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How flexible is your business plan for meeting emerging customer needs?

As business leaders, one of our many responsibilities is to monitor and respond to market trends and customer behavior. Many companies invest significant amounts of money on platforms and programs that glean and help us analyze market and business insights that will help us make informed decisions about our next product or service or update to existing products and services. In order to remain flexible and responsive in our innovation paths, much product development – from software to consumer goods – is conducted using Agile methodology: quick series of iterations that can be adjusted in-progress as needed. We’ve learned so much over the decades about running our businesses more efficiently and effectively, and yet…

The rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus has called into question the resilience of our business plans and the adaptability of our execution. Small businesses, many of them unprepared for rapid shifts in the market, worry about how they’ll move forward. Even larger companies, especially those who rely on face-to-face customer service, struggle to envision how they’ll maintain their profitability.

So it seems crucial that we study and learn from the current COVID situation, especially since its effects are likely to linger long after the social distancing phase has ended -- and, in fact, might permanently alter how and from whom many consumers make purchases. It might be time to look at your business processes and customer service differently.

For instance, you might pause and ask yourself (and your employees):


  • What changes are you seeing in your market as a result of warehousing suspensions and manufacturing slow-downs?

  • Do you have an online presence? How does it relate to meeting emerging customer service needs? Is there a part of your business you might not have previously considered that can be shifted to online shopping?

  • Are you experiencing a surge in any part of your business? Are your systems and processes robust enough to manage that surge? Are you able to scale quickly and easily to meet demand?

  • If you’re seeing increased online activity, are you testing your messaging? Acquiring new customers through new marketing efforts?

  • How will you keep customers engaged if they aren’t able to interact with your brand as they normally would? And what strategies do you have to continue to engage them when the “new normal” establishes itself?

  • How well do your mobile apps and websites perform when faced with low bandwidth? (Think: The whole family is now at home, sharing internet services.)

  • Do you rely on a single vendor partner or supplier for any critical part of your business? Are they able to deliver what you need, when you need it?

  • If you don’t have an online presence, what is preventing you from building one?


Answering questions like these might uncover some new, insightful way for your company to evolve, not only to meet the current need but also develop a new level of resilience when circumstances call for rapid response and/or course correction. Answering these questions could lead to your company’s Plan B.

WHAT COMPANIES ARE LEARNING FROM THE NEED FOR RAPID ADAPTION


Perhaps not surprisingly, many companies with robust, responsive, adaptable online presences are seeing a significant uptick in their business. Amazon has seen a huge increase in orders as “stay at home” mandates proliferate, and a few companies, with both brick-and-mortar and online shopping experiences, have seen online orders that blow away even their Black Friday/Cyber Monday numbers.

But, aside from the big players, it’s the mid-sized and small businesses who are teaching us new tricks. Some of the most intrepid small businesses not only continue to serve their customers, but also grow their profits,  by ingeniously adapting their strategies to include progressive web apps and lightweight apps to connect with their customers.

There’s much to be learned, from the strategies and tactics of businesses with long-established digital experiences, as well as from those of smaller, more nimble businesses adjusting how and with whom they do business, writing their Plan B on the fly.
In this series of posts, we’ll discuss a few ideas for Plan B strategies your company might work into its repertoire, not only to keep things moving but also to evolve your way of interacting with rapidly-changing customer needs and expectations. From progressive and lightweight web apps to the importance of usable websites to how to engage your employees in identifying and helping to map out improvements to your business processes and technologies, we’ll offer insights into how to use the current situation as a learning opportunity to take your business -- and, by extension, your customer service -- to its next evolutionary phase. Because, whatever the circumstances, every company needs a Plan B.