Prepare your customer strategy for three levels of readiness

Our economy and many companies are moving into a new phase. Slowly we are restarting the engines of our society. We can only hope the virus will remain under control as we reboot our economy. The pandemic caught us by surprise but now we have to show our resilience and stand up.

As a society, we are not just facing a health crisis. That was just the tip of the iceberg. We all realized this would result in the biggest economic crisis most of us have seen in their lifetime. But there is more. The current situation will also result in a humanitarian crisis. The New York Times reported that for the first time since 1998, poverty levels in the world are on the rise. We are facing challenges on three levels: healthcare, economic, humanitarian.

Be ready on three levels

When creating your customer strategy for the next few months, make sure you are ready on all three levels. Each of these levels requires a different kind of readiness.

Healthcare readiness

Healthcare readiness goes to safety for your employees and your customers. Many people are afraid to go back to a more normal life so facilitate this process as much as you can. Most people get used to new habits rather quickly. In the beginning, many of us were worried to go to the supermarket but meanwhile the new shopping habits have become part of our everyday lives. As a company, it is your responsibility to guide people through this process. Imagine someone going to an airport for the first time: that is a pretty scary and impressive experience. Airports help people by communicating in a transparent way. Now you must do the same for your employees and customers. Over-communicate what you do. Whereas many companies will dial back their communications I would strongly recommend communicating more. If you do, you shouldn’t have any trouble out-communicating your competitors. By telling people what you are doing to make your company a safe haven, you are helping them to come to terms with the situation while lowering the threshold. One final recommendation here: maintain a flexible mindset. The rules may change quite a bit. What is true today may be false tomorrow. Maintaining the highest level of flexibility ever will be crucial in continuously adapting your experience for customers and employees.

 

Economic readiness

Businesses are doing everything in their power to recover from the economic crisis. This must have been one of the first times ever that supply and demand were no longer linked. Most economic crises are either a demand crisis (when consumer buying power is diminishing) or a crisis in supply (after the Second World War product offerings were at an all-time low). This time, though, it was a combination of the two so no one really knows how this will turn out.

To be ready for this new phase, there are three important criteria to keep in mind.

  • Forecasting and predicting business has become almost impossible. Today it is important to think in terms of scenarios. Be ready to reinvent your business. Companies that have the capability to do a fast pivot multiple times will come out on top.
  • Focus on your customers and your employees. Today the world feels more distant and colder than ever. We have few social contacts and when we do see each other we have to keep our distance. In such an environment it is more important than ever to create a warm, human, positive and hopeful experience.
  • Invest more in your digital possibilities. Use digital for teleworking, communication, commerce and service. In the last few months, digital has surged in nearly every aspect of our lives. The barriers for digital usage have lowered significantly and will never be raised again.

 

Humanitarian Readiness

According to the New York Times the corona pandemic will plunge around half a billion people into poverty. For the first time since 1998 global poverty levels will rise. Many countries will face food shortages and a lack of qualitative medical care. In the event of a second or even third wave of Covid-19, many people will be in serious trouble. This decrease in living standards could occur in all countries, both in rich and developing countries.

Research by Edelman shows that people look toward organizations more than their government to take responsibility. As a company, this is the time to decide which challenge in society you can help to solve. I’m not talking about formulating lofty goals but about making a very conscious decision on how to use your assets to make a difference for society. Ideally you should involve your customers and your employees in achieving that contribution. Also, don’t be shy about it: tell the world about your efforts, show the world you are proud while maintaining a humble tone of voice.

 

Panera Bread is ready on all three levels

Last week, I listened to one of my favorite podcasts: masters of scale. In one of their latest episodes they interviewed the CEO of Panera Bread, Niren Chaudary. It was so inspiring to listen to the strategy of Panera Bread to invest in all three aspects of this new readiness strategy. Panera bread is a restaurant and café chain that sells mainly sandwiches, salads and wraps. As a company they have always taken their responsibility in creating a better world. Next to their ‘normal’ restaurants, they also have a number of community stores where people with a lower income can get cheap food, where they invite homeless people to work for them in order to keep them off the streets. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis they have shown their best side.

This is how they are creating a new customer and employee strategy.

 

Healthcare Readiness

  • They invested in deep cleaning procedures. Once the stores are closed, they move all their equipment and furniture to one side. Then they use a high-pressure water jet with a peroxide solution to make sure everything is really clean.
  • They want to offer safety and convenience so they created contactless delivery. Customers can pick up their food without any human interaction. They launched 1000 drive-ups (curbside pick-ups) in all restaurants that didn’t have a drive-through.

 

Economic Readiness

There’s a scarcity of food in some areas in the US. Panera still has access to fresh ingredients via their suppliers. At this point, many Americans are experiencing difficulties buying food. In some areas people are afraid to go to the supermarket, or the supermarket shelves are empty or there is no delivery option. Panera decided to jump on this wagon and launch their own grocery service.

Panera was already a strong e-commerce and logistics brand before the start of this crisis. They have a large network of delivery drivers; they have their own delivery infrastructure and they have an up-to-date e-commerce platform. The combination of these assets allowed them to create a completely new business model in just 2 weeks’ time.

This could potentially be a long-term win. They are solving a concrete customer problem. If it works, they could earn incremental revenue, enabling them to keep their employees on the payroll for longer.

Humanitarian Readiness

The purpose of Panera Bread is to make the world a healthier and happier place. Their approach to achieving this goal is very simple: “Ensure that good eating and good food is accessible to everyone.”

As I mentioned earlier, Panera has always been a company with a strong community focus. During the Covid-19 situation they have stepped up their efforts. They have created their humanitarian strategy around those who are most impacted by the pandemic.

  • The first group are healthcare workers. Panera is serving 50,000 free meals to doctors and nurses in New York.
  • The second group are children. Many children in the US receive free meals when they go to school. When schools were closed, many children were suffering from poverty and lack of food. Panera started a partnership with USDA, where they pledged to serve freshly prepared meals to children. They launched this project in the state of Ohio.
  • The third group are families. Many families have financial issues due to job and income loss. Many food banks will run out of food in the next four weeks and food insecurity is a massive problem that could affect as many as 54 million Americans in the next four weeks. Panera launched a movement called ‘Together without hunger’. The goal is to donate 500,000 meals to food banks so they can help these families. Panera will take the lead in this programme by donating a massive number of free meals and they are encouraging others to follow their lead.