Crisis and beyond: The power of business partnerships

5-minute read

How did businesses respond to the three UK-wide lockdowns and how is this shaping the future? Nicole Olbe, our Managing Director of Payment Partnerships, talks business resilience and the long-term value of powerful business partnerships.

The power of business partnerships

In business, as in life, you play to your strengths. If there is a gap in your expertise or offering, you innovate or you form a partnership. This is simplifying things, of course. But if the global pandemic of 2019-2021, and its accompanying restrictions, have taught us anything, it’s the power of collaboration, co-creation and the many partnership advantages we can give business customers access to.

Partnerships were critical to transforming our support to businesses in their completely changed environments

Nicole Olbe, Managing Director of Payment Partnerships

The pandemic shaped our lives and changed our futures. For me, there were very clear differences in response to each of the three national lockdowns. Each tells us a lot about what lies ahead.

Lockdown 1 – A frantic scramble

Beginning 23rd March 2020, with a phased re-opening of education and retail from 1st June 2020

For many businesses, this was a time of frantic scramble for survival. For others it was a case of working out how to meet a huge spike in demand. For those who didn’t have an online presence, sold a product or service that took a back seat, who simply couldn’t operate during this time, it was about making tough decisions.

This was the start of a huge period of fast adaptation. I think we all learnt many things, but the importance of partnerships in playing to our strengths was certainly key to our adaptation. Into a business that could best guide our businesses and partners through uncharted territory. Not only that, but also how we got them to differentiate themselves through working with us.

Specifically, we got propositions in place with our ecommerce partners. The priority for many businesses was how to start selling online. Technology company and independent software vendor (ISV), BigCommerce, became a key partner, one that is helping us to take small and medium businesses online.

Jim Herbert, Vice President & General Manager EMEA, BigCommerce said of the partnership:

“The partnership between Barclaycard and BigCommerce brings together two huge brands, enabling frictionless payments, providing greater reach to new markets and delivering a seamless end-to-end customer experience.”

Lockdown 2 – Thinking differently meant new-found capabilities

31st October–2nd December 2021, then replaced by the three-tier system

This period was all about the start of transformation. Bricks and mortar to ecommerce really took off, even in restaurants with the widespread adoption of home kits. Like us, many businesses had done a lot of the tough groundwork in the first lockdown. For us, we realised our ability to mobilise quickly, not only through our own capability, but also by leveraging the capability and expertise of our partners. While none of us wanted a second lockdown, we were at least set up well for it in many ways.

A lot of our small business customers were already thinking differently too. They were trading online, and this new world forced us to break our normal processes so we could move at pace and solve big problems for retailers.

Necessity is the mother of invention, so it was encouraging to see creative ideas from our teams and partners. Ideas to solve not only going online quickly, but also social distancing, where people didn’t want to put their card into a terminal, or interact with another human being.

Lockdown 3 – “Proper” innovation, and a focus on employee and business resilience

26th December 2020 - Tier 4 for 78% of the population

4th January 2021 - official start of the third national lockdown

For me, the third lockdown was all about innovation and resilience. Activity was stepped up at pace around the use of data to model changing customer needs and behaviours. It was happening long before this, of course, but this was data’s time to shine, if you like. Data highlighted increased uptake of restaurant kits, for example, which in turn saw many more restaurants joining and bolstering the trend, and leveraging occasions like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day.

These restaurants couldn’t have done this alone. It required supplier and supply chain management (adding packaging suppliers, for example), logistics collaborations (from refrigeration to delivery), digitisation of everything from marketing to ordering to payments. It meant a complete shift in business modelling for many establishments. All the while wondering if it was a trend that would last beyond the pandemic, and whether all the change, innovation and investment would be worth it.

This is one of the reasons why we partnered with Tevalis. Through the agreement, the integration of Tevalis' systems with Barclaycard terminals means the average sale processing time is reduced from over a minute to just 20 seconds. For our customers, this is all about helping to improve speed-of-service, customer satisfaction and staff productivity.

I think we’re all confident that the changes in consumer attitude and behaviour that we saw from the end of 2019, through 2020 and into 2021, are here to stay. Click and collect and virtual engagement will remain, as part of a different mix of engagement and purchase, of course, but still a vital consideration, particularly in retail, and hospitality and leisure.

Just as B2C brands changed their models to meet changing customer behaviour, we continued to build our partnerships ecosystem and focus on resilience of payments and payments security for our customers. I’ve already mentioned our ISV payments partnership with BigCommerce, which is designed to help businesses sell online.

Even for those businesses who predominantly operate face-to-face, there’s a need to look at being where their customers are when it comes to the payment journey. WellnessLiving is a partnership that is helping the health and wellness industry reinvent in the market. It’s a cloud-based business management solution for wellness studios, offering features like online booking, resource scheduling, lead generation, virtual services, and tracking and reporting solutions.

The future – from momentum and creativity, to diversity, inclusion and flexible working

A global pandemic will always leave a legacy, in both the negative and positive senses of the word.

Momentum and creativity – as I’ve written about in this article, for us there’s been a huge focus on the power of collaboration and partnerships. For our customers, the main criteria when picking a supplier or partner is still trust. We will continue to be the trusted advisors our customers need us to be.

Diversity and Inclusion - the Coronavirus pandemic put a real magnifying glass on diversity and inclusion. What did it do to developing female talent? What did it do in terms of diversity and inclusion? What did it do for young talent; the graduates coming through and the opportunities they are presented with? What about the student base; the people who couldn’t socialise at college and university?

All the networking opportunities those scenarios create when you're going through those formative years of studying, were gone. People weren’t really able to go out and find new jobs, which meant upward mobility stalled, and that had a negative impact on (amongst other things) female talent, and getting that equality around board tables.

Flexible working – on the plus side, the pandemic did more for flexible working than I’ve seen in my 20+ year career albeit for many this was simply then offset by the need to include home schooling or care into their daily routine.

For us, and for all the small businesses we work with, it's trying to figure out how we take the best of this experience and leave the worst behind. What I do know is that we are stronger together.

The power of business partnerships

You don’t need to be expert in everything

Being a business owner doesn’t mean being an expert in everything, but it can feel that way when it comes to things like building an ecommerce website.

Call us on 08001585149* to find out how we and our partnerships, in everything from web design to invoice finance, could help you take your business where you want it to go.

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