As a small business owner, dealing with business challenges from the Corona Pandemic is not easy, but the sooner you make contingency plans for the present and the remainder of 2020, the better off you will be. It is not just making a Plan B that is paramount – but implementing it – now. The three business continuity areas to focus on are: Employee Care, Customer Care, and Company Care, and in that order. They will keep your business surviving and thriving during and after Corona. You may already have policies in these three areas, and you may have already started to roll out some messaging – great! Yet, if you are not acting on these policies right now, it’s time to get started. There is no Let’s-wait-and-see option in this climate; we have already been dropped into a river of ever-changing currents, and assuming there is a rescue team waiting for us around the bend, may be hopeful – but not helpful thinking.
Employees are your company’s life blood. Corona can (and will) infect them with concern, doubts, insecurity, unanswered questions, fear, and confusion. Take time to ask about and answer their concerns, especially personal and professional challenges due to social distancing. Talk about pay, sick time, coverage, holidays, vacations – whatever comes up. Let go of being in control. Let your employees lead discussions on how to, not just cope, but breakthrough Corona’s hurdles. Let them have time to work through issues. Make technology your friend. Use phone conferencing and video conferencing. Continue discussions on a daily basis and do it first thing. Your employees need answers. You need them to appraise you of their thinking. You need to share how state and federal announcements and bans will affect them, based on how you plan to execute these new conditions. You and they need to monitor the results of implementing Plan B, and be ready to turn on a dime to create alternate solutions. Once employees gain more control over their personal and professional life, they will be more available in spirit to help execute the next business continuity factor, Customer Care.
Thank goodness social distancing is a physical thing, because inadvertently isolating customers by not communicating your Plan B ideas that affect them, may be disastrous, or at the very least, annoying. If your services or products are necessary during this pandemic, your reality is that you already have a queue of calls, requests, or customers needing your attention. Step up quickly and tell your customers what is available (and even if it is available.) Don’t settle for just one communique, set up a communication process that sends updates. This process can extend out your prospects who are already considering working or buying from you, and will be curious as to what their status may be. On the other end of the continuum, your customers may not require your services or products right now, but reaching out to them to let them know your availability and any news that would affect them in the future, is the care they need. In either case, make sure these two types of message get out to them.
First Message. This message is intended to calm your customer fears. If your phones have not begun to ring off-the-hook, then bring your staff together to brainstorm customer concerns you expect to hear. Prioritize them, and quickly review your policies. If you are creating policies to deal with this unprecedented situation, be honest and let your customers know that you are working to send them your best responses -daily. First messages include how you will engage with your customer during social distancing, such as, new hours, continued services, new services, and new ways to be in contact.
Second Message: The second message is proactive in nature; it includes information that your customers/clients have not thought to ask, but appreciate knowing. These messages often include how your company demonstrates good will during these trying times, such as, waiving cancellation fees, removing late fees, waiving deadlines, establishing new and tentative due dates. You may have created new policies to demonstrate customer appreciation, such as, adding a service, extending hours beyond typical timeframes, or making home deliveries. No matter how atypical or stretchy the new idea is, it will be a win-win for both you, the small business owner, and your customer.
The more you initiate internal conversations as to what your customers or clients need, the more obvious the opportunities for customer care will become. Again, don’t think that you can check off the customer care box with one gesture or communication. You and your customers are in this together for the long haul, it is up to you to be proactive and informative.
Both Employee and Customer Care are part of Company Care.
There are three perspectives to viewing company caring, Insight, Hindsight and Foresight. Let’s look at each one within the Corona timeline.
Insight: This is the perspective you must use today while immersed in the Corona Pandemic. You have to rely on your intuition and insights to arrive at unique solutions to present business challenges. Of course, you already do this on a daily basis, yet Corona is testing your comfort zones and your creativity. I suggest that, as the leader of your company, you continue to stay in brainstorm mode. Brainstorming is a creativity tool. Regularly hold brainstorming sessions with employees to let the creative juices flow, and for insight to open the door to novel ideas. The presiding rule during brainstorming is that any idea is OK. Once you have plenty of interesting, odd, and way-out-there ideas, you can turn to critical thinking, which helps to translate ideas into potential solutions. Intuition will aid you and your employees in critical thinking; intuition is that little voice that keeps suggesting the right choices to make.
Two planning meetings should take place right now:
1) What are the present challenges you and your staff see, and how will you mitigate them?
2) What are the challenges you predict you will face after Corona?
Hindsight: Don’t wait until the brunt of Corona has passed to gain perspective on what has already happened in your business due to Corona. As soon as you implement some ideas, you need to review results and shift. Your Plan B is a dynamic and living document because of these unprecedented times. There is no specific time to wait for your insight to become hindsight. Keep evaluating the wake of your decisions, and adjust your steering accordingly.
And of course, you also want schedule meetings 2, 3, or 6 months from today, to look back and review. Corona will find cooler climates during our New England summer, and then find its way back to us in the fall. We may not have a vaccine ready by the fall, so we need to be vigilant and document what has worked and what we still need to figure out.
Foresight: The idea that we have to plan business continuity for the next pandemic is unsettling, but infectious disease and world health scientists tell us that pandemics will become a norm rather than an unfortunate exception. Meet with your employees to forecast what you will do the next time. Don’t wait to create your continuity plan until after you catch up; don’t decide to do it at year-end; do it while everyone’s sensitivity to this historical moment is raw. And when you do sit down to plan, I’d like to leave you with this thought:
Corona is leaving much damage in its wake, but it is also leaving us an opportunity. We are already thinking, performing, calculating, and reaching outside of our comfort zones to work through our challenges. While we are keenly observing the results of our fears, we may miss the outcomes of stretching beyond our every day limits. I promise each of my readers this: there will be one change you make in your Plan B that you believe is merely a temporary one, but if you let go of how things are supposed to be run in your business, you may find that this one change can become a competitive edge or cultural shift that Corona left you as an unforeseen gift.
With respect and gratitude for your tremendous gift to overcome adversity,
Copyright © 2020 Rita Coco Consulting (RCC). All rights reserved. Holden, MA.