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COVID-19

Adjust your COVID-19 lens to thrive in the new normal

Tobi Carter Richards  

Tobi Carter Richards  

COVID-19 has shaken, and continues to shake, things up, disrupting business as usual and creating a new normal that companies must adapt to if surviving and recovering from the pandemic are top of mind.

Companies juggling financial challenges in response to COVID-19 has taken center stage for months, as can be seen in some of my prior posts (The Coronavirus pandemic: Executive pay cuts a sign of the times and Guarding against two COVID-19 financial market aggressions). This post shifts the focus to the pandemic-induced new normal that companies are facing as lockdowns ease around the globe, and it urges companies to get on board with conceptualizing and implementing their reopening strategies through this new lens, while illustrating how companies in some of the hardest-hit industries are doing just that.

Questions for companies to ask in transitioning to the new normal

Although a lot of confusion and uncertainty continue to surround the pandemic, it’s imperative that your leaders jump on the creativity bandwagon and come up with new business models, as opposed to adopting a wait-and-see approach. Otherwise, you may find yourselves lagging far behind your peers and competitors. Reflect upon the following as you make strides towards your new normal:

  1. Have you reviewed your policies and procedures on the safety and well-being of your employees, customers and suppliers? Are they aligned with applicable federal/state/local laws and industry guidelines?
  2. What does your new normal look like when it comes to changing customer demand and potential unpredictability in the supply chain? Are you collaborating with shareholders and other stakeholders on how best to address these and related concerns (see What will shareholder activism look like in the COVID-19 era?)?
  3. Has digital transformation become an integral part of your business strategy? If so, have you considered the cybersecurity implications of adopting your new technology?
  4. To the extent that you’ve pivoted your business purpose and focus, have you shared the new vision with employees to keep them informed and boost morale?
  5. Is the market aware of your brand and its pandemic-driven alterations?
  6. Are you connecting with customers in ways that reestablish consumer confidence, such as through joint problem solving and other collaborative efforts?
  7. Have you evaluated your ability to respond to additional waves of this pandemic? Is there a system in place that allows you to reassess longer-term plans over time when the impact of the pandemic becomes clearer?

Companies embracing the new normal

1) Airline industry

With the sharp decline in the demand for travel these days, American Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, United and Southwest, to name a few, are sharing in their SEC filings changes to policies and procedures aimed at accelerating recovery as they attempt to adapt to the new normal for the struggling travel industry brought on by the pandemic (filings available on Thomson Reuters Checkpoint).

These policy changes are focused on improving customer safety and implementing new procedures that reflect health expert recommendations, and some include aircraft fogging, regular deep-cleans, mandating masks for passengers and/or crew members, limiting the number of seats, back-to-front boarding, encouraging customers to scan their own boarding passes, waiving change and cancellation fees, and health acknowledgements.

On another front, American and JetBlue have joined forces in an effort to become more competitive, and they see the benefits of their partnership—from reciprocal loyalty programs and allowing customers to book a single itinerary combining flights from both airlines to new and expanded routes—as helping in that regard.

The airlines recognize that before returning to pre-pandemic profitability, they must rebuild customer trust, and they are reimagining their operations to help pave the way.

2) Restaurant industry

The pandemic has the restaurant industry in distress as people continue to avoid large groups to slow the spread of the virus, and many restaurants have already succumbed to the economic pressures. Several, including Darden, Denny’s, BJ’s and Red Robin, to name a few, have enhanced their operations to comply with state and local government regulations and health recommendations to aid their recovery.

Some have shifted to an off-premise operating model that includes some combination of online ordering and payment, carry-out, delivery, curbside and outdoor dining, while others have gotten creative with meal kits, subscription services and other solutions to help keep cash flowing while dining rooms are closed. As restaurants pivot their operations, some are continuing—or deciding for the first time—to partner with customer relationship management platforms to better connect with their customers about changes to ordering experiences, special deals and any other part of their interaction with customers that they want to personalize.

Finally, as restaurants begin to reopen, they’re putting into play best practices they’ve learned from crash courses in safeguarding the health and safety of staff and guests, some of which include daily health and temperature checks, protective equipment, routine cleaning and disinfecting, and rearranging dining rooms to create more space between tables. Restaurant operators are intent on reestablishing consumer confidence in dining out.

3) Retail industry

Target, Walmart, Best Buy, H&M and many other retailers have changed the way that they operate to stay afloat and help people get the products they need in new ways. These new measures range from physical and social distancing protocols, such as limits on customer traffic, markings on floors, plexiglass shields and mask-wearing, to curbside service, contactless payment and extended returns windows.

Also, recognizing the importance of providing consumers with a hassle-free online returns experience, especially given the pandemic-induced shift towards eCommerce with its very high return rate, retailers are partnering with technology platforms to help them embrace this new trend. Though it goes without saying that retailers want people to buy, not send back, creating a seamless returns experience can encourage shoppers to buy in the first place and build consumer confidence and long-term loyalty.

All of these efforts are intended to help boost revenue and retain customers at a time when retailers need it most so that they can come out even stronger than before.

4) Automotive Industry

General Motors, Ford and global supplier of automotive seating and e-systems Lear Corporation are some of the companies that have created return-to-work playbooks, with an eye towards helping facilities design safe work environments and offering, in general, helpful practices for COVID-19 preparedness and response based on CDC guidelines that businesses can tailor as they see fit.

These playbooks have a similar focus: reworking space to establish physical distancing, mask-wearing, thorough cleaning regimens, temperature checks, and isolating and contact-tracing employees infected with the virus. Also, some companies have contracts with hospitals and medical centers to test symptomatic workers, while others have on-site testing.

The idea is to help employees return to work confidently so that productivity may resume. Though none of the playbooks contain a one-size-fits-all approach, companies can glean best practices as they develop plans to resume operations and implement their reopening strategies.

Takeaways

Protecting your bottom line looks a lot different these days on account of new trends emerging in response to COVID-19, and regaining customer confidence is key. It’s important that you envision and carry out your reopening strategies through lens reflecting the new normal because pre-pandemic lens will likely prove non-productive.

It’s also important to remember that the pandemic continues to unfold and so the new normal of today may very well evolve.

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