By Neil King
A good business needs a good set-up. John Lincoln, senior VP for small and medium businesses at Etisalat, explains how the UAE’s largest telco is helping small businesses bloom.
For the UAE’s biggest telecommunications company, Etisalat, small businesses deserve big attention.
With more than 300,000 small and medium sized companies on its books, the telco’s SME division offers a range of products and services designed to make life easier for customers.
According to John Lincoln, senior VP for small and medium businesses, Etisalat’s keen SME focus is driven by a commitment to the future of the UAE.
“The UAE government has a noble inspiration to make this the hub for SMEs and businesses to come and set up their business here,” he says.
“We want to enable that. We want to be a strong participant in enabling the UAE government’s vision to make that happen. That’s the first thing.
“The second thing is that SMEs generate 60-70 percent of the GDP of the UAE. That’s pretty significant, and 90 percent of people who work in companies work in SMEs.
“So, anything that’s good for the SMEs is good for the nation. When it’s good for the nation it’s good for Etisalat. That’s the way we see it.”
With more than 100,000 news SMEs expected to enter the UAE in the next three years, Lincoln adds that Etisalat wants to support both the government and the businesses by being a contributing factor to their joint success, saying the company wants to “make their transition to the UAE very smooth, productive and profitable”.
In order to do this, Etisalat offers a range of services including ICT support, equipment, connectivity, and more. Its integrated Business in a Box product is one of the latest offerings, providing the basic essentials for businesses to get started – helping SMEs get on their feet quickly.
For Lincoln, any SME product from Etisalat needs to tick certain boxes.
He explains: “We believe all our propositions have to meet three universal needs of SMEs.
“One is of course value for money. Value for money has two components: One is the capex (capital expenditure) to opex (operating expenses) model. SMEs are tight on cash flow so we believe that any proposition we offer should not force the SME to put a huge capital outlay. The second thing is that because they have budgets, and budgets are normally tight, we want them to know that all our propositions are transparent and all our pricings are always predictable.
“So there’s no sticker shock – nothing hidden there.
“The second part of the way we look at SME needs is convenience. SMEs are so focused on running their own business, looking after their business, setting up their business, that we believe they should not have to go and figure out which router they need, buy a computer from this guy, or buy a phone here, and SIM card there. We think about that and our propositions are all bundled.
“The third thing is that we should take away complexity for them. Because they can’t afford the very expensive IT administrators and so forth that large companies have, we believe that whatever we offer should take away the complexity so they can focus on the business.”
Lincoln believes that when these three conditions are met, Etisalat is in a sound position to help SMEs grow effectively.
“Our propositions help them be more productive,” he continues.
“We believe our propositions help them run their businesses better, help them reach their customers better, help them to manage their employees better, and also help them manage their supply chain.”
“First and foremost all our propositions have to meet the unique needs of SMEs. Secondly we want to be able to say that we help them be productive, thereby more profitable and more sustainable.”
As we’ll as productivity, the customer experience is a top priority for Etisalt, ensuring customers’ needs are met, and any difficulties are resolved.
Here is where SME account managers make a difference for the telco.
Lincoln explains: “We make sure there is a dedicated account manager that helps them solve their problems, and make sure that we are accessible because SMEs are fragmented and spread out all over the place in the UAE.
“We want to make sure they can be reached, and if they have support issues or enquiries, that we are reachable 24/7 by 365.”
It’s not just the personnel who make a difference – the kit that’s on offer, and the assistance with funds also play an important role.
“We think that most SMEs today have a huge issue with funding and capital outlay,” says Lincoln.
“Beyond the laptops and beyond the phones and the traditional things the SMEs need, they also need printers, they need routers, they need projectors and all these wonderful things. We will offer them all of that, and they can pay on a pay-as-you-go model.”
Digistisation is also a key area that Lincoln and Etisalat aim to improve for small businesses – identifying huge potential for customers who take advantage of the opportunity.
He says: “In this market there is only a tiny sliver of SMEs who can truly be called IT leaders. The majority are IT laggards. I believe there’s a huge potential for SMEs to not just be web-enabled, but to serve their customers through digitisation, enable them to manage their employees better, and so on.
“So what do we offer for that? The obvious one is the straightforward horizontal applications that you require, like CRM, HR management, sales force, and so on. But beyond that it leads to other complexities. Security vulnerability is coming, so that’s one thing we can offer them – the security services. Or the storage, the backup that you require, or the land management.
“All these things we can offer SMEs. A lot is available today, but more propositions are being designed and being rolled out.
One recent development is the SME call centre, which has improved the ease of setting up for new businesses in the UAE.
Launched last year, the call centre provides comprehensive ICT services and support, as well as information for new businesses looking to set up with Etisalat.
And as Lincoln explains, it has become an important cog in the wider machinery of the company’s SME initiatives.
He says: “As well as having the propositions that we roll out, we do a lot of customer education in the market, we have a dedicated account manager, and we increase the business points of presence in the UAE,” says Lincoln.
“And of course the call centre is an integral part of the strategy.
“I’m really proud to say we’re the first in the region to have a really dedicated SME call centre. Most telcos have a call centres that shares with the consumer, or shares with the large enterprises. But SMEs have a unique need, and we recognise that.
“If you’re a new business in the UAE, you call in ... and it goes to a well trained customer support staff who can then direct you to make an appointment to have somebody visit you in the next 24 who will then offer you a very special proposition for start-ups.”
But while Lincoln is pleased with progress, he adds a dash of realism to proceedings.
“Of course it doesn’t mean that life is a bed of roses,” he says.
“We have a long way to go, and one vision of the leadership of Etisalat is to make sure the customer experience be the forefront and pillar of what we do for any customers.
“SMEs are a very important segment and a very important growth segment because it’s not just go for Etisalat, it’s good for the country as a whole, so we take that very seriously.”
He is, however, pleased with the impact the call centre has had on the SMEs division, and SMEs themselves, and hopes to see an even greater effect over time.
“Customers have been very responsive,” he says.
“The results have been very encouraging so far in terms of the call centre, but we believe we still have a long way to grow. The full-scale launch was only last October, so it takes time. It’s been a great journey so far, we hope that we continue to improve, we hope to have differentiate levels of service, differentiate levels of support, more technical support, and more expert selling. All that will happen, but there’s some way to go.
“We are blessed as a company with the largest number of SME customers in the UAE. We take that responsibility very seriously – we don’t take it for granted.”
Ultimately, for Lincoln, being a telecommunications company is only the tip of the iceberg for Etisalat when it comes to SMEs.
“We do not see our space as just a telco space,” he says.
“We have hundreds of different players servicing the SME market for hardware, for software, for IT support. We want to compete with those people because we have, number one, propositions and services that meet their needs.
“Number two, I believe we are one of the only ones who meet the capex-opex aspect of what customers need. Number three, we have dedicated account managers; number four we have more retail points of presence; number five we have the largest fiber network in the country, and fiber connectivity is essential to SMEs to digitisation.”
All of which has led Etisalat to its latest thematic marketing campaign, “sending a message to SMEs that behind every small business there’s a big business,” says Lincoln.
“This is what we are for SMEs. We have much more to do, and we have been blessed with great people in Etisalat who are dedicated to seeing SMEs grow. It is a passion for us.
“We just hope we can help them. We hope we can be of service to them and earn their loyalty and trust.”
So far, the company appears to be doing that pretty well indeed.