All businesses, regardless of size, have had to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Some companies have been extremely hard hit, some companies have seen demand sky-rocket… And somewhere on that negative to positive spectrum there are many companies in between. Every single business, however, has had to learn something during this time of crisis.
Both the business-specific and wider lessons learned will be invaluable for the Australian economy as we head into the post-pandemic business world. The list of lessons and pivots is long; this crisis has forced many to let go of employees, secure new and unknown government support such as JobKeeper payments, manage a worsening cashflow, pivot to online only, and so much more.
We will come out of the COVID-19 chaos stronger in a lot of ways because of these lessons. Not just from uncovered possibilities and transformation, but in recognising perhaps what should have been in place before this happened – despite no-one predicting that this event would occur.
In today’s Let’s Talk we ask our experts what they’ve learned during this crisis period. Perhaps they resonate with you and your business.
Adam Benson, Managing Director, Recognition PR
Right now, every three days is equivalent to a week because critical, but often incomplete, information is arriving hour by hour. This means business owners are finding it hard to balance between a heavy administration workload, business operations and a focus on customers.
As a result, many businesses are not communicating enough, particularly with employees. The assumption that employees know you’re fighting for business survival and that you will communicate important things when you need to, is not sound.
People usually take silence in a crisis as a very bad sign. If you want your team engaged, then share at least weekly, what your plans are (and why), and your progress against those plans.
Staff are on the front line with customers so it’s important they’re informed and not guessing as your business weaves its way through the daily obstacles COVID-19 presents.
Set a communication cadence and stick to it.
Monica Watt, Chief Human Resources Officer at ELMO Cloud HR & Payroll
What has amazed me throughout the COVID-19 pandemic is the resilience and adaptability of people in a dynamic and uncertain situation. It’s easy to believe that people will be adverse to change or a new service but COVID-19 has shown that people will rise to the challenge.
The resilience and determination of people has increased innovation, creativity, collaboration and connection to new levels. COVID-19 has given people an opportunity to show just how skilled and capable they are while debunking the myths surrounding what roles could or should work remotely.
This is an insight that businesses can take with them as lockdown restrictions are removed and ask their people what should be changed and how. There is no better time than now to implement change as we create new norms in our work and life integration. I believe people will be ready and able to take on change in their stride.
Mark Buckley, Vice President, Australia and New Zealand, Genesys
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that organisations are capable of adapting to new and quicker ways of doing business than previously anticipated. Leveraging our cloud contact centre solutions, Genesys has helped customers move hundreds – and even thousands – of staff from onsite to remote working within 48 hours. It has also helped those experiencing a surge in customer interactions on-board huge numbers of additional agents. Some of our customers have even transitioned their bricks-and-mortar staff to respond to digital enquiries and kept them employed to meet service demand.
We have also seen businesses rewrite their business continuity rule book, which may have accounted for some staff working from different satellite locations, but not every staff member working from home. This has proved to be a huge challenge for businesses operating older technologies and systems that did not have the capacity to deal with remote working and required more agile cloud-based solutions. Ultimately, we’ve learned that Australian businesses are up to the challenge of rapid change; they’re tenacious resilient and lightning-quick to look after their people and customers.
David Rhodes, Account Manager, Infront
To survive the impact of COVID-19, many small businesses have rapidly changed their business model to support remote working.
At Infront, as a small business ourselves, we commenced working from home at the beginning of the pandemic. We understand the importance of having the right technology to support a remote working environment and how it should just work. Unfortunately, for many, technology can be costly and complex. Here’s what we’ve learned during these unprecedented times:
- Collaboration is more than technology, it’s a change in mindset – Many companies have deployed collaboration solutions but may have only been doing so on a selective basis. They have found themselves not only technically, but culturally unprepared.
- Regularly bring your team together – Remote working can be isolating for many. Staying present with your team is key to eliminating the sense of being disconnected from the company and its goals.
- Protect your business against security threats – The rapid move to cloud has forced many organisations to implement remote working capabilities and trying to play catch-up with security.
Simplicity is key to any change in technology.
Alison Lee, Head of Marketing, ipSCAPE
COVID-19 has drastically changed our economy and the way businesses operate. Among the challenges, there have been some key lessons that ipSCAPE can share:
1. The Importance of Cloud Technology- Ensuring your business tools are accessible from anywhere has become increasingly important. Those businesses that were powered by cloud technology were able to seamlessly transition to a remote working environment when COVID-19 arrived in Australia, ensuring continuity for their Customer Service and Sales team.
2. Building Confidence through Clear Internal Communications- Regular communications can help employees feel connected and informed about how the business is progressing. COVID-19 has brought a lot of uncertainty so having strong internal communications can provide clear guidelines and updates to make employees feel connected. ipSCAPE has been using video conferencing tools such as Microsoft Teams to hold regular meetings and catch ups such as our ‘FOMO Fridays’ all-hands catch ups.
3. Offering Choice through Multi-Channel Communications – Many organisations needed to shift their customer service to digital channels during COVID-19. Having customer experience technology that provides you with multichannel options such as web chat and email are especially important to ensure you cater to channel preferences.
Omar Sabré, Co-Founder and CEO of MAISON de SABRÉ
The COVID-19 crisis has taught us the importance of prudent cash reserves, measured decision-making, and rapid adaptability.
As an e-commerce business, adaptability is a natural strength that serves us well in times of crisis. Extensive planning at the early stages of the pandemic has given us a sound business continuity plan – which is vital when you’re operating across the globe as we do. Our go global, stay local mantra kicked into gear as we formulated continuity plans specific to each of our major international markets.
Our cash position maintains the reserves to support this adaptability. We can shift our approach where necessary, be it in production, marketing or delivery, to ensure our customer experience and sentiment stays positive and remains within gold-standard protocols.
In life and in business things don’t always go to plan. You need the knauss, the resources and the courage to problem-solve rapidly in crisis situations to make sure you come out the other end. Risk and opportunity management are paramount as every action will have an equal and proportionate reaction.
Bruce Perry, Chief Operating Officer, Wontok
With millions of people forced into remote working and learning practically overnight, the opportunity for cyber criminals has been immense due to a much larger vulnerability footprint.
We’ve seen a wave of scams, phishing and other attacks through a wide range of channels, from email to SMS and video conferencing. A key learning of this crisis is that we need better education around security, as well as better policies and practices. Organisations, governments and individuals need to start taking cybersecurity as seriously as they lock their cars and homes.
Businesses in particular need to have emergency plans and contingencies in place, which starts with reliable back-up and recovery protocols. The crisis has also highlighted the need for organisations to consider insuring themselves against cyber crime, as a liability akin to fire, flood and physical theft.
Vu Tran, Co-Founder, GO1.com
COVID-19 has forced a huge number of Australian companies to quickly change their business models; confirming just how innovative our community is.
From pubs and restaurant shifting focus and offering food and beverage deliveries, to offices across the country supporting their team members to work from home, the change that has been achieved by so many businesses in such a short period of time is to be applauded. There has also been a strong appetite from both employers and employees who want to grow their knowledge through virtual learning.
From an employer perspective, keeping team members engaged is crucial right now – especially with so many people working from home or unable to work at their regular place of employment. Businesses who provide opportunities for their team to grow and learn new things during this lockdown period are feeling appreciated by their employees, while simultaneously creating new business opportunities through growing the team’s collective knowledge.
Jarrod Kinchington, Managing Director, Infor ANZ
The business community has been thrown a massive curveball in this pandemic, noticeably so in the retail and e-commerce sectors, and thrusting supply chain resiliency into the global spotlight. Despite ample stocks of food – and toilet paper – consumers have felt cut off from these essentials, which has caused many to hoard goods for what they feel is their own preservation.
Supermarkets and online retailers with fully-automated plant floor operations and connected supply chains have been most likely to successfully meet an increase in demand, but the disruption to many elements of the supply chain has demonstrated how important it is for operators to implement resiliency solutions to mitigate the current situation. Such technology must leverage the cloud, automation and analytics to enable businesses to collaborate across entire digitally-enabled supply chains that operate as intelligent business networks – connecting systems, processes and partners, and allowing manufacturers and retailers alike to have end-to-end visibility, while enabling them to operate with greater agility and a customer-centric focus.
Anthony Justice, CEO of uno Home Loans
It will take time to fully grasp every learning from this crisis. But one thing is clear, you must understand the true mission and values of your business.
In times of crisis, values become paramount and act as a guideline for decision making that guarantees business continuity.
My advice for leaders is to ensure that their mission and values are echoed throughout their entire business. This will serve as a true compass for navigating uncharted territory.
Jonathan Englert, Founder, AndironGroup
We’ve seen resilience in action like never before. One of our client companies hosted a virtual conference that they put together in less than a month. Conferences are notoriously hard in the best of times and we were worried this one wasn’t going to come together. It turned out amazingly well in the end—way beyond our expectations–and was so successful that conferences in the US were postponed because of its popularity. As tough as things are, now is the time to experiment with how we communicate and build community.
Michael Judge, Head of Australia and New Zealand, OFX
During times of uncertainty, businesses have had to practice adaptability and creativity.
Some of our customers have shifted their day-to-day business during COVID-19 with traditional brick and mortar stores turning to eCommerce and alcohol companies producing hand sanitiser.
Additionally, SMEs have had to consider potential risks and implement plans to mitigate them. This is especially true for Australian businesses engaging in cross-border trade, particularly as we’ve seen the Australian dollar drop as low as 0.55 against the US dollar in March and reaching highs of 0.65 in recent weeks.
We’ve seen Australian SMEs consider alternative revenue streams and look for ways to lock in rates to protect their profit margins, and enable cash-flow and flexibility to move with a volatile market.
Our currency experts continue to support Australian SMEs minimise their FX exposure with risk management strategies to ensure they are well placed to navigate out of this cycle and take on a long-term strategic view.
Mikaela Crimmins, Planning Director at Orchard
Never before have we had to focus more on the customer and orbit around their changing needs. If you are focussing on the competition, you are losing sight of what is important. At Orchard, we have always had a fascination with human behaviour and the ways in which context and culture shapes this. As COVID-19 unfolds, new opportunities are emerging for businesses and brands led by changing customer behaviour. What was once considered counter-intuitive is now becoming a reality: humans are finding social connections through their devices, we’re adopting new fitness regimes by staying close to the couch, and we’re pursuing distance education on the weekends. For businesses to thrive and not just survive during these uncertain times, we need to closely observe how customers are adapting and find novel ways for our brands to either meet those evolving needs or create new ones. For now, we need to throw out the rule book, experiment and take calculated risks because if we try to follow the same plan as pre-COVID-19, we’re ignoring the fact that human behaviours have changed.
Anthony Welsh, director of Popcar
During this crisis we have learned that in these uncertain times, we have a role to play within the local communities in which we operate.
Recognising that, we implemented a significantly discounted pricing structure for all members and non-members from April to ensure cost was not an issue in accessing an affordable and safe mode of transport option during this difficult time.
We have seen attitudes towards car sharing shift with a spike in sign-ups and usage. This shows us that Australians are needing an alternative transport option for essential travel for those who do not own a vehicle and wish to avoid public transport or ride sharing services.
The disruption of COVID-19 has allowed us to find and pursue new opportunities to drive positive change within our industry as Australians continue to think differently about the value of carsharing services, like Popcar.
Jordan Sim, Director of Product Management, BigCommerce
COVID-19 has changed the way we live, work and interact — forcing a new way of retail thinking. We’ve seen retailers become increasingly innovative and creative in order to survive and connect with customers — and leveraging technology to do so.
As government restrictions were implemented across Australia, local businesses were forced to close their doors and online retail became a true necessity.
With this move to online, it became clear that customer experience is more important than ever. Retailers are fighting to be seen and break through the noise — and those that offer customers a streamlined and seamless experience are the ones that are connecting with their customers on a deeper level and developing long-term relationships.
Another key learning has been the importance of agility for both brands and consumers to remain connected to each other. Brands have recognised that it is essential to find innovative ways to maintain relationships and relevance with their customers.
Beer Cartel is a great example of this as the brand created an isolation advent calendar to creatively maintain interactions with their customers and drive purchases through an interesting new offering – which also plays off a product it is already known for – their Christmas advent calendars.
However, I think the overall learning here is the need for businesses of all sizes to remain nimble enough to transform efficiently and connect authentically in order to not just survive but thrive.
Nathan Knight, General Manager, Lenovo Data Center Group ANZ
I’ve seen many cases where companies under rising pressure to move to the cloud and get teams operating on virtual desktops are coming face to face with the shortcomings of their current IT setups. The situation is often exasperated as they rush to get their teams remotely up and running without considering the longevity of their plans and deployments.
This observation demonstrates that sprinting to ensure business continuity in light of the sudden shifts to remote working can lead to directionless zigzagging and a loss of focus on the overall business goal. Instead, we need to treat this journey as a marathon. COVID-19 might be the catalyst, but the importance should be on getting the right tech for the long run instead of rushing.