Take stock of what the current crisis is teaching you about your staff and customers, and use the lessons to prepare for the future.
The unprecedented challenge of COVID-19 has forced businesses to “scramble, improvise and invent with no time to lose or second-guess, and customers have had to rethink priorities and loyalties”. Writing for Strategy+Business, Thomas A. Stewart and Patricia O’Connell urge leaders to take stock of what they’ve learned about their employees and customers, and use this information to drive their businesses forward.
NEW WAYS OF WORKING
The New York food wholesaler who switched to retail home deliveries after restaurant owners stopped ordering. The lawyers, accountants, and consultants who have switched from face-to-face to online meetings with clients. The retailers and consumers who have pivoted from the high street and shopping malls to click and collect and online purchasing.
We have all been forced to adapt to new and rapidly evolving changes to the way we live, work and do business. What’s important now is deciding how to incorporate what you’re learning from the current disruption into a new strategic direction.
While helping customers solve problems during the pandemic, your frontline teams will have found out new information about them and their lives, giving you access to information about what really matters to them personally. This gives you unprecedented insight into your customers’ priorities, whether its price, quality, timeliness, customisation, loyalty or communication.
Perhaps you have gained customers let down by your rivals. Find out why these people have come to you. What specifically were they not able to get from your rivals? Are these needs temporary, or were they always a priority? Do you have a shot at their business post-pandemic?
Do remember to also analyse the things you haven’t got right – times when you’ve let your customers down because of an inability to adapt to their needs.
RETAINING CUSTOMER CONFIDENCE
Customers need reassurance that you care about their wellbeing before confirming their loyalty. Personal contact matters now as never before. What one consultant terms a “love call” – a phone call to ask customers how they are doing – can help cement a long-term relationship.
Hygiene in public spaces used to be largely taken for granted; today the public seek clear evidence of adherence to safeguarding guidelines. Hilton hotels now make lobby cleaning much more visible at check-in and check-out times; it’s not enough to merely comply – you have to be seen to do so.
In shops, people are looking for easily accessible hand sanitiser, clear social distancing advice, and direction markers. Staff must set a good example.
REASSESS YOUR SYSTEMS
Changes in customer behaviour make it imperative that your sales channels allow customers to switch seamlessly between the physical and virtual. Adapting or redesigning your IT systems to enable this is essential. If employees are happy and productive working from home, you should also consider whether to retain this as a long term option.
The ability to improvise developed during the current crisis should now be considered a key strategic asset. It’s not just about developing flexible supply chains – the New York food wholesaler redesigned its website twice to make it more customer-friendly, bought a fishmonger, and has a new partnership with a fresh produce farm that had been in decline. The adaptability that helped the firm survive is now helping it to thrive.
Make it your priority to record new knowledge and insights about your employees and customers, and feed it into your recovery plan. The lessons you’re learning in the midst of the current pandemic are the building blocks of your future success.