On the individual level, Covid-19 has changed everyone’s life differently. People have lost jobs, loved ones, their sense of security when mingling with others, their access to entertainment, and leisure options.
For most businesses, the implications of that change are particularly worrying. People are spending differently. They might be buying more essential goods, but discretionary spending has been dramatically reduced.
Maybe you’ve managed to successfully take care of the well-being of your employees while managing to get work done by shifting to remote working arrangements. But in a disrupted world, are people still willing to spend the same amount on your product? Moving forward, will you still have enough market share to sustain your operational model?
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Maximize your use of data
Every company faces its own unique set of challenges in the wake of the pandemic. You don’t need anyone telling you that sales are suffering, or maybe even booming. That data is readily available, and usually reflective of the broader industry trend.
What you do need to know is why. For example, if your line of business is related to disinfectant or other household cleaning supplies, a spike in sales can be attributed to panic buying. But such increased consumption might dip down once the situation stabilizes and a vaccine is available. Who will continue to buy your products even after the fears die down?
The same thing goes for products and services that have all but flatlined in the current climate. A restaurant business will be facing tough times now, but why are some people still leaving their homes to buy your food? Who’s choosing to have your food delivered? Will the other people scale back their newfound passion for home cooking and spend at your place once public safety is assured?
Look at every possible factor, and harvest as much data as you can collect. Check your reverse logistics program to see why products are being returned. Go in-depth with your surveys, and engage with your consumers on social media; they will be spending plenty of time online. Find out the ‘whys’ of your specific situation, and you can get out of survival mode and start preparing for the future.
Don’t over-rely on forecasts
However, all future planning must come with a caveat. Experts don’t know when we can go back to a lifestyle approximating former levels of health, safety, and overall normalcy. In turn, the better-informed consumers, who also tend to have more discretionary spending power, are holding back and saving their money. Will people suddenly rush back to their former levels of spending once the floodgates are opened? Or will the general public continue to exercise caution and restraint?
The pandemic itself is just one of many possible disruptions to a networked global economy. Futurists had been listing the emergence of new infectious diseases among the significant risks we could face each year since the ‘90s. The problem was that many businesses didn’t take the threat seriously. They operated under the assumption that the status quo would extend indefinitely into the future.
In recent years, this led to an increasing focus on marginal improvements in efficiency and cost-cutting measures. They didn’t have the structure required to survive a disruption. Painfully, they learned the lesson that you can’t keep relying on forecasts.
Anticipate future change
No one can predict the future. What you have to develop instead are systems and contingencies. You need to take whatever actions help you survive now, and lay the groundwork for future success. And on top of that, you have to map out some plans for alternate future scenarios.
Preparing a Plan B (or C, or D, and so on) is one way to retain future flexibility while finding success in the present. You need to be ready to pivot when the time comes. Conduct an honest and periodic assessment of your organization for agility; you’ve been resourceful enough to respond quickly to this crisis, but will that quality be retained in the future?
Businesses will always seek ways to be more efficient, reach more customers, and drive up their profits. But you have to start approaching such goals differently now that the world has changed. Today’s consumers now require you to be ethical and responsible. Put humans first. Use new technology, such as AI, to tackle jobs requiring physical involvement.
But be prepared to do things differently just in case everything changes again. You never know what’s going to happen. The best you can do is make sure that your business can roll with the punches, figure out what must be done, and pull through the next crisis.