For Verizon’s business unit, pandemic is true test — and chance to shine

Group CEO has to help customers make smooth switch to telecommuting, while keeping own wokers safe and planning for 5G future

By Tom Bergeron
Basking Ridge | Apr 10, 2020 at 6:15 am

Tami Erwin is thrilled that her thousands of New Jersey employees are not only working safely from home but have helped Verizon business customers adjust to working remotely, too. And she’s happy that Verizon’s network is handling an increase in volume that is now doubling what the company handles on what traditionally is its busiest time: Mother’s Day.

She knows, however, that Verizon’s greatest challenge may be what lies ahead, as it prepares to fast-track its mobile business initiatives that now are in hot demand.

Erwin, an executive vice president and the group CEO of Verizon’s business line who is based in Basking Ridge, said the COVID-19 pandemic has changed nearly every company’s business model.

“What every customer is telling us is that they are at a point in their business evolution where digital transformation is something that they have to accelerate,” she told ROI-NJ.

First, that meant moving everyone to a work-from-home status in record time — often taking less than a week to do something that normally would have taken a month. Companies, she said, were eager to move.

“I would never have been able to do that in a non-crisis environment,” she said.

Then, it often meant reintroducing features companies already had but were not necessarily using, such as One Talk, what Verizon calls a voice, video and messaging business continuity tool that gives businesses of any size customers one number to use for any device (desk phone, smartphones or tablets), thus enabling them to be connected wherever they are.

“People tend to think of us as your parent’s telephone company or as a wireless carrier,” she said. “Our sales team can get into the details of our unified communication services, such as One Talk, and how to package that with the security in the VPN capability. We now have an audience that really is interested in having that conversation.”

The next step, Erwin said, will be the biggest. She pointed to Verizon’s growing 5G network and explained how it well help all sectors, specifically emphasizing one of the company’s growing verticals, health care.

“I don’t think we will ever go sit in a doctor’s waiting room when we’re sick again,” she said. “We will use telemedicine. The technology that’s available will change health care, will change education, will change a lot of things. And I think 5G is going to fuel that.”

That comes later. For now, Erwin said her group is concentrating on the now the nearly universal work-from-home efforts of businesses in New Jersey and throughout the world. She said Verizon’s connectivity has helped companies understand video-chat services, such as Zoom and WebEx, and show how they can work more efficiently.

“We’re making sure the customers have an understanding of different product portfolios, what’s the right requirement for their size business,” she said. “And we also put out some simple tips, like start your call five minutes after the hour — as it will be easier to get everyone through on the call.

“And, you may not think of us in doing it, but we’re the guys that are putting in bigger pipes, so they have more capacity to manage it.”

Erwin said Verizon has made additional demand changes to help businesses during the crisis, including waiving late fees, promising not to terminate any business customers for nonpayment, giving almost all plans unlimited voice and data and expanding international calling.

Erwin said Verizon serves the majority of Fortune 100 companies and that her business division has 30,000 employees in 50 countries serving customers in more than 180 countries. But she said serving small to medium-size companies remains the company’s sweet spot — and will be a point of emphasis during the crisis.

“They are certainly the ones that I’m most concerned about,” she said. “That’s where we have seen significant growth, because it’s been a healthy part of their overall business portfolio. They are the customers that I think are most directly impacted. And, yet, they’re also the customers that we know that we can help deploy solutions based on their overall readiness with options like VPN mobile device management and mobile threat detection services.”

Many of those customers are based in New Jersey — as are more than 13,000 Verizon employees. Getting both groups settled while dealing with a pandemic that is hitting here harder than most places is key, Erwin said.

“Job No. 1 for us was to make sure our employees that can be in a work-from-home environment are safe,” she said. “Job No. 1A, and in full parallel, is how do I make sure we can serve customers who now more than ever rely on us for core connectivity and security and VPN and all the things that you might imagine.”

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