Isn't it interesting how this event we 're calling COVID has affected everyone, so universally? In most cases in my life on this planet, major events have either been local to a town or country or even had ripples around the world. But this pandemic has had ripples emanating from every part of the world. It goes without saying that, life has changed. But the bigger question is, will these changes be permanent?
Social distancing, masks (& the associated debates) and lockdowns will surely evolve as each country gets a better handle on managing the spread and dealing with the consequences of sick people. I can be hopeful and imagine a time where we deal with COVID like we do with the existing flu each winter season. Yes, the flu kills a lot of people and medical facilities are stretched over the winter period but it is managed and most people see this as normal.
What will be the new normal after we are able to manage COVID19?
The world's population has been shocked into doing things differently. It surprises me that we have talked about some changes for decades and then in a matter of weeks it has been done. Moving to online education is an example of this. It has not been a clean and tidy change but we've all made some transitions now and experienced the difference. For some of us this new place is not so bad and may even be better. For example, in the UK one research company suggests that 91% of office workers would like to work from home at least part of the time (Eskenzi). In the US the number is lower, 43% of full-time employees (2), but that is all employees and a bigger overall number of people. Even in smaller countries like New Zealand, 38% of people had never previously worked from home but two-thirds found it easy to do so (3).
So we will not be going back to the pre-COVID normal. Things have changed and people have changed. This has had a financial impact today but will also have a long term business impact in the future.
Now more than any other time in recent history we need to start thinking about how our business operates in this new environment. If your business model does not change completely then the way you sell and service customers definitely will.
For the faint-hearted out there, just bear a thought for the businesses during Spanish Flu of 1918. They had none of the technology advancements we have today. Even if this pandemic happened 20 years ago we'd be hard pressed to be so nimble and have the opportunity the Internet and global communications have given us today.
So how should we operate our businesses post COVID19?
There are a number of common tactics that most businesses can apply. They assume that you're not in the tourism or travel industries, these guys will need more drastic action and support. These four tactics revolve around marketing and communication, these days that means online, but also the products and services you already provide.
1. Ensure all your marketing material is online and consumable on a mobile device
In research conducted prior to COVID, more than 50% of consumers come across products online first. This would have vastly increased during lockdowns but even after, with people's reluctance to spend time in crowds, this number will have increased. In most English speaking countries, smartphone Internet usage is 80% or above. If you don't have a website that a mobile phone can find and easily navigate you'll be losing customers immediately.
2. Start experimenting with online ads to direct customers to your website
Online ads are amazingly cheap and easy to get started. They're still a little complex so ask around for help if you're unsure. Facebook can target your customers with a simple image and message for a few dollars a day. If you are starting to offer a new service or product variation this is a great way to spread the word. Each ad will direct these new customers to your website where they can find even more information about you.
3. Experiment with add-on services
We need to think a little differently now that our customers are working and living differently. If you already have loyal customers, think of new ways that can accommodate the more immediate challenges your customers are facing. I saw a great example of this at a local retail business selling gifts. The owner was finding people either didn't want to come into her store or couldn’t get the time so she offered an online video chat and would walk around her store showing people her products and offering suggestions. She used to do this in person so there wasn't a big change but her customer loyalty went through the roof. Her measure of a good day used to be foot traffic through the door, now that door is a little wider.
4. Experiment with deliverable products
Many more people are buying online but that doesn't mean they want to stop buying local. If anything COVID has supported both of these themes. You don't have to be an Amazon to sell your products online but you do need products that are easy to ship and service. For example, a local craftsman makes children's beds but he has found a way to sell these online by designing the parts for his beds to be flat-packed. I could imagine he could also partner (or expand his own services) to offer an installation service as well. He now has a lot of enthusiastic customers from around the whole country whereas pre-COVID he was only selling in his local area.
While change can be a scary thing, take heart that it's only the transition that might be challenging. Coming out the other side is always a better thing, even if it's just realising all the lessons you've learnt in the process. I'm confident that if we enthusiastically apply ourselves, work together and make the most of what we've got, we're going to end up in a better place.
Best of luck.