Peggy and Dave Silke, chief marketing officer, Mitel, talk about relying on technology and remote working during the pandemic. He says there are opportunities in terms of growth, even today. They also discuss which verticals had to respond immediately to the pandemic, giving specific examples. He also explains how companies are now becoming consultants and creating a new customer experience due to the impact of the pandemic.

Below is an excerpt from the interview. To hear the entire interview on The Peggy Smedley Show, visit peggysmedleyshow.com, and select 02/25/2021 from the archives.

Peggy Smedley: So Dave, it’s exciting to have you talk to us today because you’re based in a beautiful part of the world, so it’s exciting to have you on the show. So, you’ve had an opportunity to see the world, because you’ve had an opportunity to see business and innovation from a whole global perspective. And, with everything going on in the world today, we’ve seen the pandemic shut us down in a different way. But, I’d like to take a view from your perspective. So, let’s talk about business technology innovation in general. Do you believe growth is really possible during a pandemic? Because, we’ve all been shut down for this past year, and it’s really had a hard impact on a lot of companies. But, what I found intriguing is you view it from a whole different perspective.

Dave Silke: First of all, is growth possible? It’s definitely possible. I think it’s critically important, first of all, to recognize the enormity of the challenges that everybody has gone through over the past 12 months. As you mentioned, I’m sitting here in Galway, on the West coast of Ireland today, and my last trip was 12 months ago. And, what we saw, not just in Galway in Ireland, but all over the world back in March of 2020, was just this immediate reaction in terms of, “Hey, we’ve got to keep our businesses going. We are going to rely on technology and remote working in a way that we never thought possible, weeks beforehand.”

And, we’ve seen incredible innovation. We’ve seen companies really taking a look at the way that they communicate, and drive new experiences with the customers that they serve. So, I think it’s important to recognize, has it been difficult? Oh, my yes. For so many different people, for so many different companies, but there’s definitely opportunities in terms of growth. And for me in a lot of cases, it really comes down to the experiences that customers are really trying to drive with the consumers and the customers they serve.

Smedley: It’s an interesting way of looking at it, because I think when we look at business today, business has changed in a lot of different ways, and I think you have to think about your customers. You have to think about their needs, their businesses. Do people really look at their businesses in different ways? Do they have to think about what the business is? Can you give me examples of what that means? Because, when I think about business today in a pandemic, we’ve had to shift our models. We have to say, “Business today isn’t business as usual.” It’s not about just doing business as normal. It’s about doing business better. And so, in a pandemic, you’ve had to do business differently, and I know you have really great examples. Can we talk about what some of those are?

Silke: Yeah. We’ve seen in business, if you take a look at some of the verticals that had to respond immediately. So, retail moved from the storefront to the digital front almost immediately. That spurned increases in businesses such as online security, but also the courier services, the delivery package services. All of a sudden those companies that, they may have driven a hybrid in-store model with digital and online, all of a sudden the majority of their business moved to an online model.

(We) saw the same thing when it came to healthcare. Healthcare immediately became the front foot of how to deal with COVID and the pandemic. We’ve seen a huge increase in the use of technology. I think you see innovation that’s happening in areas that may not have been described as even healthcare before the pandemic. So, we’ve got pop-up testing, we’ve got tracing applications, we’ve got contact in the use of data in a completely and utterly new way. I think one of the overwhelming things, certainly, Mitel as a communications company, that we’ve noticed, is that in all of the cases, each of those companies radically needed to rethink how it was that we’re going to effectively communicate with their customers to make sure that they were doing that effectively.

And, not just in one way. The one way previously may have been in-person. All of a sudden, consumers wanted multiple ways to reach out to the companies that serve them, whether that was text, or chat, or video, or lots of different things. And that meant, all of a sudden, companies really needed to think about how are they going to communicate with their customers in a way that literally changed in a matter of weeks.

Smedley: It’s funny you should say that, because think about how businesses had to ramp up, whether that online model you talk about, healthcare, tracing, contact. We’re all a touchy society when we think about the way we think about things. We’re moving out of, at least I hope, being sheltering in place for this almost a year that we just talked about.

So, I’m curious in your mind, because you talk about being a communications company. We’ve had to think about things, and I guess I’ve got this long-winded question. When we look at this, we have to think about helping businesses thrive now. How much of our businesses are going to be the way they are because the pandemic has changed the way we go about doing business now?

We’ve had to think about things differently, cities are never going to be the same because it’s this contact list tracing that you just described, how do you help them implement all these new strategies that we’ve had to do now? Because, society, we’ve got to think about the pandemic, not just now, but going forward. What advice do you give them to say, “Here’s what you have to implement. Here’s how you’ve got to be careful of the bad guys who are constantly going to try to strike at you.” And, as a company like yourself, you’re constantly helping your customers make sure they’re doing the right moves. I know I threw a lot at you, but can you peel back the onion? Because I know everybody listening is looking at a company like you to help them understand how do they communicate the right messages to their customers?

Silke: Yeah. The challenge you mentioned, peel back the onion, the challenge is that it’s a big onion that needs to be peeled back. I think that the customers that Mitel serves, usually they’re mid-market enterprises in all facets of life. So, in a lot of cases, they would look to Mitel for a fundamental need, which has not changed, which is, “How do we make sure that we ensure connections? How do we make sure that we ensure that each and every one of those companies maintains the ability to communicate effectively with their customers?” In a lot of cases, those companies would work with IT partners all over the world. And, I think that the role of those IT partners has just massively changed in the last 12 months. All of a sudden, they’ve moved away from, “Hey, I’m going to be the IT seller that sells you a piece of software, or some piece of hardware,” into, “I’m now going to become the consultant that’s going to help you to really think through the impact of this pandemic and your business.”

And, you need to think about, “What are the security issues, what are the data issues? What are the ways that you’re going to need to make sure that you efficiently create a new customer experience?” And again, I think one of the lessons learned, and you asked the question about providing guidance, and what would we say? One of the biggest issues that companies dealt with was, “How do we maintain our employees, and how do we get them working remotely? Can we do that effectively?” In a lot of cases, the technology was already there. It existed, whether that was on video, or on voice. What changed, almost overnight, was the use case. Never before was there a use case demand to say that, “Hey, we need to move 90% of enterprises into remote working in a period of maybe three, four weeks, and keep those in business.”

So, I think what really was fundamental, and a big change was, even though the technology would have been there, in terms of keeping communications going, the use cases had to be adapted very, very quickly to ensure that those businesses could get their employees working effectively using remote solutions. And, that wouldn’t have been the case before. There might’ve been some hybrid motion, it might’ve been 10% work from home, and all of a sudden that was turned on its head, and it became 90, if not 100% work from home, and let’s make sure that we keep our business running at the same time. That was a big, big, big shift.

Smedley: Is there one industry or another that’s going to have the bigger challenge with this, that they’re going to find we are better at working remotely? Because you’re a master, I think, at achieving success at working remotely. You understand it. You just talked about it, being in Galway, Ireland. You know that, and you’re able to advise people on how to do it, but the idea is you have to have empathy, you have to understand. We’re a society that has to get better at working remotely, but it’s more than just working remotely. It’s having workspaces that are properly equipped, and understand, as I mentioned, you have to have the security.

You have to be able to work with your customers and understand their needs. I always say, “It’s like an old Clairol commercial, and so on, and so on, and so on.” And, we really need to understand those needs. How do you communicate those needs for every different vertical, and knowing which vertical, or market segment, is going to be more successful than another, when it’s manufacturing, and retail, and transportation, every different segment has every different needs?

Silke: You used a great word, which was empathy. I do really believe that a company such as Mitel, where we have tens of millions of users all over the world, we have to listen, in every case. It’s not just a matter of providing some point solution for your communications needs. You really need to take the time to listen to the challenges that your customer faces, because every single vertical will be different. I think about education as a great example. Education has, all over the world, moved virtually and online. Think about the creative spaces that education has to make in a virtual world, where you have a three-year-old, or a four-year-old, with completely different needs to a mature student who may be more adaptable at working in that virtual environment. What is the user experience?

So, I think very quickly we’re all getting tired of the screen interface. How is that going to evolve over time? So, I really do think that the use of the word empathy, and really thinking through the challenges that the customer faces, because there will not be one single solution to fit everybody, you really need to think through their use case and the challenges that each and every one of those vertical businesses face.

Smedley: I keep saying, this is going to be the generation of the screener, Dave. That’s why we’re getting tired of this, I agree with you on that one. So, what would you tell others who have just started doing all the successful advice you’ve just described? How do you tell them now, “Let’s look to the next year, look beyond, and moving forward?” What advice do you give them? Let jumpstart, let’s look beyond this pandemic, let’s think positive, because I’m always a positive gal. I want people to get, and see that they can move beyond this pandemic, and see that light at the end of the tunnel. What advice do you want to give our listeners right now?

Silke: Yeah. I’m with you on that. I’m the eternal optimist, too, and I think there’s definitely hope, and there’s definitely light. I think there’s three things. The first is, if you’re a company, no matter what you’re providing, you’ve got to be flexible. You’ve got to be flexible with the solutions that you provide, you’ve got to be flexible in the way that you finance those solutions for your customer, because in many cases, they may not simply be able to pay it all up front. They’re going to look for a way to spread that cost over a longer period of time. The second thing I think is you’ve really got to think through the challenge that the customer is facing. So, in the past you may have provided one solution to fix a particular need. It’s unlikely, now, that that one solution will address all of the problems.

You’re going to need to think in multiple ways, whether that’s some form of hybrid solution, whether it’s just thinking about it differently. And, the third piece is really, “What are the experiences now that you’re looking to create?” So, the experience in hospitality would radically change, irrespective of what comes after the next number of months. We’re seeing the adoption of technology in hospitality, we’re seeing the adoption of clean spaces, and safe spaces, and home away from home spaces, and hospitality. So, in every single instance, I really do think that companies need to think about, what is the uniqueness of the experience that they’re creating for their customer, and then think about how do you serve that, and be incredibly flexible throughout that? Because, that’s so important.

For more information on Mitel go to www.mitel.com. It’s full of stories; it’s full of examples of how we’re helping customers every single day of the week. So, check us out there. There’s lots of information.