Aparna Khurjekar, senior VP and president, Verizon Business Markets
Verizon provides solutions and services tailored to the unique challenges of small businesses.
Chain Store Age recently spoke with Aparna Khurjekar, senior VP and president, Verizon Business Markets, about how Verizon meets the specific needs of businesses with fewer than 500 employees. Khurjekar, who joined Verizon in 2008 and has previously held titles with the company including chief customer officer, consumer, was an honoree in the Chain Store Age 2020 Top Women in Retail Tech awards event.
“There are over 32 million businesses with fewer than 500 employees in the U.S.; the majority with 20 employees or less,” explained Khurjekar. “They represent over 90% of the businesses in the U.S. and 50 to 60% of the workforce.”
According to Khurjekar, small business needs are similar to those of larger businesses, but more intense.
“Small businesses must be innovative to stay competitive,” she said. “They generally have little IT support or connectivity. COVID-19 has added to the challenge. COVID-19 caused a major to catastrophic impact on 80% of small businesses.”
Already holding over 50% of the U.S. small business telecom market before COVID-19, Verizon wanted to make sure it helped this critical portion of its commercial customer base through the pandemic.
“Typically, the lifeline of a small business is fixed and mobile connectivity,” said Khurjekar. “You need to connect the workforce and connect locations at the right speed, bandwidth capacity, and reliability. So many small businesses moved into connectivity beyond connecting A to B.”
Another area where Verizon is providing targeted assistance to small businesses is digital security. Khurjekar said small businesses are not immune to the growing number of cyberattacks occurring, and small businesses are not immune.
“We make sure customers and data are protected,” she stated. “Verizon builds a huge set of products and services. We get endpoints secured and protect against, detect, and fix breaches quickly,”
Khurjekar said that COVID-19 amplifies small businesses’ security problems by a factor of 10. Small retailers, in particular, faced pandemic challenges.
“Retailers had to send everyone home, and ensure they could still quickly and reliably communicate with headquarters and customers,” she said. “A lot of our retail customers had no digital presence, and then overnight went into digital. And even as customers started going back to the store, they wanted to keep using digital services and enter the store when needed.”
In addition, Khurjekar said that many small retailers that are moving from foot traffic to digital traffic, and didn’t know how to create e-commerce demand.
“We have service specialists and partner solutions that help small retailers curate sites and create search engine optimization,” said Khurjekar. There has also been a lot growth in Internet of Things (IoT) during and beyond COVID-19. IoT remotely pushes telemetry signals, then captures and pulls them back in.”
The rush to digital retailing in the past 18 months has also redefined the scope of customer loyalty.
“Customers are loyal to digital, contactless experiences,” she said. “They are no longer loyal to physical convenience or access. As stores open, they expect touchless shopping. There is an immense need to ensure digital experiences in-store. Stores need reliable connectivity for in-store digital services like BOPIS and curbside pickup.”
Looking ahead, Khurjekar, said Verizon is actively working to futureproof small businesses against another viral outbreak.
“We would rather be prepared than sorry,” she said. “Verizon puts businesses of all sizes on an equal footing through digital transformation.”
Verizon survey – Small businesses embrace technology Khurjekar also referred to data from a recent survey Verizon conducted of 600 small-to-medium-sized businesses. Findings include:
Optimism among small businesses: 68% of respondents predict their business will be better off in a year versus now. 53% say the overall state of their business is better than it was in August of 2020.
Security top concern: 50% cited endpoint vulnerabilities as a business risk. To compensate, 59% plan to require multi-factor logins to access systems within the next year, and 56% are training employees on best cybersecurity practices.
Using technology to address labor shortage: 30% are now using technology to compensate for a shortage of workers.
Investment in high-capacity internet: 52% report purchasing/upgrading to high-capacity Internet since the onset of the pandemic.
Embracing technology: 63% said they have implemented digital tools and technologies to enhance customer experiences and create new business opportunities, compared to just over half who were doing so this time last year (53%).
Editor’s Note: The Verizon Small Business Days promotional event will allow small- and medium-sized businesses to access up to $1,000 in savings from Sep. 13-17, 2021.