Verizon’s VP of small business talks labor shortages, 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 vice president of nationwide small business Aimee Novak. Its team has 1000 professionals across the country.

“During the pandemic, it was more about how do we help them survive?” she said. “I think we all probably have stories where our favorite little shop or our favorite restaurant didn’t make it. Nobody wants to see it. So we’ve really found ways to help them roll over.”

The company’s services to small businesses include Internet, 5G, and IP voice streaming service, which converts your voice into a digital file and sends it over the Internet so you never miss a call. It may also offer security solutions and a Zoom competitor called BlueJeans. Novak said the tools help small businesses look bigger.

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

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

What have you learned working with small businesses?

What we have learned over the past two years is that flexibility is not an option. We conducted a small business survey at the end of April and found some pretty interesting statistics. And one of them was the importance of being flexible. So you can see that among all sizes of business, small and large, flexibility is really critical when thinking about survival and anticipating what might happen next.

How do you find small business customers for Verizon?

We greet customers who come into the store. But we also look throughout the community for opportunities to partner with customers we don’t have today. Cristina Fine Mexican Restaurant in D-FW is an example of this. They are a younger customer and we have been able to partner with them and meet their needs like 5G and internet.

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

Like consumers, they have had to adapt and change some of their operating models. So no small business wants to raise prices for customers, but at the end of the day, they are trying to find ways to bring their businesses into the digital world. So we’re hearing a lot of questions about that. They are trying to find ways to collaborate that will make their employees more productive like with video services. When we talk to our customers, more than two-thirds of all businesses we surveyed said their businesses are better off now than they were a year ago. And they thought they would 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 window saying Help Needed. But I think it’s more than just trying to recruit talent. It’s that once they’re on board, how do you store them? So we consider the retention process to start on day one. We’re really making sure we have a great onboarding program. Again, culture is very important. Making sure the team feels like they’re getting the training they need and that they’re able to be part of the community.

Why do you think some businesses have difficulty 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 is certainly an option.

Is pay the most important thing for employees?

Not always. Salary is definitely important. But the flexible model has shifted from the bottom, because we didn’t know what that meant before the pandemic, to get there for people. Now people say: “This is how I want to work.” And I’m going to find a company that supports that.”

Talking to Andy Rabin, JPMorgan’s head of investment banking for the Southwest and West

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