Unable to anticipate or plan for COVID-19's enormous and ongoing effects, countless businesses continue to plunge into uncertainty. More than 100,000 small businesses have closed permanently so far, citing the pandemic as the cause, and more are expected to follow. As businesses try to navigate these changing winds and are called upon to reinvent the way they connect with and sell to customers, here are three ways in which they can adjust their sails.
Change delivery at scale. One of the biggest challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic is that delivery methods for goods and services have drastically changed. Dining in at a restaurant or crawling the mall for the trendiest looks still aren’t an option in many highly impacted areas. Because of this, businesses need to consider changing the way they deliver services. It could mean adding a digital or remote component and adopting more modern services. Many restaurants have switched to a takeout model to keep staff utilized and manage fixed expenses, and have also modernized with online ordering and payment options. This makes it more convenient for customers, who can place their order online, pay through the portal and then drive to the restaurant for hassle-free and reduced-contact curbside pickup.
Another example is retail’s investing in stronger e-commerce capabilities. Instead of sifting through racks, customers can go online and check out their options remotely. Retailers may find it valuable to invest in augmented reality (AR) capabilities, which allow shoppers to upload their picture and “try on” clothes virtually before purchase. Small businesses should pause and investigate how they can change the way they deliver their services. For instance, where online delivery might not have been seen as essential pre-COVID-19, many small businesses have now added online inventory to their website, as well as curbside pickup. This ensures that a small business keeps the customer top of mind, moving forward with a plan that scales for what best fits its business model.
Change or shift customers’ desired outcomes. Once businesses shift delivery options, they must figure out how to be successful in the new landscape and with their new tactics. This might require a series of supply-chain changes, e-commerce updates, or workflow adjustments. Businesses can’t expect to continue operating in the same ways they did prior to COVID-19. For instance, to revisit the restaurant example, the focus on takeout will require purchasing to ramp up to-go container orders, while possibly offering an abbreviated menu to streamline food purchases.
Businesses will also want to consider a shift in marketing tactics to manage customer expectations and desired outcomes. Communicating clearly with consumers will be vital. What services are now available? How do they meet the customers’ needs? What will be asked of customers when engaging with your business? Will they need to wear a mask, wash their hands upon entry or comply with a temperature check? By managing expectations, businesses will be able to shift customer outlook and desired outcome to an attainable goal. This will also ensure that the customer knows what to expect, and will help them conclude they had a positive experience.
Change the scope of the business. This is the most dramatic of the three changes, but will be well worth the effort if it keeps you in business. This tactic has businesses setting aside their primary services for now, to fulfill unmet needs and find new ways to deliver value. It might also mean repurposing existing assets to create a new product or service. Look to education, healthcare, hospitality, and other consumer goods industries as examples. Some sports equipment manufacturers shifted their focus to start producing personal protective equipment (PPE) for healthcare workers. The travel industry saw hotels and private rentals transition into places where healthcare workers could quarantine from their families while working in hotspots. Education has shifted to remote learning, and so on.
As businesses try to survive the economic storm caused by the lockdown, they should consider how they can reimagine their services to weather the current climate. It looks like it will be around for a while, perhaps even with a second and third wave. So it’s a good idea to have a plan in place sooner rather than later to navigate the changing tides. For some industries and organizations, perhaps just one of these shifts will be a strong solution. However, some might have to do more than one, or potentially all three, to thrive in the new normal. By taking a step back and assessing what the customer needs now, businesses will find their path to reinvention.
John Frazier is chief operating officer of Synoptek.
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