In our normal, pre-COVID-19 environment, many of us took for granted the value of responsiveness. Customers could come into your store and peruse around without any need for assistance; call-centers, while always busy, were on a schedule with manageable expectations; and if you needed financing for your business, your lender was just a phone call away.
Now, all of that has changed. Being in constant communication with customers, employees and external partners is the new normal – and crafting a gracious yet effective response to all parties’ concerns in a timely manner is truly imperative.
These were the underlying themes of Better Business Bureau Northwest + Pacific’s most recent webinar. On May 19, we held a virtual panel with three very different accredited businesses that, while on the surface operate distinctly, have all been impacted by COVID-19 in similar ways.
“A huge pivot [was] how [to] disperse a large number of people and still feel like you’re all connecting with each other,” said Connie Miller, CEO of Icon Credit Union, discussing her company’s use of Microsoft Teams and Zoom to engage internal employees. Icon was deemed an essential business and allowed to stay open, but much of its staff began working remotely, nonetheless. “We have some big strategies that we’re working on right now and it’s just flowing incredibly well.”
On the other hand, Global Security and Communications was also deemed an essential business, but most employees remained on site, albeit with strict social distancing practices put in place. But, Global Security is an in-home service business, installing security cameras and technology at residential and commercial locations. So, even though employees were able to operate internally, connecting with third parties and customers became difficult.
“As the state of Washington has allowed contractors back on site, we now have to have visitor logs, signage and hand-washing stations in place…to protect ourselves and others in the industry,” said AJ Gomez, president of Global Security.
Gomez noted that even now, with Washington starting its reopening process, making sales virtually will continue – using the same technology Miller mentioned to keep operations rolling. And, of course, entering customers’ homes is a vastly different process as they communicate new safeguard policies.
“We’ve increased the communication with the customer via phone and email to tell them in advance what they can expect while we’re on the job site – masks and gloves, of course,” Gomez said. “I think early on, people were more concerned and checking on us, asking ‘Where has your rep been that day?’ … But as time has gone on, customers seem to be okay with [the precautions].”
Whitney Grisaffi, president of Ted Brown Music, an 89-year old family business that was deemed non-essential, faced many of the same challenges but in a different context.
“We had not planned for [remote work], so we really didn’t have anything in place,” Grisaffi said regarding their forced closure. “We’re very much a retail store that is meant to be open.”
But even during these hard times, Ted Brown Music did a lot of things right – things that have set them up to bounce back when they can finally open their doors.
First Grisaffi noted they’ve been active on social media, specifically Facebook, to not only let their customers know about online deals, but to foster a music community. Ted Brown Music is regularly posting videos of their people and fans playing instruments – bringing everyone together with music, even virtually.
The mom-and-pop shop is also staying in contact with furloughed employees. “It was really important to us was that we wanted them to feel they are still part of our family,” Grisaffi said. “We made sure they were still connected to HR to help them navigate the unemployment part. And, just to keep people feeling like they’re part of the team, we’ve got some inner-office emails going…we’ve had store managers send induvial videos to staff…and have done some after hours meetings. When we are ready to call them back, we want them to be ready to come back.”
Throughout the entire discussion, perhaps the most visible lesson learned by all was that leaders need to be nimble. Whether they were trying to find new ways to market to their customers or trying to get in touch with their banks for Small Business Administration funding, it all required agility.
“My leadership philosophy is that you can shift things quickly if there is a need,” Miller said. “Don’t overanalyze and assess things based on how you’re doing it today because we just never would have though we could do what we’re doing now.”