One of the biggest benefits of being a digital company is the resilience it affords us in times of crisis and uncertainty, such as the ones brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Once everyone at PayFast was able to get our heads wrapped around the new lockdown laws aimed at curbing the spread of the virus, we were quick to get our ducks in a row so that we could help PayFast merchants during this uncertain time.
While of course there were some initial challenges brought on by lockdown that PayFast had to overcome, we quickly came to realise how lucky we were. One could even say that we were in fact too lucky, in that we were unprepared to deal with the surge in demand of our online payments solution in a response to the strict lockdown rules and regulations.
The pandemic fast-tracked the requirement for businesses to move online to cater for customers who were demanding the convenience of being able to shop online from the safety of their homes. As a result of this, PayFast saw an 83% year-on-year increase in new business account registrations since lockdown began, compared to the same period last year. This unfortunately led to a delay in account verifications due to the sheer volumes that had to be reviewed by our Customer Services team, which in turn led to a support query backlog.
With a lot of hard work and by hiring new talented support agents, PayFast was able to recover from our dip in standards to be at the top of our game once more. On reflection, we have learnt a lot as a company from our unexpected lockdown growth. Below is a list of lessons learnt that could be of value to your business.
Automate functions and find the right tools to do so to make scaling easier
Initially setting up automated processes will take time and resources, but the long term value automation adds to growing your businesses sustainably outweighs this short term investment. If off-the-shelf tools aren’t available, then invest in building custom solutions for your needs.
Plan ahead in terms of resources
To speed up the recruitment process, it’s important to have job specs on hand and build good relationships with recruiters who know your teams, brand and business and can help you grow your staff complement. Pre-empt and plan for positions you don’t have yet and partner with recruiters well in advance of any urgent hiring needs.
It’s also worth considering ways in which temporary staff can be hired to help out during short-term growth spurts such as Black Friday and the festive season.
Hardware & equipment
Make sure there are easily accessible tools and equipment at your disposal for when replacements are necessary or to cater for new staff members. Many businesses learnt this the hard way during lockdown when there was a national computer shortage due to the surge in demand and restrictions on imports.
Although this point isn’t directly applicable to PayFast, it is to merchants who sell goods online. Even before the negative impact that the pandemic had on global trade, it was important to always ensure there was enough stock of products to sustain a profitable business model. Therefore, always make sure to have a good relationship with open dialog with suppliers and couriers to ensure a healthy supply chain.
Look after your most important asset, your customers
Create visibility with your customers by being open and transparent with your communication. For example, send automated mailers to track progress of deliveries and notify your customers when there is a delay.
Honesty is also always the best policy. If you are dealing with a high number of support queries due to an increase of demand for your product, for example, then be honest and explain why and how long customers can expect to wait for a response. Same applies when you are out of stock of a certain product or there is a delivery delay. Being honest will gain your customers’ trust and improve the likelihood of them becoming recurring customers.
Ensure resilience by being adaptable
One of the most important takeaways from lockdown is that you should never take for granted that your business will be safe. For example, restaurants were forced to close their doors and companies selling alcohol have been caught off guard not once, but twice. Therefore, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, have different products so ensure a stable revenue and leverage technology (ie. move your business online) to not only meet the demands of your existing customers but to also reach new ones.
As the South African economy is quickly reopening again, it’s important to not take for granted where we are now, but to learn from our past experiences to better prepare for whatever the future may have in store for us.