Despite all the hardship, trauma, and loss endured by the global community the past few months, I can’t help but feel a sense of awe at times. I truly believe this is the greatest period of innovation I have experienced in my lifetime.
Our way of life changed almost overnight, leaving people to solve for heretofore inconceivable situations. And solve they have. People (yes, including you) are adapting and experimenting and finding new solutions every day – some slapdash, some quite elegant, but almost all unimaginable just a few months ago. We’re also seeing businesses of all types and sizes tackling this new normal at scale.
In the little town in Minnesota where I live – and all across the country, I’m sure – independent Main Street stores have moved more of their sales online than they ever thought possible. Mom and pop shops are offering curbside pickup and delivery for devoted customers eager to support small businesses. And local associations are finding ways to turn beloved annual events into virtual happenings.
These changes are not only helping people and businesses survive this crisis, they’re building resiliency and flexibility into their business models that just might help them thrive for years to come, potentially even leaving them on stronger footing than they were before. (Though, obviously, the converse is also true, and many won’t survive.)
On a larger scale, I’ve seen account managers stuck at home, unable to travel. With no commute or face-to-face interactions, they are finding new ways to connect with and listen to their customers more often.
A Fresh Perspective
For one of our largest clients, this has allowed them to communicate their value proposition in the health care sector more clearly. After a merger two years ago, wherein the company subsumed a smaller provider, some customers were dismayed that they suddenly had to deal with a “big” company and missed the “personal” service the smaller company offered. Our client’s initial efforts to help customers see the extra value they provided – including executing an integration communication program – weren’t as effective as they would have liked, and customer dissatisfaction persisted.
But over the past few months, their sales reps kicked into high gear as the crisis hit, tapping resources accessible only to larger companies in order to get PPE and other supplies to customers. As a result, sales are up in many areas and customers are more satisfied, having seen with their own eyes the advantages a big company can provide. That’s just one benefit to ramping up your solution engine.
Seize the Moment
Fundamentally, the solution engine is driven by these core concepts:
- Listening/Learning: There are always going to be surprises, but none of us were prepared for something like this. Those weathering this crisis most successfully are learning all they can about the impact of current circumstances and listening to their customers with a renewed focus.
If you ever cared about what your customers were saying, NOW is the time to show it. Same goes for your employees, many of whom are feeling anxious as they juggle new home and work responsibilities. Listen to what they’re saying so they can give you, and your customers, their best.
- Solutioning/Acting: There is now an imperative to take action, and those who don’t are likely to fail, or at least lose ground. Ignore what customers are saying about comfort, safety, and community at your peril. Now is the time follow the lead of the distilleries that shifted from producing spirits to making hand sanitizer; or Winnebago, which diverted their workforce from sewing motorhome furnishings to making masks to support a local hospital; or a marketing analytics company that’s just introduced touchless menus to help restaurants reopen. Tap or establish listening posts to reveal opportunities for alternate business lines, new revenue streams, and other internal and external solutions.
- Close the loop: Customers need to know that you have listened. Tell them about your expanded selection, about your curbside pickup. I think LeeAnn Chin, for example, a regional fast-casual restaurant chain, had excellent messaging in this regard. They let people know explicitly the services they were offering at each of their locations and the steps they were taking to ensure the safety of their food and their workers.
Proud of Our Partner
I’m also struck by how adroitly Heart of the Customer partner Qualtrics has stepped up, creating a bevy of free tools to feed the solution engine and help gather the information needed to succeed today and set the course for a more consistent and relevant voice of the customer program going forward. Those tools include:
- Frontline Connect: When it’s tough to get insights from customers directly, go to the people who know them best – your frontline. Quickly get a sense of what’s going on and the most important actions you can take to retain customers. As the situation evolves, keep a pulse on how customers are responding so you know what to do next.
- Customer Confidence Pulse: These are uncertain times for your customers, so building confidence and trust is more important than ever. As you move your business forward, get continuous feedback so you can act quickly to meet evolving needs and strengthen your relationship with your customers.
- Digital Open Door: Keeping communication flowing to and from your customers is key, so ensuring you always have a digital door open is going to pay off. Deploy an always-on website listening post so you can make guidance, support, and updates easily available.
- Remote + On-site Work Pulse: Whether you’re supporting a remote workforce or protecting the health of essential onsite employees, it’s critical to check in with your people. Quickly assess workforce morale and well-being, understand employee needs as they adapt to changing work environments, and reduce the impact this disruption can have on culture, safety, and productivity.
Look around and you, too, will find person after person, company after company, stepping up and creating solutions they would never have thought of six months ago. Keep an eye out for those innovating and helping others succeed. There are so many uplifting examples of the amazing solution engine in action, forging a path forward through this crisis.
What solutions have you seen that have impressed you? What innovations in your own company or community are you proud of?
Please share below – we’re listening!