Management teams across businesses and industries are furiously having online meetings, discussions and brainstorming sessions. Since customers have deserted them or rather, they have been forced into isolation, there is not much happening on the business front. Some of the key comments that I have picked up – We are all doing scenario planning. What will happen post lockdown? How will we right size? How will we optimise? How will we get the supply chain going? How will we get people back into our stores? How will we get them to purchase more? How and when will we get back to business as usual – 9 months, 12 months, maybe more? Will purchase behaviour move big time to online? What is the future of Retail? What is the future of mobility? How can Fintech companies take advantage of this unprecedented situation? What is the future of entertainment? How will lifestyles change? What will be its impact on Restaurants? Will frugal living and minimalism become central customer behaviour themes? Phew! My head starts spinning. To be honest, the pandemic has caught businesses unaware across the world and in India. We were watching the global situation for a couple of months but nobody, I repeat, nobody estimated the scale of disruption and the trail of value destruction that this crisis is likely to leave behind.
There is an overdose of news and expert speak on the post Covid-19 situation and on what will be the new normal. I will let the intelligentsia ponder on that and focus on the key themes or tenets that businesses will need to keep in mind –
Understand the change. Don’t try to ride the wave.
It’s easy to get carried away with all the hype and pessimism surrounding us. Following the herd might seem to be the best option. ‘If everybody is doing it in this situation, it must be the best possible option.” Not true. This disruption has been unprecedented, it can very easily cloud your judgement. Resist. Reflect and then Respond.
Stick to the core, avoid distractions.
In most organisations there is always the need to do more in bad times. “Arrey, something will work’ ‘No harm in trying’, ‘What’s there to lose?’ are comments that will fly around thick and fast. Ignore them. Stick to the core values on which the organisation is built. This will stand you in good stead.
Pivot or revert.
The way we do business will certainly change or at least evolve significantly. Be certain to focus on the value generators, value destroyers, operations and processes, organisation structures, partner and dealer relationships, customer centricity. In some cases, old business models may be dead, new ones will need to be built. Be ready to change fast, three steps forwards, one step backwards. Be nimble.
From competition to collaboration.
The new business realities will hasten collaboration amongst competitors because the cost of staying in business is just becoming higher and higher. The Automotive industry (platform and parts sharing) has already taken big steps in this direction. The rest will have to emulate, and quickly. In the current situation, it is better to co-exist then to kill, because you too can get killed.
Innovate and/or Co-create.
Businesses will have to innovate and think differently and solve problems fast. Understand customer needs and respond or co-create with them and partners. This is the time for survival and only the most agile will survive.
Digital will enable always on brands/services
We always knew this, but the current situation has pressed the fast-forward button. In the age of physical distancing how do I stay close to my customer? is the question all leaders need to answer. Digital adaption will ensure that the lights are always on and your customers are taken care of.
Stop following customers. Pre-empt their needs.
The biggest CX and Martech tools companies have been tom-tomming this for some time. Pre-empting customer needs will take centre-stage. Remember your brand/service is not his priority currently. Communicate the brands relevance at every opportunity.
Seamless customer experience, not always possible. Frictionless, yes possible.
Don’t be obsessed with the word seamless. The customer doesn’t care. He just wants his need or query addressed. Reduce friction for him. That should do the trick. Be prudent.
Don’t confuse automation with intelligence – Knowledge outperforms tools.
Do not be in a mad rush to automate every process. Do it judiciously. A tool in the hand of a fool is worth nothing. Always add a healthy dose of intelligence to any important task. Unless, of course, it’s a mindless one. Also, I believe it’s time for – Exit. ‘Rip and Replace.’ Enter. ‘Extract more and juice the tools and assets.’
No over-dependence on data, because in this extraordinary situation data will lag disruption.
I am in the data driven marketing business but I have a word of caution here. Leaders are becoming data obsessed and most often, rightly so. But it should not be depended upon in every situation. The speed at which things are happening around us and the variables that the businesses are dealing with are staggering. Many of the changes that are taking place now are behavioural. There will be little data to back it currently. Rely on the wisdom of the team and their experience too.
Frugal is in. Big ticket projects/toys are out.
I have always been a proponent of frugality. It never lets you down. Ostentatious and audacious goals make headlines not money, well, almost always! Stay in the game do not spread yourself thin. Do not be over-leveraged.
Old is not always obsolete and new is not always Godspeed.
In such situations, maturity will be a good ally to have. In this mad rush of reaping the ‘demographic’ dividend, businesses should not let go of the ‘sagacity’ dividend.
We wanted to look at the future in the eye. Well, we are now in the eye of the storm. Can we dance? The answer is yes. But we will pay a heavy price for our collective misadventures. Will we press the reset button? Yes, Some certainly will. Which side will you choose to be on?