Using COVID to adjust and reinvent your business

By now, you have lived in the world of COVID long enough to recognize the reality of the times. You have probably had to make some very tough decisions and looked at taking advantage of places where COVID has presented business opportunities. It is important to create repetitive frameworks and processes to make sure you set your organization up for long-term resilience. The first step is always the hardest, particularly since COVID presents uncharted territory, but it gets easier with experience and time. 

Many of the adjustments you are making to your business are only as good as your upkeep and updating rituals and protocols. Just because you do something today does not mean you will, or even should, do it forever. Likewise, a solution that is temporary should not be the sticks and glue that hold your business together for the long-term.

Technology

While there is a world of items that fall under the category of technology, every single business without exception depends on software. It is therefore important that you focus on software that can automate your processes or amplify your communication between teams and customers.

Your customer support is directly tied to your team’s ability to communicate internally. So, the first step to improving customer satisfaction is to make sure every single member of your own team is communicating quickly and effectively, with as few hiccups as possible (your goal being to eliminating hiccups altogether). 

If you are still sending word documents and spreadsheets to each other in emails, your business is moving too slow for this century let alone an economic crisis. Two technologies you should implement immediately are Google Workspace (formerly G Suite) or something similar, and Slack or Microsoft Teams. If you do not have sufficient internal IT resources, many third party agencies are available to efficiently set these up for your organization.

Aside from your internal communication, if you are still using homebrew CRM, you likely have a big problem, lack customer self-service, or are handling all customer requests via email and phone calls. You need to stop and take a hard look at how you can improve each customer interaction with the help of technology. 

Customers want speed at first contact and speed in resolution. The technologies I recommend are Facebook Messenger for Business, Intercom, and ZenDesk. If you’re a larger organization with complex case flows, tons of help articles, and a dedicated customer support team larger than 10, I recommend Salesforce Service Cloud.

Replacing an organization’s communications technologies can be an overwhelming exercise. But the best results come when the organization commits, picks a date to switch, and moves full speed ahead knowing there will be kinks to figure out along the way. On the other hand, if you just try these technologies for months alongside the technologies you are currently using, buy-in will decline, and your team will likely come up with too many objections, all of which will cost you time and money. Be rigorous about both the selection process and the entire implementation timeline, and you can solve problems or growing pains as they happen.

You may have already created a process to evaluate, price and negotiate a technology solution. If you do not have a process, you may want to consider Six Sigma HOQ (House of Quality). Many trainers and educators have written about its usage and application, and you do not need to be certified in Six Sigma to use it. Some of the tools presented in Six Sigma, like HOQ, actually work well in isolation from other frameworks you are using.

Here’s a tip to choose new technology successfully: Organize demos from each of the organizations mentioned above and ensure your leadership team is present for them. Immediately after each demo, ask your head of IT or the best net promoter of that technology to continue the evaluation. Choose a date to reconvene to make a decision based on that evaluation. Make sure the leader assigned to the evaluation comes up with alternative recommendations if there are too many gaps, hurdles or implementation risks with the technology they have evaluated.

Leads/Funnels

It is possible that you have been historically dependent on leads that came in from a source that is no longer producing results because of COVID-related changes. Perhaps you are a restaurant and have counted on OpenTable or other reservation systems to drive traffic to your business. Or you have a digital business that started experiencing an ebb instead of a flow because one of your partners stopped referring leads to you. Regardless of the reason for fewer leads, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.

Direct customer acquisition is the best way to own the entire customer journey from start to finish though it can be costly if done incorrectly. To find a repeatable process to acquire your own customers, you will need to understand marketing funnels as well as marketing messaging. If you do not have that expertise in-house, find someone who does. These people typically are referred to as growth consultants, growth marketing firms, or online funnel marketing experts.

Never forget the hidden value within existing customers. Repeat purchase and re-engagement funnels are one of the best ways to start. These are often referred to as bottom-of-funnel customers. It’s often much easier to learn from a Facebook or email marketing campaign to target your existing customers than it is to target a new cohort you have never engaged before. You can consider bundling your services, providing discounts on repeat purchases or even sending an email with existing testimonials to remind your customers why they chose you in the first place – aka your unique selling proposition. Here’s a good read on improving your sales funnel tactics and strategies.

Webinars and virtual events are a great way to get the word out too. Once you’ve gotten a customer’s attention, free trials and free services help build trust. A special promotion can close the deal but be mindful of steep discounts as they aren’t sustainable and may attract a lower quality customer than you had intended to target.

Content Engine

This is without a doubt one of your most important forms of automation for inbound leads and customer retention. Content is not just a means to increase organic traffic, aka SEO. It is also an organization’s digital footprint to guide a customer through the journey. Remember, your company is a product, and your content strategy is a way to inform, educate, guide and win customers for life and works even while you sleep.

Content comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Anything from a Tweet to an hour-long video is considered content. If you are a restaurant, your menu and recipes are primary forms of content. Customers can feel your brand and culture through your content. That is why there is an art and science behind the way content is created.

As a service company, your content provides a foundation of past successes, typically in the form of customer case studies and testimonials. While one piece of content might not influence a potential customer to buy right away, it becomes a critical touchpoint that reduces friction, eliminates objections and creates a desire within them to contact you.

If you are an ecommerce company, everything you do relies on your content strategy. When you post a new product, the way you craft the product description and your social media posts, the kind of photographs you publish, as well as product reviews, are all incredibly powerful ways to get a customer to purchase.

There are some great reads on content strategy. Among them I prefer Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and Content that Converts by Laura Hanly. If you’d like to start off with free resources, check out Neil Patel’s blog.

Regardless of your business and industry, automating, and streamlining your operations with protocols and procedures facilitated by technology are key to adjusting and growing.