By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service
Over the past few weeks I’ve been able to connect with several service leaders to discuss the different ways they are tackling the impact of this global pandemic. I’ve appreciated each of these conversations, not just for the insight they’ve provided on how businesses across industries are responding to such uncharted waters – but also because they show a willingness and desire to stay connected as a community and to share with one another lessons we’re learning, as humans and as businesses, despite how much more of our time is taken up by managing this crisis.
As these conversations have unfolded, I’ve noticed a few themes among the companies that are – in my opinion – navigating this time well. These points have come up in almost every conversation I’ve had and seem to be top of mind for all of those on the frontlines of leading their organizations through a time that no one was prepared for.
Theme #1: Put People First
In a situation like we’re in with COVID-19, it becomes abundantly clear how much a company cares about its employees and its customers. It’s really interesting to hear the genuine concern those I’ve talked with have for the people they employ and serve, and some of the ways they’re taking action to show that. Companies managing this crisis well are, first and foremost, leading with their people at heart. This presents itself in a few ways:
- Prioritizing safety. This first point probably goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway – these companies got a very early start on taking measures to keep their workforce and customers safe, many even before travel bans and isolation came into play. Everything from personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, adjusted schedules to minimize risk, and – whenever possible – remote work, have come into play and continue to be amended as variables change.
- Looking for new ways to deliver value. When considering customers, some companies have done an excellent job of not only looking for ways to preserve the ability to provide the service they need to, but also to look for new ways to deliver value to their customers. Acting quickly to utilize tools to offer remote service is one example, but I’ve taken note of countless others even in my personal life – sit-down restaurants quickly pivoting to take-out and delivery, fitness centers offering live streaming classes, the Cincinnati Zoo going live on Facebook with an “at-home” safari, DJs holding Instagram “club nights,” and the list goes on. The takeaway, though, is thinking outside of the box.
- Keeping your people connected. We’re all in a situation right now where this forced isolation feels a bit odd and it’s easy for us to begin to feel disconnected. Companies need to be thinking about how to keep their now remote employees engaged and connected, both in terms of achieving the needed productivity, but perhaps also in more lighthearted ways (Zoom happy hour, anyone?). Similarly, if you haven’t already, it’s a good time to begin thinking about how to connect with customers with facetime all but eliminated. Using social media to hold live events, answer questions, or provide some sort of information and value can be especially valuable in our current circumstances.
- Giving back. Many companies are looking for ways to give back to the community and to help keep us all connected in our fight to return to normal life. Whether a major shift to address an urgent need, like companies in completely non-medical fields beginning to manufacture respirators, or a mission to serve essential workers through meals donated or something along those lines, it’s heartening to see all the ways individuals and companies are stepping up to care for one another.
Theme #2: Use This Crisis as a Catalyst to Embrace Change
Our hand has been forced to do business differently than we’ve ever done before. Is that a hard thing? Absolutely, yes. But it’s also, in some ways, a good thing. What I mean by this is that companies managing this crisis well are looking at the need to embrace change as a critical opportunity rather than just a burden. For those that have been dragging their feet on digital transformation, COVID-19 is acting as a major accelerator. Companies that were already on a digital transformation journey are finding new and more expansive use for the tools they’ve invested in. In my conversations with service leaders, points that have come up as silver linings in this difficult time are:
- Becoming more agile and nimble. Even companies that have never uttered the word “agile” are being forced to pivot quickly and find ways to adapt to these new circumstances. In no way do I mean to dismiss the magnitude of this challenge, or the fact that many businesses are facing nearly impossible circumstances. But for all able to weather this storm, the exercise in adapting quickly will provide valuable perspective that can be carried into the recovery and beyond.
- Embracing new tools for business continuity. By necessity, this situation has caused a major uptick in the use of new digital tools. From simple video conferencing tools for formerly in-person meetings to merged reality remote assistance tools to allow for remote service, there’s a wide variety of technology options that can be scaled if already in use or deployed if not to provide brand new ways of learning how to collaborate, communicate, and serve. Companies managing this crisis well are not hesitating to adopt such tools and put them to good use for business continuity.
- Taking advantage of the newfound open-mindedness of employees. Along with the need to evolve the way we work, employees who perhaps not long ago would’ve resisted change or the introduction of new technology are welcoming it with open arms. The change management roadblocks that companies have struggled with for years have, at least temporarily, subsided as employees embrace new processes and technologies that allow them to continue working.
A great example of a company harnessing the opportunity to embrace change is Munters. We published an article recently on how Munters has adopted IFS Remote Assistance in an effort to address the challenging circumstances of the pandemic, while also setting the stage for servitization success. Munters acted fast as it noticed the early impact of COVID-19 and was able to deploy the technology to more than 200 employees across 22 countries in just two weeks. “It’s important to remember in these times that there are technologies that can provide really fast time to value – embrace those tools that can help you through this time, and beyond,” says Roel Rentmeesters, Director of Global Customer Service at Munters. “The employees that were impacted by the demands to stay in place were very welcoming of IFS Remote Assistance. Countries less impacted by Coronavirus and where our technicians are still free to travel still wonder a little bit about this new technology and what it's going to bring for them, because it is a change in business model. But those who need it to continue to do their jobs needed virtually no change management.”
Theme #3: Maintain a Parallel View of The Present and What’s to Come
While it can feel nearly impossible to envision right now, we know that at some point this will subside, and we will find a new normal. When that happens, demand will likely skyrocket for many services and companies will feel that pressure. While it’s critical to react fast to current circumstances and ensure business continuity amidst the crisis, it’s also important to use this time to consider and strategize on what recovery will look like for your company. Companies that are doing this well are:
- Looking past survival instincts. The first step is to force yourself beyond the inclination to stay in crisis mode, which can be the hardest part of this parallel mindset. Certain companies and industries are in especially challenging circumstances as a result of what’s happening and exerting any energy on issues beyond today can seem impossible. But if you do want to survive, long term, you must force yourself to do just that – at least to some degree. Otherwise you’ll focus so much on surviving the crisis that you aren’t able to ramp up and adjust when recovery begins.
- Determining what lessons are being learned now that can be applied to what comes next. I’ve talked with multiple service leaders about how much of a shame it will be if we indeed to back to business as usual. Why? Because there are some really pertinent and important lessons being learned in these hard times. Whether that’s discovering the role remote work can play for your organization, learning a new need your customer base has, or uncovering a new technology that would benefit your operations, it is worthwhile to view these challenging times through the lens of what can be learned from them and applied even once things aren’t quite so challenging. We want to come out of this better than we were before, not equal.
- Considering what recovery will look like for your business and beginning to map your new normal. Chances are we won’t return to normal but find a “new normal.” Are you considering what that new normal will look like for your business? Have you had to put practices in place in the short term that will become expectations in the long-term? Are you navigating a steep decline in demand right now that will, at some point, quickly and aggressively ramp back up? Whatever the unique circumstances for your business, it’s important to be thinking now about what the new normal will look like and feel like for your business and begin planning for that path.
I liked how Ravi Advani, Director of Global Solutions at Unisys, put it on a webcast we did together recently: “The opportunity this crisis presents us is to look forward into the future and ask, ‘What does this mean for the next five years, the next 10 years? And where is technology going to take us in response to this tremendous event we're experiencing?’ he says. “This is going to present us with opportunities and challenges to making remote working more effective, more productive, more ubiquitous. I’ll be a shift for some organizations in some industries, but we'll come out of this stronger.”