Column: The New Normal & The Newer Normal

May 20, 2020

[Opinion column written by Ross Webber]

1] You must survive now to be opportunistic and strategic later.

2] Know Your Customer. If you aren’t practising CRM – you’d best get cracking.

3] Communicate – and be human when you do it.

We are already in the New Normal. And that New Normal will be an even Newer Normal in three weeks’, six weeks’ and six months’ time.

We must not ignore what’s going on. We can’t just cling to heritage values, work harder and hope that customers will come back. We now have a customer that has fundamentally changed. Consumers are now far more money conscious and are seeking value. Family and close friends have become even more important than before. We must recognise and acknowledge this. Now is the time to adapt to the New Normal and prepare for the Newer Normal.

Nobody is going to help you – you can’t rely on the government or charity or anyone else. You must be active and collaborative. You must mobilise like-minded people to seek out, activate and inspire your customers and encourage them back to your marketplace. Take care to nurture your customers’ journey.

Jonathan Liew, a preeminent sportswriter, currently with The Guardian, recently wrote about the myth of big sport. The 2012 London Olympics was supposed to motivate millions of “average” people to get active and involved in sport. However, the overwhelming result was that people were crammed into their homes and on the couch watching sport, as opposed to being on courts, tracks or pitches.

And now, with no live sports on TV, it was thought that lockdown would compel people into completing those odd-jobs and fixing things around the house that they hadn’t turned their mind to for years. Instead, personal fitness [cycling, running and walking, etc.] has experienced a big uptick. Small local clubs have been connecting over Facebook and online Zoom Zumba classes have surged.

So, what can we read into this?

It is not, necessarily, just the big guys [the big clubs, the big stars] that add significantly to the numbers participating in the sport. Local youth leaders, community development officers, clubs with good roots in the community: They add growth in participation. It is their personal, hands-on outreach that makes the difference and creates lasting engagement. Similarly, it is not going to be just BIG business that gets the economy rolling – it is local Chambers, community minded entrepreneurs and cooperatives who regenerate the economy.

Prompted by my good friend Melody at Rosewood Bermuda, I watched a webinar by Ian James, CEO of Retail Tribe. He was presenting to the PGA of South Africa, offering advice to get through this challenging period and position for the future.

While his presentation was about golf clubs, there was sufficient relevance for all businesses and particularly our SMEs in Bermuda. It was inspirational enough for me to shamelessly plagiarise here. While there is deep and rich content in the webinar [link provided] 2 I have focussed on the prime elements that resonated with me.

Ian listed five different levels of reaction to the New Normal. Think about your business and picture where you are on this list:

Level 5: Strategic You are thinking about long term objectives and the alignment of the business to appropriately allocate resources.
Level 4: Opportunistic You are looking at immediate tactics for quick wins.
Level 3: Survival You have battened down the hatches and you are making tiny tweaks/small changes to maintain just enough to survive.
Level 2: Struggle Makes the least amount of change [to expense base] and works even harder with a much smaller market… creeps into steady decline.
Level 1: Denial You can’t believe any of this is happening. You are angry, forlorn and exhausted. You can’t go on.

1. You must survive NOW to be opportunistic and strategic later.

Before you get strategic – you have to survive. Create Cash. Balance sheets and P&L Statements are all very impressive, but it is your cashflow that determines whether you will survive. At this point, profit is not king – Revenue is. Think about the business you currently have and get creative to generate revenue. Think about gift vouchers; special offers; winter stock on discount; free delivery; bundling; buy one now – get one free later; buy your ticket now to a function later [early-bird discount] etc.

From the springboard of survival, it must have become apparent that an eCommerce platform should form part of your Strategic Future. Forget all the bells and whistles, just make this platform easy to understand and navigate. From a user’s perspective, that is of primary importance; “easily finding what I came here to find.” From your perspective – you want to make it as easy as possible for them to engage with you and make a purchase.

In your client communications you are going to want to drive traffic to that site. When they get to your site, I have found WebChat is very helpful for maintaining engagement. Not bots – but having an empathetic human respond to webchat enquiries is huge. Think of when you had a positive experience with webchat. For me, Rosetta Stone was fantastic when I needed to transfer my Spanish software from one laptop to another. And think of how frustrating it is when you go to a website and you cannot find anyone to engage with [British Airways].

2. Know Your Customer

Guess what? – The Customer Is Key. A beautiful golf course; a world class football stadium; a Michelin starred restaurant; a huge megastore; a pristine cinema with Dolby surround sound… all useless without golfers, fans, diners, shoppers or movie buffs. Without customers, there is no point in your product or service. So… How much do you know about your existing client base, let alone your universe of potential clients?

This is all about CRM [Client Relationship Management]. Take the time to learn as much as possible about your current market and potential customers. Work out WHO is in your client database. WHO are the regular customers? Who are the occasional clients? Who are the most loyal every-day customers? Who don’t you know? Where are the gaps? What can you do to fill in those gaps? What do those clients want? How much do they have to spend? How do they prefer to be communicated with [email, text, phone call, video chat, personal meeting, Twitter, Insta, Facebook, web-portal, extranet notification, etc.]? You can get all of this information through research and by simply asking.

As you get to know your customers, your team should be motivated to make the customer journey a productive one. From on-boarding through retention to off-loading, each of these phases requires sensitivity and management. If handled correctly, it is of huge benefit to the business. The people that handle this proficiently should be incentivized to do so.

In the New Normal, working from home and flexitime are going to become even more prevalent as people have now become more familiar with what works and what doesn’t work [for them and their business]. Business travel will reduce. So, for those of us in Bermuda, this means that we will not have the volume and frequency of the business traveller flying IN – however, we will also not have as many of our professionals flying OUT as regularly or as frequently as they did.

3. Be Human

Technology and remote communications are here to stay. I have never seen so many people so well versed in Zoom, MS Teams, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, WhatsApp, Houseparty, FB Messenger, Skype…etc.

Dr Morne Mostert, Director of the Institute for Futures Research at Stellenbosch University advises we all plan for the impact of Artificial Intelligence. Computers will be better at nearly every task one can think of [accounting, auditing, actuarial science, broking, modelling, programming, engineering design, legal documents, manufacturing, cryptology…etc.].

We, as humans, must look for the areas that need HUMAN SKILLS. We must develop, improve and actually deploy such skills. What are these skills? Listening, empathy, sympathy, customer service, management of expectations. Nuance. Interpretation. Sharing and communicating. Inspiring and leading.

You are trying to get your clients to perceive you as a trusted, dependable and reliable advice guru/partner. Ian James uses the term Servant Leader [I can’t think of a better term]. You are your client’s servant leader and you are leading them to a better future.

To be the servant leader, you have to be relatable. Consider these human skills when you seek to communicate and engage with your clients. You must manage the expectations of your client base, and you must “talk” to them. You should use their language. They must feel heard and understood. A basic human need is to belong and be cared for. Your clients must feel like they belong in your club, that you are looking after them and you care for them.

It’s going to be tough and, for many of you, this will be outside your comfort zone, but you should start creating video content… It’s not easy but the more you do it, the better you get. You don’t need to be slick – you don’t need to be cool. I’ve preached this repeatedly in the presentation skills courses I have run: You just need to be genuine and believable. Authenticity is key. People [especially children] can tell instantly if you are faking it or trying too hard to be cool. Remember, the point of your communication is not for you to be the star – it is to make the person watching/listening/reading feel like they are [or can be] the star; or have their lives improved by what you have shared with them. Or they simply feel like their expectations are being managed and they are being taken care of and that they belong…

Don’t worry about the volume of your outreach – just do some. This may be a very millennial thing – and it’s great for anal managers who love KPIs and metrics – but it is not about the number of “followers”– it is about the number of “relationships.”

There are myriad communication channels [print, radio, billboard, TV, social media, direct mail, viral, guerrilla, etc.] and face-to-face is still the best [even six feet apart and with a mask on]. But face-to-face doesn’t always need to be physical. It can be through a variety of media. The RoI on a personal phone call to nurture valued existing clients is worth it.

Your messaging should ultimately lead to an action – a purchase from the eCommerce platform, a physical visit, a positive review, referral or word of mouth recommendation – or simply just an entrenching and reinforcement of your desired band identity [another step to the acceptance of you as a servant leader].

BDS is here to help you navigate the New Normal and the Newer Normal… Be Brave.

- Ross Webber


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