Zimbabwean businesses beyond 2020
Zimbabwean businesses have been left behind in technology. Information technology has not been fully implemented beyond the use of spreadsheets, email and some other mundane data capture and processing tasks. Simple business models that revolve around technology like email marketing or direct marketing are just buzz business models with almost zero presence in Zimbabwe.
With most countries particularly in Southern Africa like South Africa, Zambia and Namibia speaking about SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises), the bulk of Zimbabwean businesses has failed to rank that high and the informal sector dominates economic activities.
Covid-19 has hit most Zimbabweans below the belt. With governments the world over, including super economies like China, Japan, Russia, USA and Britain being hard hit by the pandemic, the Zimbabwean situation is in dire straits. With health infrastructure in disarray, rife unemployment, runaway inflation levels and general poverty being the summary of the Zimbabwean economy, many businesses, be they formal, SMEs or informal are having a hard rethink on the way forward.
Covid-19 has changed the world business outlook. Education and learning institutions have been challenged and the transformation that is required will evolve the learning institutions to be “never the same again”. Even autocratic regimes, whose incessant plunder and externalization of national resources have been seriously warned to think again. Covid-19 and national lock-downs that followed has made it impossible for the affluent to seek medical attention in foreign lands as has been the norm in most African countries.
Google and Facebook announced that their employees need not report for work until 2021 as they can work remotely. National Lock-downs mean that businesses have to close save for a few that have been deemed essential services. Lock-downs have allowed people to pause and reflect on many things. We have been taking gatherings for granted and only realized their importance when social distancing reared its ugly head. Then there are those who were forced to self- isolate. The vicious spread of Covid-19 is also forcing businesses to rethink about office layouts and furniture designs.
Despite the closure of businesses, employees still require their salaries and this has been a headache for Zimbabwean businesses especially given that they are operating under difficult business conditions.
The bulk of Zimbabwean businesses is not optimized for remote work. Unlike our South African neighbors who have moved with the times, our businesses hardly give a complete customer journey as the last leg of almost all Zimbabwean businesses is a visit to the local shop to pay for and get a product or service. There is very little that can start with a link and end with a door to door delivery. As a matter of fact, the post office is dead and buried.
Serious Rebranding and a New Approach
As a website designer, I have met quite a number of small business leaders and the question on their mind is: How can we transform business to be able to serve our customers in the areas they leave without burdening them with having to come to use.? To me that is a very good question. We have for long structured our goods and services for consumption just within our borders but now Covid-19 has given us a rude awakening.
Harvard University has just announced that all its courses will be taken online in the academic calendar 2020- 2021. Learning centers are high human traffic concentrated area and pose as the most dangerous places to be during the rampage of the pandemic.
I have had the privilege of visiting many business websites. They are just websites. A few of them actually qualify as web applications and for the avoidance of doubt, those that qualify as web applications include Telone self-service portal where you can top up your broadband data and telephone account. You can view this service here https://selfservice.telone.co.zw. Another example of a good application is Pay Now service which is a Zimbabwean payment gateway. The service is available here: https://paynow.co.zw. Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA): https://zimra.co.zw the country’s tax collection service has partial services that are offered on its website you will have to complete the customer journey by visiting their offices. Banks also have internet banking but with the quality of our internet services, internet banking is a pain in the neck sometime.
Back to the drawing board
We are still deep in Covid-19 territory, people are still being infected and dying left right and center. Zimbabweans are back on the streets for their “hustle” as that is the survival means of the majority. Braving Covid-19 is not a matter of choice, Zimbabweans are desperate. At this stage most have realized how vulnerable they are by living from hand to mouth. At this stage most of us realize that we cannot survive a complete 120-day lock-down but…. What if we can still work and earn money under lock-down conditions? What if we can remodel our businesses to avoid the need for our customers to come to us? What if we can improve our businesses so that employees work remotely?
For all these what if scenarios to work, businesses need to refocus the whole customer acquisition process, the whole customer journey and device service offerings that are smooth, secure and trustworthy. They need to rethink how they can be paid securely without customers living their homes and how to deliver products and services. We need the postal service to start working again.
We need our customer acquisition services to be robust, competitive and up to world standards. Customer journeys need to be short, clear and memorable otherwise our customers will continue importing because aliexpress offers a better customer experience than our websites.
Zimbabwean businesses need to stop manufacturing pretty websites which are not optimized. Zimbabwean businesses need to realize that websites are their international shops. There being millions of webpages on the internet with probably thousands offering the same products as our own, we seriously need to up our game by investing seriously on our international shops as the source of new customer acquisition. We have thousands of websites that do not rank organically because we have taken a “hustling” approach to business and have not realized that we need to compete internationally. We hear about SEO and our attitude is that “it’s not really serious”. If customers are to buy from us without visiting our physical shops how are they going to find us? That is the million-dollar question.
It must be realized that Search Engine Optimization is the backbone of all internet business. Your digital footprint relies on Search Engine Optimization. Your customers’ journey relies in part to search engine optimization. Search engine optimization allows you to enjoy low cost of customer acquisition.
Zimbabwean businesses must wake up from their slumber. The time for designing and pushing products to the customer is gone. The customer now controls what gets produced and how it is produced, packaged and delivered. Customer acquisition, engagement, entertainment and retention are the in-thing that is why focus is shifting to social media pages. There is where you listen to the conversations of your customer. There is where you learn what they want and how they want it. Covid-19 has shown us how vulnerable our physical shops are and our business continuity can only be guaranteed if we evolve. We are still in Covid-19 territory and we do not know when this nightmare will end. Crowds of customers visiting our shops are now a big fat no. Allow your customers to transact in safety and in their homes. If you do not have a means to make this work now, you need to rethink, evolve and rebrand. Business is not going back to where it used to be. It is only those that have the flexibility and vision to see the future who will survive post Covid-19. Businesses ought to do what businesses do—make a neat profit for shareholders. Here is what you should do:
- Revisit your website or have one designed.
- Create customer journeys that are smooth
- Invest in SEO either in-house or through agency
- Integrate your Social Media Pages
- Convert visitors into customers
- Make a neat profit
If you are a furniture manufacturer, your products have to be designed in a way that allows for social distancing. Cubicles and partitions need to be more secure and restrict bodily contact. This is one good example.