As more countries begin adjusting to the new normal, it's time to rise up to the challenge by building a future-proof business that can withstand any given crisis. The way we do business will not be the same; there will be new methods, procedures and industry-guided policies, especially when it comes to the safety of the workplace and its employees.
Here are eight actionable steps you need to cross off your checklist once you are back in business.
1. Prepare for new sales channels.
Sales strategies are not forever. What worked before won't necessarily work now or in the future, especially during a pandemic. Almost all businesses have had to change in some way to adapt, which means you will have to change your strategies or consider new channels to survive – and thrive, ideally – in the current situation.
Customer behavior is also changing drastically. In China, more people are ordering takeout or "takeaways" even if restaurants are open at limited capacity. The trend of limiting time away from home and ordering home delivery is a sign that the way we do business has changed. You might also have to consider a smaller workforce due to pandemic-related restrictions and social distancing rules.
If you haven't been paying attention to your online channels, now is the time to start. See how e-commerce can boost your business by making your products available online. The global COVID-19 pandemic has caused consumers to turn to online shopping, leading to online spending of up to 30% more than ever before. It would be a mistake not to try to get a piece of this pie now.
2. Prepare a seamless remote work plan.
In planning for measures to remain profitable or productive during the COVID-19 crisis, it's important to support your employees in their transition. The pandemic has changed a lot in the span of a few months, and the situation is still evolving. Your plans will have to evolve with it if your business is to stay afloat.
Companies have limited business travel if not eliminated it for the time being, and many have switched to a work-from-home (WFH) arrangement to help curtail the spread of the virus. A recent survey shows that 76% of global office workers are working from home and keen to continue doing so post-coronavirus.
The WFH arrangement isn't without its challenges. Some workers are finding that a remote environment isn't ideal over the long term, and it has proven challenging for some. Various concerns have arisen from the extended WFH arrangement, including concerns about loss of productivity, limited face-to-face interaction, restrictive networking environments, and the line between work and personal life. [Read related article: How to Craft an Effective Remote Work Policy]
3. Update your social media channels and Google My Business listings.
With a global pandemic dictating the current state of affairs, it's hard to determine a definite plan of action that will ensure long-term success. There's no playbook to reference and no business experts to consult on this crisis that affects businesses across industries.
Amid the noise and panic, it would be easy to reactively release communication paraphernalia without a proper plan and accurate information, copy what others are doing, or overpromise with bold, unsustainable gestures. The key is to get your bearings and talk to your customers instead of talking at them; communicate simply, clearly and with a specific goal in mind. Frequent communication via social media channels is key, but ensure that you provide what people need when they need it. Again, the COVID-19 situation is constantly evolving, and people's needs change with it. Focus on candor rather than charisma to build trust and foster a spirit of resilience – everyone needs that now.
You should also update your Google My Business listings to let your customers know that you're still there for them despite the dire situation. Google My Business features a new type of post designed for special announcements and updates about your company. These can include announcements regarding temporary closures, new store hours, changes to regular services, safety precautions, and stock and inventory information.
4. Create value-added promotions.
While most shoppers are looking for discounts and great deals, the current crisis might have disrupted this trend. While some major retailers are offering discounted prices, this may not be the best time for small businesses to do so. Aside from hurting your margins, offering discounts can seem insensitive against the backdrop of the thousands of deaths and the economic hardship due to COVID-19. It's hard to be enthusiastic about slashed prices or the latest apparel when you know there are people figuring out how to get groceries so their families can survive.
Instead of offering discounts, give your customers something of value in the current situation. Make your product more valuable by making it more of an investment than a purchase for the customer. Shift the customers' focus from what they have to pay to what they will gain with the purchase. You can also offer some freebies to give some immediate added value to customers.
5. Build an unstoppable team.
Your product and marketing strategy is only as strong as the team that executes it, pandemic or no. A strong, high-performing team is built on a pillar of trust and a laser focus on the customer. If members of your team trust each other, engagement will be high and it will be easier to get buy-in. Of course, you'll have to clearly communicate team objectives and how the team goals contribute to the overall goals of your organization.
Another way you can build trust is to get to know your team by putting yourself in their shoes. Strive to understand their world and what motivates them so it will be easier to align expectations. Always act in the team's best interests to foster an atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie.
6. Engage your audience with video.
Almost all meetings now are virtual, thanks to the pandemic forcing the majority of the workforce to work remotely or stop working altogether. If your business isn't used to the remote working setup, gaps in communication may occur if you don't plan for it – especially in the case of client meetings.
To add a personal touch to your communications, go beyond voice calls and text messages by adding video to the mix. Putting a face to the voice makes communication more human and shows customers that you're there for them in this time of crisis. However, you have to ensure that your video meetings have a clear structure so that you don't waste your customers' time. High-quality communication is vital in maintaining meaningful customer relationships and ensuring that you have each other's support to further both your business goals.
7. Don't sell; engage.
Many businesses have pivoted their marketing strategy to adapt to the pandemic, but many have taken the approach of saying they feel sorry about the situation and then continuing to sell whatever it is they sell. This comes off as insensitive to many customers, turning them off the brand.
The secret to successfully engaging your customers is to not lose your humanity. When reaching out to them, do so with a message of concern, one that says, "We're not trying to sell you anything; we just want to know how you're doing and tell you that we're here for you." Simply put, talk to customers in a language they'll understand. This way, they'll be more forthcoming about what they really need from you and how they feel about your brand.
8. Understand how your inventory has changed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to shifts in customer behavior, which have caused changes in inventory for most businesses. The food supply chain, specifically, has been disrupted by challenges in the freight and shipping industry and poses risks to household food security.
Aside from the global pandemic, stock-outs played a role in the decrease in grocery shopping around the world. Many have been shopping less thanks to the empty shelves in their local grocery stores. As such, some proactive stores have set purchase limits on certain products in an attempt to control stock. In the same way, you should understand that your inventory management will not be the same as before. Determine what products sell the most so you can order them in advance, and see which of your suppliers are facing challenges with logistics so you can make adjustments accordingly.
The new normal might not be ideal for some, but it shouldn't stop businesses from providing their usual services. Though the landscape has changed, with a few tweaks, businesses can find ways to survive and get through this crisis. The key is being prepared and flexible enough to implement changes whenever necessary. The tips above are a great starting point, but the scenarios will be different for different organizations. Think logically, but play it by ear. If there ever was a time to trust your gut instinct, that time is now.