We find ourselves in unprecedented—certainly, the word of the year—times. Was your company prepared for employees to work from home? Did working from home further disrupt business on top of the windstorm 2020 blew our direction?
While Americans and those around the globe manage working from home and the slow return to the workplace, we all would do well to reflect on and capture lessons learned. And, in the rush to return to normal, let’s all take time to consider what is worth hurrying back to.
In business, leaders will benefit from reflecting on how these changes—shutdowns, communication changes, working from home—have impacted their relationships with their consumers and consider how this season has improved or harmed your business continuity. This article will cover the following:
- What business continuity must include in today’s environment
- Prioritizing employees
- The continued importance of the customer experience
Business Continuity: withstanding change
BUSINESS CONTINUITY DEFINITION
To prepare for potential threats, a business continuity (BC) plan defines how a company both prevents threats and how it recovers from one. When a threat arises, the goal of recovery is to continue operations during the execution of the disaster recovery plan. Hence, it is “the ability…to withstand changes in its environment and still function.” (Wikipedia)
Past the core purpose of a business continuity plan – survival during a crisis – a business continuity plan must also prioritize essential, current, and mission-centric projects and initiatives.
CURRENT THREAT: COVID-19
This pandemic has definitely battle-tested the maturity of BC plans. Hopefully, your organization has a core stakeholder group to assess the current state, discuss how to define and pivot to new goals, and execute the BC plan.
Given the current crisis, companies with work from home (WFH) capabilities have been able to continue operations—at least for some activities. However, over 43 percent of companies don’t have a work from home policy. Granted, not every industry can operate from home, but for those companies who can and have not adopted the option, a comprehensive WFH policy will likely be built into their future business continuity plan.
One thing remains the same: Your employees should be a top priority
Crisis or no crisis, employees are a company’s most expensive resource, and its most valuable. Is your company prioritizing employees in meaningful ways?
Begin with the following questions:
- Are my people safe?
- Do they have the ability to work?
- Do they have the right tools and processes to do their job remotely?
Cloud solutions, VPN access, addition monitor, internet bandwidth, etc.
- If not, what tools do I need to provide to get them operational and/or the best they can in this new (not permanent) “normal”?
BE FLEXIBLE AND TRUST YOUR EMPLOYEES
Beyond adjusting to working from home, your employees may also be juggling business needs with homeschooling. Given the current situation, allow your employees flexibility and trust them to complete their work. By giving them the benefit of the doubt and not micro-managing them, you will improve morale and strengthen your relationship with your employees.
MISSION CRITICAL: COMMUNICATION
In any crisis, employees can grow fearful, anxious, and stressed. These emotions can spread quickly and cause uncertainty and doubt. Executives need to visibly lead their team through the crisis by building confidence through clear and consistent communication, and department leads need to reiterate these messages. If you don’t communicate with your organization, this could breed rumors and hearsay of misinformation. Make sure to tell employees:
- They are valued
- How to keep working effectively
- Relevant job changes
- How to adapt
- Success stories
Leaders need to be calm in the storm and communicate the company’s plan for handling the crisis and how it will impact their employees’ jobs and day-to-day activities. Also, it is critical to provide compassion and transparency in these uncertain times.
NOW MORE THAN EVER, TECHNOLOGY IS VITALLY IMPORTANT
Since employees are working from home, investments in videoconferencing and collaboration software are essential for everyone. Leaders need to leverage tools to connect with their teams like video conferencing tools (i.e. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc.). There is no better way to maintain a strong and consistent internal communication than (literally) seeing your leadership on conference calls.
The battleground for brand loyalty remains: The customer experience
Good customer experience starts with communication.
Now more than ever, your team needs to focus on empathy, putting themselves in the shoes of their customers. Consider questions like: What do customers need to know during this time of crisis? What’s the best way for them to communicate with us? What has changed that our customers need to know about?
During this season, consider changing your KPI’s and start with empathy. Additionally, change your marketing strategy to focus on what you are doing to help. Stop selling; instead, maintain the trust and loyalty of the clients you have today and ask how you can help. Rather than trying to sell (or upsell), companies have the opportunity to strengthen their relationship with their customers. Consider how you can serve your customers in the midst of this crisis. Discuss how to make the customer experience seamless given this high-stress season. Emphasize to front-line employees the importance of empathy—remember, your customers are facing the same difficult environment you are.
In this moment of chaos, be the calm partner who reaches out with one voice and says, here is how we are going to help you while you (we) are in this storm. I GOT YOU!
The way you treat customers during this crisis with have long term effects.
ALSO MISSION CRITICAL: EXTERNAL, CUSTOMER COMMUNICATION
Many business continuity plans call for a company to issue an initial “hold statement”, which is the communication that says, “We are working on the issue, and we will get back with more information”. It is amazing that even this small statement can provide peace of mind to your customers because they feel valued. To understand how powerful a holding statement can me, imagine a power failure in your neighborhood—and imagine that your electric company proactively sent a text message saying, “We know you just lost power, we are working on it. Once we understand the cause, we will provide you with an estimated time down. Thank you for your patience. Meantime, if you have an emergency, please call ___ ”
After the initial statement, create a regular cadence (hourly, daily, weekly) to keep your customers updated.
JUST LIKE GRANDPA SAID: THIS TOO SHALL PASS
Everyone is affected by this crisis to varying degrees. So, when talking with employees and customers, start with empathy and remember they too are carrying weight on their shoulders. Spend a few more minutes to listen and be there for them.
The saying goes, this too shall pass. However, when Covid-19 is no longer the main conversation topic and employees are back in the office, and meeting business partners face-to-face, take time to consider which parts of normal you should return to. And be sure to capture lessons learned and let this unprecedented time serve as a launching pad to improve your business, policies, and of course, the employee and customer experiences.
Write these down: Covid-19 Checklist
- Consider accelerating, not just maintaining, your investment in automated processes.
- Improve your employee experience by planning fun, morale-boosting events, such as welcoming kids or pets during set calls and times, scheduling a virtual happy hour, or planning a “spirit week”.
- Rewrite your business continuity plan based on your lessons learned. Ask what went wrong and what was not enough. And, close any necessary gaps in the plan regarding the employee and customer experiences.
- Expect employee engagement to be different moving forward. Be prepared to have conversations with employees about working from home and look for areas where you can be flexible.
Previously posted on National Center for The Middle Market
Nick Glimsdahl is the Director of Contact Center Solutions at VDS, and his mission is to help improve the customers’ experiences through user-friendly, customer-focused contact center solutions. He is dedicated to living out the sage advice from the philosopher, Vanilla Ice; simply put, he helps companies stop and evaluate their current state, collaborate with subject matter experts, and listen to their customers.
Nick’s background in sales, marketing, and contact center solutions serves as the framework for his advanced expertise in the field of customer experience. He is a leader in the “CX Ohio” community and CXPA Columbus Chapter.