In times of crisis, it’s natural to focus on the here and now. True leaders, meanwhile, are looking ahead to what’s next. What will the business landscape look like once the crisis has subsided?
For many businesses, this new normal will look quite different. The challenge, therefore, is to take steps now to adapt – to evolve the business models and build the systems that will not only survive but thrive in the new business landscape that emerges on the other side.
How do we protect ourselves moving forward?
The new need for remote work is challenging businesses to re-evaluate their operating environment – particularly in the context of commerce, marketing, sales, and service. In our new normal, how much face-to-face interaction is really necessary?
Many businesses are learning that it’s far less critical than they once thought. In some cases, this revelation can be transformative.
Consider what’s happening in the consulting industry. Business customers have typically expected the consultants they hire to be physically on-site for at least some portion of the project. However, these businesses are now learning that remote work can actually improve productivity – and it might be more cost effective as well, given the high office space and travel expenses.
Key Question: How will you adapt your communication style and operational processes to help your customers remain comfortable and confident with less direct interaction?
Restructure service delivery
Customer expectations around service are also shifting. In a low-touch environment, do-it-yourself service may be far more appropriate than direct visits from service personnel.
So, for example, when a customer’s kitchen appliance breaks down, it may be better to offer a remote support option than requiring a repair technician to visit the customer’s home.
However, this requires a substantial technology infrastructure – which in turn requires thinking through how to optimize every service touchpoint.
At its most sophisticated, an innovative service delivery model might include options like:
- A website equipped with AI-powered bots that help the customer diagnose an issue
- A supply chain that enables same-day parts delivery to the customer
- Next-level content, such as video or even augmented or virtual reality demos that show the customer how to install a part successfully on their own
Call centers, too, can be similarly restructured. These employees no longer need to be physically present in the call center office. Instead, businesses are finding that call center staff can quite effectively perform their work from any location – if they are equipped and empowered to do so.
Key Question: How can you enable your customers to build their own service experience? What systems, tools and processes will enable your employees to provide high-quality service in a low-touch environment?
In this emerging remote world, perhaps no industry faces greater challenges than brick-and-mortar retail. As shoppers are increasingly forced to order their goods online, these new behaviors become even more ingrained into daily life. Considering that brick-and-mortar stores were already struggling to compete with the internet, how much harder will it be for these stores to survive in a post-crisis world?
Truly, no retail sector will be untouched – even grocery stores, where pre-crisis only 16% of customers ordered their groceries online. But now that many of these customers are discovering the convenience of buy online/pick-up in store (BOPIS) for their food purchases, what happens when the crisis is over? It seems likely that at least some segment of customers will be reluctant to go back to the “old ways” of shopping, now that they are learning how effective and easy these new shopping options are.
Key Question: What new in-person and digital shopping customer experiences can you envision and build to help customers shop and buy in the ways they now prefer?
Rediscover direct-to-customer channels
Along with a re-envisioned retail industry, companies must also re-evaluate the channels through which they connect with their customers.
The business goal here is to diversify revenue sources and create new revenue opportunities. For example, some manufacturers (such as Otis Elevator and Michelin Tires) are mining the data they already have to build entire new ecosystems of service subscription offerings that complement and enhance their traditional product sales.
Meanwhile for other companies, finding new ways to reach customers is not just a nice-to-have, it’s a dire necessity. The travel industry, for example, has been hit hard in recent weeks. Where the industry in the past leaned so heavily on travel agents – historically 43% of travelers book airfare and 70% book cruises via third parties – what happens if those third party businesses do not survive? In this new environment, travel companies must suddenly figure out how to build relationships with their customers directly, so as to neither lose revenue nor disrupt the booking experience their customers have come to expect.
But as with customer service, delivering a seamless direct-to-customer experience requires a sophisticated technology infrastructure. Does the company’s website offer helpful content (such as virtual product demos) that makes it easy for customers to buy? Can the company’s e-commerce platform handle a higher volume of direct orders? Is the logistics system in place to smoothly fulfill these orders?
Successful companies here will analyze each step in the selling and delivery process to uncover where and how they can do more for their customers, to create win-win scenarios for everyone. In order to survive companies will need to rethink the new end-to-end customer journey.
Key Question: What new opportunities have presented themselves that enable you to reach more customers, and how are you taking advantage of these opportunities?
How to build the new normal: Readying ourselves for the future
Taken together, these questions can feel daunting to business leaders trying to understand the best way to position themselves for success in a post-crisis world.
The good news, however, is that we can see this as a glass-half-full opportunity to improve the way we all do business. In this bold new future, everything is a candidate for change: marketing, sales, commerce, service and support. Why not use this occasion to proactively challenge long-held norms and lead the way to a stronger industry capable of delivering far superior customer experiences?
Ultimately, it’s about identifying what needs to change and building the systems needed to support these changes. Be prepared to rebound from the crisis. Reimagine what this new world can look like. And rearchitect your physical and digital presence to make this new vision a reality.
Times of crisis eventually subside, and life returns to normal – even if “normal” looks a little different. But when this happens, be wary of becoming complacent. Understand that, at some point in the (hopefully far-off) future, some new crisis will likely, inevitably arise.
Many businesses were not prepared for our current crisis, and as a result, they’ve been forced into reactive positions as they struggle to survive. On the one hand, this is understandable; this crisis has been unprecedented. However, your challenge as a business leader is to prepare yourself for the next unprecedented crisis.
Surviving a crisis is not just about shoring up your bottom line or minimizing the economic impact to your business. What can you do now that will enable you to proactively adapt, evolve, and lead the way next time?