Just about all of the small business owners I know, myself included, are trying our best to appropriately navigate this “new normal” of not knowing exactly what the future holds. For some, it’s a lot of hoping things won’t get any worse, while fearing they will. For others, it’s pure survival mode – just struggling to stay alive long enough to see what the world will look like once we are past this initial economic shock.
There are so many unknowns that it’s easy for many of us to get lost in our heads, trying to figure out how we’ve found ourselves in a situation that we have so little control over. At the same time, there is a new reality emerging that business owners must recognize so that we can be best prepared for what’s next.
Situations like the current COVID crisis force companies to adapt and innovate in order to survive, whether through new communication methods and platforms or by offering the same services in vastly different ways. From workout studios to schools and museums, every organization is making necessary changes to maintain some kind of operational normalcy while knowing there’s nothing normal about what’s going on right now.
The reliance on technology to support commerce of all kinds has never been more prevalent, as much of the world’s workforce has shifted to remote working in a matter of weeks, and many brick and mortar establishments have closed down either temporarily or permanently. Almost overnight everybody is waking up to a completely different way of working. The accelerated adoption of this new model provides a glimpse of what it’s going to take to thrive in the post COVID-19 world. The game has completely changed.
I’ve personally been blown away at how quickly the restaurant industry has adapted to online ordering, delivery, and curbside pickup. While just a month ago, delivery may have been seen as a perk offered by some restaurants, in the current climate, a restaurant must offer these services in order to even operate. There’s also been a forced adoption of technological innovation from the consumer’s side. Consumers who may have never ordered online before are now having to familiarize themselves with a new process. I know some may be thinking, “Who has never ordered online from a restaurant before?,” but according to Forbes, delivery sales were already set to rise an annual average of more than 20%per year, from $35 billion to $365 billion worldwide by 2030, and that was pre-COVID.
Another great example is the telehealth industry. Similar to restaurant delivery, the concept of telehealth is nothing new, but what is new is the forced adoption happening on both sides of the equation. Many friends of mine that are doctors have considered telehealth in the past but never took that step due to cost, logistics, or simply because it was different than their normal process. Meanwhile, patients have been expected to sit in the waiting room for an exam just to get a prescription refilled or to get a referral. The current environment is forcing both doctors and patients to adopt new technology and processes, which – spoiler alert – both will find to be more efficient in the long run.
If your business depends on a significant physical location like a traditional office, or it depends on your ace sales person flying around the country to pitch and land new deals, you are most likely coming to terms with the limitations of scaling your business in any environment that prevents those things. If you can’t package up “Big John” from sales and provide the same level of storytelling, connection, relationship building, and deal closing in a digital format, the road to recovery is going to be even longer.
There’s no doubt that some industries like hospitality, travel, and commercial real estate may never be the same. Many business executives are figuring out that they are spending too much on unnecessary business travel, or maybe they don’t really need that new building that houses 300+ employees while many of those same employees seem to be productive at their kitchen table.
Decision making is changing, but the points of conversion within a business aren’t. The question is who will adjust their models to be able to optimize those points of conversion in a digital format. When businesses ultimately get past survival mode, the ones that do make it through will find themselves in a new world of technology enablement, at which point the quality of experience will really start to matter.
Once everyone is offering the same online and digital services, it will be the organizations that offer the most intuitive experiences that will rise to the top.The experience may be owned by the business itself, or it could be the experience of the platform which the business is using. Either way, the businesses that will become leaders in the coming years will understand that they can’t simply adapt to the new realities, they have to provide a unique experience to the user within that new reality.
This mindset is nothing new for my company, Few. We have spent the past six years helping companies and organizations navigate the process of creating new digital revenue streams through owned platforms and improving their brand experience and ability to scale in a digital-centric world. We’ve helped traditional companies look at new opportunities through a lens of “what’s next” and have helped them to decipher how they as a company can not only be a part of the next wave, but own a piece of it.
If you already operate a digital platform handling communication or logistics, often known as a Software as a Service (SaaS) business, you are probably feeling pretty good right now, as more people are being driven to these platforms in an accelerated fashion. The CEO of Slack, a digital communication tool, recently notedthat in the midst of them closing their own offices for the safety of their employees, they were also closing multi-million dollar deals they had been working on with enterprise companies for years. As these massive teams shifted to remote, they needed to fill the communication void and fill it quickly.
Food delivery apps have probably gained a lot of new customers over the past 3 weeks. While that is great for you and your platform, all of your competitors also gained traction through this shift. What will be the thing that sets you apart when the dust settles and you have to start going head-to-head to keep these new customers? You have to create a great experience for both the restaurant that chose to use your platform and for the restaurant’s customers. Users will ultimately choose based on how good or bad the experience is for them.
I’m not so naive as to think that our current business environment is something you take lightly or that as a business owner you don’t already have enough to think about at this unprecedented time. You may be working to keep your staff on the payroll, navigate the SBA financial assistance options, and more. It may seem insurmountable to think beyond tomorrow in these chaotic times, but the sooner we begin to plan for the new role technology is going to play in business moving forward, the sooner we will recover and potentially thrive.
I keep reminding myself and my team, “Focus on what you can control.” No matter what happens, we can control how we move forward from where we are right now.
Zack Hill is the chief executive officer at Few, a Little Rock-based design agency.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.