Nearly every business and brand around the world has hit a brick wall. Retailers. Restaurants. Hospitality. Travel. Small business. Big business. Public companies. Bootstrappers. The playing field, at least for the foreseeable future, is level. Few are winning. Many aren’t even allowed to play.
This article isn’t about new rules and regulations that will take hold in a post-pandemic world. I’m also not here to connect you with an SBA loan. Do what you need to do in the short-term to weather the storm. We will all be figuring out short-term survival. This article is about what you can do for the next 30 days to change the course of your business. Because…your business…will never be the same.
Why ‘Back to Normal‘ Isn’t An Option For Business
Think BC-AD. 2020 has triggered a marked, historic moment in time. A hard reboot. “Before Corona.” And “After Corona.” What 9/11 did to permanently change travel, COVID-19 will do to permanently change business.
Fire up daily Zoom video conferences with your people, break out the whiteboard, start rewriting your company charter. Now is the time. Just remember one thing: resist the temptation to “go back to normal.” Instead, “go forward for better.”
While many will be looking to press the Easy Button — hoping things can “get back to normal” — savvy businesses will take these next 30 days to press the Reset Button and will be better off for it. I’ve been a consumer behaviorist for 12 years, and here’s why I’m confident there’s no going back:
- This pandemic is changing all of us. Being good citizens and good corporate citizens has just leapfrogged virtually every other attribute as the most precious for humanity…those who aren’t will be ostracized as the new world of business emerges.
- Thanks to an unseen virus, people have become afraid of the invisible, and crave the tangible, the simple, the meaningful things in their lives…any business peddling anything that is perceived as “small print” or having hidden agendas will permanently lose the trust of a vulnerable public.
- A fair exchange of value will become expected…back to the handshake deals made on Main Street….people are savvy enough to know what products and services are worth…deceive at your own peril.
Follow the lead of those leaders who have ignored personal gain and put humanity’s best interest before their own during this crisis. Chick-fil-A feeding first responders by the thousands, for instance. That is the type of behavior that will win people over now. But how about post-crisis? The questions is this…will you land on the side of humanity? Or revert to the old ways of pandering to short term profits?
Businesses face a decision. “Stay the course” will likely fail because human behaviors and brand perceptions will be permanently changed in the new world. If you choose to reset your business for a new reality, here is a guide to get you started.
A 30-Day Reset
These three areas will give the biggest upside in a post-crisis business climate:
- Reset your customer experience
- Reset your employee experience
- Reset your communications approach
Reset Your Customer Experience
Now is the time to eliminate punitive fees. The new policies enacted by many airlines is a great start. As of publication, many airlines were waiving change fees and rebooking fees in light of the virus and unwillingness (or inability) to travel. This is something that came natural to Southwest, always a brand squarely on the side of customers.
Post-crisis, those that continue levying hidden and manipulative charges (made-up rental car fees, ridiculous resort fees, ticket change fees, carry-on baggage fees, automatic 20% service fees on one drink…I can go on) will lose the trust of a public who had grown to tolerate such things in a thriving economy. Not so much now given the new, fragile economic climate that is bound to take hold after the crisis. Customers will notice. And will remember.
Automatic renewals for repeat purchases should also be addressed. If part of your “revenue strategy” was to hope customers wouldn’t notice the recurring charge on their credit card statement even though they hadn’t used your service in months, or if you instructed your UX team to figure out ways to bury cancellation of automatic renewals, you’re guilty of reverting to an outdated reality.
Many of these strategies and tactics were created in a different era. Thanks to consumer empowerment enabled by social media (see https://twitter.com/killresortfees), offending companies will be exposed. It’s time to stop managing by spreadsheet and start to operate like your company is constantly being scrutinized by an observant public. Because it is.
Reset Your Employee Experience
Frontline employees, consumer-facing associates, part-timers, back-office enablers, truck drivers, all levels of healthcare providers and other rank-and-file employees have now been exalted and celebrated as the unsung heroes they are. They serve a critical role in getting us all through this very difficult time. And that means they need to be treated differently in a post-crisis world.
Everyone craves purpose. Especially employees. And if your company’s purpose isn’t felt in everything you do and in every decision you make, it’s time to figure it out. As Simon Sinek would say, it’s time to “find your why.” Watch his TED talk on the Golden Circle if you need a place to start. Email me if you need a facilitator.
Once you are comfortable with your company’s purpose (hint, it’s not to make as much profit as possible), it’s time to address how you hire and train. Previous to this crisis, the gig economy was exploding — which also meant benefits and a consistent paycheck were on the decline for many. The virus really exposed how fragile a gig economy really is.
Words like “team” and “family” will be the new descriptors of how ALL levels of employees will be referred. And benefits will again become more of a necessity rather than a luxury. Would you limit how much sick time you would give a family member if they worked for you? Or not allow a team member to work from home occasionally if their life circumstance dictated it?
Employees aren’t just warm bodies. Historically, retail and hospitality have had a reputation for hiring anyone with a pulse. In the new post-crisis economy, you’ll find a whole new reservoir of workers. Some may not have experience in your sector. This is a good thing. As unemployment will likely hit record levels, many will be looking for a fresh start. Different personalities, different backgrounds will enrich your business. Conduct some personality profiles…have some deeper discussions with candidates who may not look like your employees of the past. Look for those who share in your purpose. Skills can be learned. Possessing a heart for service is a gift. Hire those people, train them well, and hang on to them tightly.
Reset Your Communications Approach
As a rule, a post-crisis world will over-index on meaningful things. Which means meaning-less press releases about the features of your new widget will be lost in the ether. If your company does something truly meaningful and useful for your customers and/or employees, then celebrate it. Document it. Share it. Social media virality will become a much more efficient approach to getting attention than standard press releases of old.
Actions will speak much louder than words. For instance, if your idea of philanthropy is saying you stand for a cause and just writing a nominal check once a year, rethink your approach. This is a great time to incorporate giving into the operations of your company. Get employees involved in choosing a charitable cause. Have volunteer days. Match donations made by your customers. Challenge your competitors to out-give one another.
Treat your tribe like gold. Be sure your communications strategy doesn’t stop with reaching out to new and prospective customers. Creating exclusive offers, offering VIP access, and just checking in with a personalized email or text are great ways to keep your existing customer base loyal.
Ed King is co-founder and Chief Experience Officer of HighStreet, a retail innovation consultancy and the Living Retail Lab. A student of human behavior and natural storyteller, King has engaged customers for companies like Coca-Cola, AT&T, The Home Depot, La Quinta, Porsche, Reebok, and countless small businesses by taking a scientific approach to understanding why people act, behave, shop, purchase and remain loyal to certain brands. He can be reached at email@example.com.