The emergence of COVID-19 and its rapid spread around the globe has been nothing short of disastrous for many businesses. Storefronts have closed, workers have been sent home and the public has pulled back on spending. Many business leaders around the world are now facing the toughest test yet in their careers: keeping a business afloat in a landscape where a vaccine is still under-development and the world economy remains unstable.
While the situation seems dire, it doesn’t necessarily mean that every business is due to fail. Despite the pandemic and the implicit difficulties, a world under lockdown are bringing, some are thriving. Kroger has experienced a 30 percent jump in sales compared to the same time last year, Beyond Meat has seen an increase in sales of 157 percent, Nintendo’s profits have soared by 41 percent, its highest in nine years, and most notably, Amazon has more than doubled its net profits from $2.6 billion in Q2 of 2019 to $5.2 billion in Q2 of 2020.
Although it can be argued that these businesses are providing products and services that are essential to human sanity, hygiene, nutrition or just general survival during a pandemic, the amount of struggling businesses within the same market sectors beg the question ‘what are these businesses doing right?’ Essentially, it boils down to three main factors: organizational agility, digital transformation and the ability to offer a revitalized digital journey. So how can struggling businesses incorporate these factors to find success amidst a pandemic? Read on to find out.
Organizational agility refers to the ability a company or organization has to quickly change or adapt to in response to a tumultuous and rapidly shifting economic landscape. In the context of the pandemic, it refers to the ability to shift business operations swiftly so it can continue working as close to ‘business as usual’ as possible. This means businesses that were previously in-person, whether retail, office, or service-based, have the infrastructure in place to quickly shift to remote work, whether it’s the digital infrastructure to manage and support a remote team, an established digital storefront, click and collect capabilities, service appointment scheduling capabilities, a considered supply chain, or any number of business-related functions.
Speed and stability are two major components of organizational agility. The importance of the former should be clear, considering the almost-overnight transition to lockdown experienced at the beginning of the pandemic. As such, the ability to be nimble, responsive and dynamic in response to rapid changes should ensure sustained success now and in the future. For the latter, stability, the importance relates to the core components, or ‘backbone’ of necessities - the essential capabilities the business needs to survive. Once these are in place, a business can decisively pivot its offering to ensure it is still able to provide customers with products or services, regardless of physical restrictions.
Over the past two decades, the world has become increasingly digitized, though only at a conservative rate. The emergence of COVID-19, however, has sped this transformation up to an almost unbelievable pace. Data from McKinsey & Co illustrates this digital explosion perfectly, with a report suggesting that in just eight weeks the business landscape has vaulted approximately five years in terms of both consumer and business digital adoption. This rapid digitization has signaled a shift in the way both customers and business operate, with customers opting for digital engagement over face-to-face interactions to avoid exposure with the virus, and businesses moving to remote work models to adhere to social distancing guidelines.
With this in mind, it’s clear that businesses who are yet to digitize their operations are at a disadvantage and not only in terms of productivity and long-term business viability. The unfortunate reality here is that businesses who are yet to adopt any type of digital framework, like a web presence, also lack the capabilities to take advantage of the new business opportunities that this widespread digitization offers. A service-based, physical business like a travel agency, for example, is limited to only service customers in one physical location. But, after undertaking a digital transformation that enables their agents to service potential customers through an interactive website, the agency is able to service clients in any geographical location, enabling them to take advantage of a much wider reach.
New Digital Experiences
Before the pandemic hit, the in-person customer experience was relatively standardized. Customers would enter a business, receive service from a customer service assistant, complete their purchase and leave. Now, with the constraints of social distancing guidelines and the looming threat of COVID-19, to be successful in the long-run, companies need to rethink and innovate the concept of a customer journey entirely.
The emphasis of this is sector-dependent, morphing depending on the type of business. In retail scenarios, for example, this could mean a seamless online shopping experience, where customers are enabled to complete the entire process - from initial research and purchase, to customer service enquiries and returns - online. For the travel industry, this might mean a complete reinvention of the travel process, with new digital-powered check in capabilities for airlines and hotels, or AI-powered digital butlers to offer advice to patrons instead of a regular concierge.
While the world is still reeling with the effects of the pandemic, it doesn’t mean that businesses only need to focus on keeping their head above water until things return to ‘normal’. Unfortunately, without a viable vaccine, it’s unclear when that will be and even more unclear what the post-COVID-19 world will look like. With this in mind, it’s vital that businesses embrace the current challenges with a focus on organizational agility, digital transformation and refreshed customer experiences to respond to the current crisis, while simultaneously building new capabilities that enable them to thrive in an uncertain world.
Kaloyan Valentinov Danchev is the founder and president of a luxury travel firm, Fidelis Marketing Group. It is a business group that sells tourist facilities of the highest quality and tours to the best attractions of the locations in which we have presence.