Verizon’s VP of small business talks labor shortage, inflation and optimism

Most people think of Verizon as a rival to T-Mobile and AT&T.

But the New York-based telecommunications company wants to be seen as more than that, including as a small business provider, said Verizon’s vice president of nationwide small business Aimee Novak. Her team has 1,000 professionals across the nation.

“During the pandemic, it was more how do we help them survive?” she said. “I think we all probably have stories where our favorite little shop or favorite restaurant didn’t make it. No one wants to see that. So we’ve really found ways to help them pivot.”

The services the company provides to small businesses include internet, 5G and voice-over IP service, which converts your voice to a digital file and sends it over the internet so you never miss a call. It can also provide security solutions and a Zoom competitor called BlueJeans. Novak said the tools help small businesses appear larger.

“Customers can use BlueJeans and it makes them look a lot bigger than they actually are, and small businesses embrace that because they want to have a professional appearance,” she said.

Novak has been at Verizon for 16 years after starting as a technical data representative. She moved to Texas three years ago and lives in Keller. She talked about some of the insights she’s gained in her current role:

What have you learned working with small businesses?

What we’ve learned over the last couple of years is that flexibility isn’t an option. We ran a small business survey at the end of April, and we found some pretty interesting statistics. And one of those was the importance of being flexible. So you can see that among all business sizes, small and large, flexibility is really critical when you think about surviving and anticipating what could be next.

How do you find small business customers for Verizon?

We greet customers who come into the store. But we also prospect throughout the community for opportunities to partner with customers that we don’t have today. Cristina’s Fine Mexican Restaurant in D-FW is an example of that. They’re a newer customer, and we’ve been able to partner with them and meet their needs such as 5G and internet.

How are small business owners feeling right now with inflation, supply chain issues and labor issues?

Like consumers, they’ve had to adapt and change some of their operating models. So no small business wants to raise prices for the customers, but at the end of the day, they’re trying to find ways to bring their businesses into the digital world. So we’re hearing a lot of questions about that. They’re trying to find ways to collaborate that will make their employees more productive like with video services. When we talk with our customers, more than two out of three of all the businesses that we surveyed said that their businesses are better off now than they were a year ago. And they felt like they’d be better off a year from now than they are today. So there’s definitely a sense of optimism.

What are you hearing about labor issues?

I was driving down the street last night, and I didn’t see a business that didn’t have a sign in the yard or in the window saying it needed help. But I think it’s more than just trying to recruit talent. It’s that once they’re on board, how do you retain them? So we consider the retention process to start on day one. We’re really making sure that we have a great onboarding program. Again, culture is super important. Making sure that the team feels like they’re getting the training that they need, and that they’re able to be part of the community.

Why do you think some businesses are having trouble filling roles?

I think when people went home during the pandemic, they decided to make different choices. Some wanted to work from home, and that’s certainly an option.

Is pay the most important thing for employees?

Not always. Pay is clearly important. But the flexible model has been moved from the bottom, because we didn’t know what that meant before the pandemic, this way up there for people. Now people are saying, “This is how I want to work. And I’m going to find a company that supports that.”

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