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As the economy starts to reopen after the impact of the COVID-19 crisis, a business triage helps outline a plan for recovery and priorities as normalcy resumes.
As the green shoots of hope arise from the ashes of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, with the world starting to take the tentative first steps into reopening businesses and reigniting the economy, it’s a crucial time to look ahead. Most businesses have successfully pivoted to cater to the lockdown era during the COVID-19 crisis – whether it’s bars home delivering cocktails or yoga studios doing online classes. Now they need to plan and focus on recovery measures to ensure a resilient, sustainable business that thrives in the ‘new normal’.
Triage is a medical term, which means to prioritise patients according to the severity of their condition and likelihood of recovery. Today, it is an appropriate concept for the business world to borrow, as it attempts to recover from what can only be described as critical injuries. Here is your six-step business continuity toolkit.
The first step in recovery planning is to appoint a plan-ahead team, strategy experts at McKinsey & Company recommend. Note, this is separate from a crisis management team, which manages the short-term impact. The plan-ahead team, inspired by military protocols, analyses different time horizons and scenarios and plans for it. How will customer demand change? How many of your current crisis management measures will be reversed and what – if any – will you benefit from turning into a long-term strategy? (We’re looking at you, remote working.) How may the regulatory and competitive environment in your industry change?
The goal is to create a phased “crisis-agnostic plan that’s fit for your business”, as a report from PwC advises, so make sure the team has people from different capability areas to contribute to these situational assessments. And if, as a small business, it’s a team of one (aka you, the founder), it doesn’t matter – the important thing is to adopt a scenario-planning mindset and approach.
We’re talking about safety from COVID-19 (coronavirus), of course. As businesses and offices start to reopen, they will need to set protocols for social distancing and maintaining hygiene and cleanliness standards following the latest Safe Work Australia guidelines. But don’t just do the bare minimum required, go beyond to make your customers and staff feel secure.
Hygiene certifications, thermal testing at entrances, contactless payment and collection services are all examples of safety practices which can go a long way in building and maintaining trust with your internal and external stakeholders. Equally important is actively communicating to customers the safety measures you are taking at the back-end – ie: production, storage and supply chain – and to staff, the workplace safety procedures.
Some companies in Asia are extending protection facilities to outside the office (for example, providing masks and gloves for use on public transport), which is a good idea. It is also important to continue practicing compassion and care when it comes to your team’s emotional wellbeing.
Of course, rebuilding cash flow is essential but it’s important to play the long game. Tactical pricing can create favourable conditions for consumption, as long as it is ethically led and does not compromise the value chain. Prioritise major clients by helping them with ‘solvability’ – strategically providing assistance with payment timelines if they are in need, for instance. This way, you secure sales while maintaining relationships.
If the crisis has revealed one thing, it’s that over-reliance on any one market or supply chain can be devastating. Consumer purchasing powers, habits, physical and emotional needs and expectations have also been impacted, so it is important to adapt by diversifying your offerings accordingly.
For example, is there new customer demand for a product or service that your company can cater to? Your staff may have also had to up-skill and become more versatile during this period – does that present an opportunity to expand what you can offer as a business? Could you create a version of your core product at a slightly lower price point to maintain customer loyalty?
“It is important for businesses to identify what they are adept at, understand the market’s evolving needs and wants and be quick at adapting to new opportunities presented by a changing environment,” says Dr Kelly Choong, Lecturer in Creative Advertising at Queensland’s USC.
Diversification applies to your supply network too and with current global conditions, developing flexible micro-supply chains can lead to long-term benefits. “Where possible, having shorter, local supply chains where you have some control will help to insulate against future global shocks,” says Jane Summers, Professor of Marketing at the University of Southern Queensland.
According to recent research from Mindshare US on COVID-19 (coronavirus) brand response, 93 per cent of consumers expect brands to ‘do good’ – help individuals as well as provide broader community support.
“Businesses that are involved with the community and promote social good will see the community support them back. This is a strategy that has seen many small businesses in local areas stay afloat from local and loyal customer support through the lockdown period,” says Choong. “Brands need to resonate with their customers’ values and beliefs and reflect these in their products and services.”
This might require a longer-term reassessment both of culture and consumer reaction, so it is important you are attuned to the signals being sent throughout a customer journey. The McKinsey report suggests that businesses that were able to develop an emotional relationship with their clients during the crisis will rebound in a stronger position. It’s still not too late to plan and leverage your brand communications and CSR (corporate social responsibility) activities to make a positive emotional connection. Just remember, authenticity is key – messaging that doesn’t genuinely align with brand purpose will backfire.
In an increasingly digitised and rapidly evolving business environment, it has never been more important to be on the front foot when it comes to innovation. Investing in technology upgrades that allow you to cater to new customer and staff requirements is a no-brainer.
But innovation isn’t just limited to tech. Keep an eye on what your competition is doing, as well as how customers' demands are shifting, to find opportunities to differentiate your business. “Knowing your customers and what they value will help you to stay relevant and ensure you are continuing to provide a service or product that is desired and important,” says Summers.
Make strategic changes to optimise productivity and turn this into an opportunity to reimagine, reinvent and reform how you operate. Through it all, staying flexible and agile is key – as crisis aftershocks may continue for some time to come.