The world we know is changing in the face of surviving Covid-19. South Africa is about to begin a 21 day lockdown period. People are scrambling for food, other living essentials and urgently arranging home office spaces. One might imagine that the rules for building a successful business have also changed. But while the world may be gripped by fear and panic, it is now more than ever that companies need to keep customers at the centre of their focus. Agile business innovations are a necessity to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. This means pushing the boundaries of creativity. It means questioning the status quo on how to engage with customers. Importantly, it means listening with real compassion in order to deeply understand what customers are needing now as they watch their worlds turn upside down. Thus business agility means emotional agility.
Adapt Quickly for Customer and Employee Experience
For business, this implies a serious needs to adapt quickly to changing situations resulting in changing customer needs. Businesses have to listen and act with empathy to assist customers feel safe and secure amidst a pandemic that brings uncertainty and insecurity to everyone. Agility may be defined as the ability to respond rapidly and adapt to changing circumstances in the market and environment in the most cost-effective ways without losing drive or vision.
According to Blake Morgan, customer experience futurist and author, the most customer-centric companies have a good balance of 4 important principles: innovation, environmentalism and sustainability, employee experience, and customer centricity. During this time, we see the importance of all 4 of these attributes as companies need to innovate while being mindful of our current environmental and social (or lack thereof!) conditions. Now more than ever, companies need to support their employees through these enforced “work from home” times and demonstrate a caring positive relationship with their staff.
Be Emotionally Agile
Agility is not only important in terms of operations but also emotionally. According to renowned psychologist Susan David , Ph.D, organizations today operate within unprecedented complexity resulting from many forces including technology, globalization, and strong competition. At present, organizations are also feeling the added impact of the Covid-19 crisis. All these pressures require companies to offer swift responses. However, “ organizations themselves can never be truly agile unless the people who work within them are agile -specifically emotionally agile.” Says David.
Ironically, Says David, the qualities needed to overcome challenging times are themselves undermined by these very same challenging situations. Instead of remaining clear-headed, innovative and collaborative, employees shut down and become transactional. Emotional agility at work is crucial for organizations and their employees to thrive. We constantly need to assess our internal narratives about ourselves at work in order to reflect self-value and mental strength. This will ensure optimal performance and customer centricity during complex situations.
Emotional agility also plays a vital role in customer engagement. Now more than ever companies need to listen with heart to customers to learn their new needs. One might question whether or not customers even know what they want and need at this time? Perhaps another role of business is to help customers identify their needs and create awareness of these needs.
Empathetic Communication Builds trust and Loyalty
Communication is always key. With so much uncertainty around what to say, “it is imperative that companies communicate with customers, investors, suppliers, business partners, and employees to share compassion, show responsiveness, and demonstrate strong leadership”. (Kylie McMullen and Julia Smith, Finch media for The Globe and Mail 17 March 2020) In order to communicate effectively, stakeholders need to listen first and then respond with deep levels of empathy and compassion in order to truly understand their customers’ and employees’ perspectives and what they need to feel safe and reassured. Compassionate communication especially during times of stress builds trust and long term commitments.
According to Dave Benjamin founder of Papill.io during this difficult period, CX has an important role to play in helping companies to adjust the way they deliver service to their customers. “As a community, we need to pull together to make sure that we do not allow our economies to collapse in the next couple of months. It is important that every company look at what they can offer and how they can adjust that offering to satisfy changing needs in this changed world. Agile business innovations with emotional agility is the only way forwards through these challenging times”. Says Dave.
Already Agile Responses
During this threat of severe international economic downturn, we have already witnessed closing of schools, places of worship, community centres and public gatherings. We have also seen many companies and organisations already make quick positive changes to their capabilities and offerings. In every area of life be it banking, business or social and emotional well-being, individuals are seeing offers being made by suppliers to ensure business continuity, and support during this period of uncertainty and angst. Personally, I was glad to hear that vets will remain open. I won’t even need to get out of my car as my cats will be collected from my vehicle, attended to and the brought back to me while I patiently sit tight!
For the environmentalist and natural well-being lovers, I have seen emails with recipes for homemade hand sanitizers using essential oils and other everyday household products. Many wellness websites including “Hay house” are offering free guided meditations and other resources such as online courses and reading materials. This all in the spirit of staying calm and offering the way forwards in mindfulness or personal and spiritual growth at this time.
Health and fitness conscious individuals can enjoy offerings of free home-based exercise programs. Stay fit while gyms and road running is out of bounds! I have even seen live online ballet classes take place.
Humanitarians have satisfied their needs by getting involved with social projects like food collections for underprivileged members of our communities. We have also heard of private donations being offered to help the South African government fight this virus. One such humanitarian effort is the SA medical and educational fund (SAME) which has equipped isolation wards to deal with people who have contracted the virus and have successfully calling on others to join them in this effort. Gift of the Givers Foundation have set up testing stations around the country offering Covid-19 tests at reduced rates. Hopefully, we will overcome the shortage of test kits and the backlog of results.
Innovations in Every Facet of Life
In every realm, people have had to think out of the box. With schools closed, teachers in have had to up-skill on supporting and teaching their students using digital platforms. Likewise, students have needed to become accustomed to a type of home school experience. The SABC Educational Virtual Academy (SEVA) has launched online support for grade 12 pupils.
Culture vultures have also experienced innovations. Theatres may have closed their doors but it’s a stage tradition that “the show must go on”. Playwrights in isolation are planning digital projects while some performers are taking their acting online. There are also global orchestral and choir collaborations being organized. Musicians from all over the world who would never have a chance to play together without these initiatives are connecting. Tech-savvy curators are also getting creative. The public can access their collections online and be enlightened. Museums around the globe such as the Smithsonian National museum of natural history in Washington D.C. and the Louvre in Paris are offering free virtual tours.
With the initial outbreak of Covid -19 in South Africa, grocery outlets such as Pick n Pay and Checkers quickly responded by prioritising pensioners. Special shopping hours or pensioner priority tills were instated in an attempt to offer these more vulnerable members of our societies some protection against contracting the virus. Initially, restaurants were also getting involved offering food deliveries to people who are in quarantine. Sadly with the new lockdown regulations about to be enforced, most restaurants will need to close for this period. This leads to further anxiety over the future of their business as the economy is threatened by a recession.
Business and Emotional Agility Among Corporates
For the business world, small, medium, and micro enterprises (SMME’s) have been offered some relief. The department of small business development has set up a debt relief fund to mitigate the financial impact due to loss of income and productivity as a direct result of the virus. The fund aims to offer some reprieve to small businesses in terms of debt relief, and repayments as well as assist with acquiring raw materials and paying labour and operational costs during the expected economic slowdown.
Financial institutions have also made a stand. Some banks for instance, have offered a debt payer holiday to small businesses to facilitate companies navigate economically during this challenging time. While making changes aimed at meeting new customer requirements is an essential part of good customer experience creation, and strengthens brand perception, it should be noted that when one company within an industry makes change it automatically has an impact on its industry, for better or worse. The actions of one company puts pressure on other companies within the same market to do same. Failing to act, may result in negative customer experience. Choosing not to do something nowadays can have as much of an effect on your customer experience as choosing to do it.
Remote Workspace Satisfies Environmental and Employee Needs
In attempts to play their role in flattening the curve and protect their employees, companies in many industries have, wherever possible, moved their offices and their operations online. Corporate meetings have moved away from face to face contact. Most meetings occur remotely via various video conferencing tools.
Market research companies are moving into a more virtual space making use of the latest tech to offer online focus groups where participants meet using various platforms such as zoom and other social media groups. Clients are then also able to remotely view the focus group. Gary Greenfield, market research and CX pro and MD of Interact RDT says the following “With the increase of urbanization, traffic and pollution the need to work from home was always there but often not fulfilled. This time of crisis provides a good opportunity for agile change. we can rewrite the future of our businesses and be more employee and customer centric.”
Nimble Business Decisions Based on Emotional Needs
Since the outbreak of Covid-19 internationally, many companies have changed to offer free services. These include e-book and audiobook subscription companies like Scribd. The offering is 30 days free access to their library to everyone just to ensure people are able to have access to their favourite reading material in the hope of offering “some solace during these difficult times” (Trip Adler, founder and CEO, Scribd). Amazon’s Audible has also cancelled all subscriptions of books and audio stories for children and students of all ages while schools remain closed.
CRM software services company Papillio has just added a free integrated chat feature onto their journey mapping and personal design capabilities to assist businesses to work remotely and still be able to collaborate effectively. Hubspot has added free tools and removed limits to facilitate the business continuity of its clients over the next 90 days. The list is endless. It is heartwarming to see so many individuals and organizations doing their bit to support society as we unite together to stand against this invader.
Be Emotionally Agile in your Home Space and Get Through LockDown
So while we all live through what seems like the script and set of a sci-fi movie, that has changed our world, we all need to discover our changing needs while at the same time brave innovative business agility and emotional agility to safeguard our economy from failing. We need something to come back to once this is all over. It is time to see the good in all this and enjoy and explore the innovations, embrace the ability to be in your home space and connect with immediate family members. Have social gatherings with apps such as house party. Try new things like meditation to find your peace. Adjust to working from home to play your role in keeping our economy alive while we wait out this pandemic together and meet again on the other side.