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How can businesses flourish in such a competitive landscape and with the constant worry of a recession?
As the global economy continues on its arduous road to recovery and focus both politically and economically falls on sustainable growth; it’s important to take a moment to not lament the losses brought about by the worst financial recession in decades, but instead look to lessons from the survivors – even the prosperous – during troubled times. MVNOs particularly are a fascinating case study in growing business against the backdrop of a downturning economy. To give you some context, MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators) rent out unused parts of the mobile spectrum to offer new bespoke services to specific groups of customers at invariably much more attractive prices. Nimble and unsaddled with the burden of ownership, they are able to broker cheaper deals, achieve broader span and provide a more personal experience for the end user. I believe that many MVNOs weathered the economic storm because – in general – they are empowering their team to build their businesses around their customers: targeted and relevant, these businesses have the power to act like a startup even as their revenue reaches the millions.

Employ your customer
My chairman, Subaskaran Allirajah, and I founded the international MVNO Lycamobile in 2006 with ourselves in mind as the target customer. This immediate understanding of our customers’ problem – huge call charges to speak to our families abroad – left us with an opportunity to solve it in the best way possible. Try to employ from your customer pool: it will be in their best interests to be as excellent as they possibly can be. As customers they think “wouldn’t it be great if...”; as innovators they think "let’s do it".

Align career objectives with business objectives
It is essential that the entire team: every director, supplier, marketer, researcher is fully engaged in the vision of not just the company but also the customer; from providing or marketing a new product or service to offering expert advice. The spirit of problem-solving that sparked the business at the beginning needs to remain at the core of the company and must be encouraged throughout.

Propound the values that started your business through the senior management team and provide the inspiration for the team to do well both for their own career and for the company’s success.

Our technicians, for example, are empowered to block any international carrier which does not give the right quality and move to a more expensive carrier. They do not have to refer to the management team or the board for that decision. An instinct to make decisions which align with the company’s vision should run right across the business. Evidence of strong business decisions should be rewarded and career progression should be judged upon this, at any level. Autonomy, after all, begets innovation and excellence.

Nurture a culture of expertise
Encourage entrepreneurship; every single member of the team should behave and be treated as an expert. For example, in your marketing department, have teams dedicated to building relationships with the customers your business serves, comprised of people who understand that customer implicitly. For example, as a proposition which appeals to many different ethnic communities; it makes sense for Lycamobile to build a marketing team from people who belong to those communities themselves. They understand not just the need for our service but how our customers tick: the events they actually get excited about, the charities they are passionate about and the prizes they really want to win.

Reward individuals
Training and rewarding your staff is vital to maintaining a successful business. For example, at Lycamobile we have introduced: an eight person training team for our customer service agents, an in-house recruitment team to ensure the highest quality team, a full induction schedule including training in up to seven skillsets, award ceremonies to celebrate good customer feedback, reward schemes for above-and-beyond contribution and quarterly incentives of £1,000 for all customer service agents, team leaders and team managers. As a result of this investment, we have reduced staff attrition in customer care from its highest monthly figure of 25% to a 6% average for the last quarter of 2012. Motivated staff are more likely to go the extra mile and this is demonstrated through the highest levels of accountability and rewards. Introduce monthly awards for customer service agents showing the right behaviours and encourage the team to exceed expectations to reap in the benefits.

Businesses which are built around their target market and provide the best possible way of doing things will not only prosper but will set a standard for their industry. Your customers may be the lifeblood, but your team should be the heart. For both employees and employers, high workforce engagement is undoubtedly a healthy investment.
Business Growth
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