said.
They are also using WhatsApp's business app for providing two to three sessions of lectures every day and for conducting "internal discussions and communication". Additionally, they are exploring concepts such as Flipped Classrooms to engage with their students.
SOAL, on the other hand, has turned to Facebook and its services including WhatsApp and Instagram for connecting with their users. "Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram have been at the core of our communication strategy when it comes to reaching out to our audience...We have been able to conduct live webinars, interactions through WhatsApp video calls and other similar sessions using these platforms," team SOAL told HT Tech.
Connecting with its audience via WhatsApp has helped the company grow. It has "witnessed 28% increase in time spent on the website through sessions initiated via WhatsApp".
Light at the end of the tunnel
The Covid-19 outbreak has disrupted the way businesses work. While it has proved to be a roadblock in some cases, it has also taught these enterprises to be more flexible with their work. Additionally, it has accelerated the adoption of other advanced technologies for some of these SMEs.
SOAL, for instance, is already using Delta, a platform that brings together a bunch of different tech tools such as GitHub, Zoom, Slack, search engine functionality, Stackoverflow, virtual IDEs together. Let's Learn Together, on the other hand, is exploring other innovative technologies so that "teachers do not have to worry much about the technical details and can focus on helping students get correct and effective knowledge".
Either way, whenever this lockdown ends and things limp back to normalcy, these SMEs, and the rest of us, will come out on the other side with new lessons learned.
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