Four to five years of cutting back in the bite of a recession would grate on anyone’s nerves but it seems, according to new research, 64pc of Irish firms see business growth as critical as reducing costs.
A study by IDC commissioned by Vodafone as part of its New Ways of Working programme in Ireland points out that while cost control remains a challenge for most ordinary businesses, there is now an emphasis on business growth.
A key stratagem involves improving customer relationships. Improving relationships with customers was one of the key challenges experienced by 80pc of Irish SMEs, with 81pc of workers stating that customer service is a top priority – demonstrating the importance of an SME’s workforce differentiating on customer service.
Shift in business attitudes
"The surprising shift in attitudes of SMEs from the cost control of the last four years to a wider strategic focus on growth is encouraging and a significant indicator of renewed optimism," Anne O’Leary, Business and Enterprise director at Vodafone Ireland, explained.
“Economic factors, evolving technologies and changing consumer trends are driving SMEs to review their business and adopt new ways of working to retain and grow their business," O’Leary added.
“Working differently and flexibly provides major opportunities for business growth and creating competitive advantage and this is what we are hearing from our customers," said O’Leary.
The research also indicates that businesses are addressing the challenges posed by consumers’ demand for 24/7 access to information as a result of using smart devices – 86pc of mobile workers that use smartphones stated it improved their responsiveness while 77pc stated their productivity had been improved.
Being accessible outside of normal working hours was also found to help workers build and maintain vital customer relationships. Two-thirds of Irish mobile workers confirmed they checked email before 8am and a third after 9pm.
The technology lever
Commenting on the research, IDC research director, Enterprise Mobility Strategies, Nick McQuire said: "There is a growing recognition that technology is a huge lever, not only to engage and acquire customers, but also to retain and attract talent and drive productivity.
“Long-term competitive advantage requires a radical rethink of the existing communications model. This includes a deeper focus on innovation and crucially, aligning communications strategy closer to users, customers and business performance."
Further evidence of the impact changing consumer trends have on an SME’s day-to-day operations was revealed in that
Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers, based in Tipperary, has adapted his traditional business to market changes in recent years.
"We’ve had to review how we run our business to make sure it’s relevant to this generation of customers and we are now using social media on a day-to-day basis to drive awareness of the business and engage directly with customers.
“We’re also expanding, which means I’m on the road more but I can keep track of everything as I effectively have a desk in my pocket which is invaluable to help growth our business," Whelan said.