While participating recently in a livestream discussion put on by Field Service News on how businesses are preparing for recovery from COVID-19, one of the panelists mentioned that he’d heard brought up recently the idea that there won’t be a “New Normal,” but rather a “Next Normal.” Upon investigation, it seems this is a concept that has been presented by the likes of McKinsey, Forbes, and CNBC – I just hadn’t heard it until this discussion.

This concept really resonated with me, for a few reasons. First, there’s no way that after such a significant time of strain and change and growth we could just recover into one new “norm” – there will have to be an evolution of healing that leads us from one “next” to another. Second, for service organizations that are in such a season of radical change I think the idea of a “New Normal” gives the impression that the radical change will end when, in reality it will not. While the pace of change may slow at some point, we can’t be tricked into a sense of complacency as recovery ramps by thinking we’ve reached the “new.” We need to accept and prepare for a continuation of change as a result of this crisis for likely years to come.

Why Service is Ready

While this concept may feel daunting, service organizations are more ready for what’s next than they ever have been before. In navigating COVID-19 challenges, companies across industries and of all sizes have learned lessons that will put them in a position of strength tackling what comes next (and next, and next). Companies have learned to become more agile, to make far faster decisions than ever before. Organizations have broken down barriers to change and have learned to become comfortable with the uncomfortable.

As a result of these challenging times, we’ve developed better, closer relationships with both our employees and our customers. Service organizations have broken the “how we’ve always done it” mentality to pivot and meet new customer needs. Companies have realized the value of both technology AND humanity and have witnessed firsthand how powerful the combination can be. All these lessons, and more, mean that you are ready for not just a singular New Normal, but any “next” that comes your way.

What the “Next Normal” Will Require

As recovery begins, we must be ready for the Next Normal. There are still many unknowns, but a few key themes shared by organizations as they prepare for the next normal are:

  • People Centricity: Prioritizing the safety of both employees and customers will be paramount as we reach the Next Normal. On the employee side, companies are focusing of course on proper protocols and ample PPE, but also on ensuring the employees feel a sense of empowerment. If they arrive to a jobsite and don’t feel right about the circumstances, they need to feel confident walking away. On the customer side, how service organizations are prioritizing and executing on safety will be a key differentiator for some time. There are also considerations around how this challenge has impacted people’s mental health and how companies can best support those who are struggling.
  • New & More Flexible Service Offerings: The reality is that what your customers need from you now may be starkly different than what they needed just four months ago. Companies are facing financial strain and are operating hyper-cautiously, which means that major CapEx expenditures and long-term service commitments may be a no-go right now. You need to think about what your value proposition will be in the Next Normal – you can’t get stuck in what was right four months ago, you must be innovative and creative in meeting these new needs. This could mean more of an outcomes-based service model where equipment is offered on a subscription basis, or shorter, more flexible service contracts. Whatever it looks like for your industry, creativity and flexibility are critical in the Next Normal.
  • Faster Technology Adoption: Companies that had already embraced digital transformation have been glad, and those that hadn’t have quickly realized the benefits of doing so. The Next Normal will bring a new wave of technology adoption both by those looking to augment their foundational systems and by those looking to play catch-up. Areas of focus include forecasting and analysis tools, systems that allow best utilization of resources, and technologies that enable remote service.

So, What Comes Next-Next?

We can’t predict the future, but you do need to be thinking about it. It’s important to keep a parallel view of where the business is now and what it needs to do to be successful, but also considerations for what’s coming next and how you’ll need to adjust and pivot to meet changing circumstances. A few key points as you plan for the unknown:

  • It’s important to operationalize faster decision making. This crisis has sped companies’ need to assess data and use it to drive decisions and this has reinforced the criticality of a real-time data flow. You must first ensure you have that real-time data flow, and then ensure you put processes in place to ensure you are reviewing and acting on it daily.
  • If you were caught off guard this time, don’t let it happen a second time. Some organizations I’ve spoken with had a solid Business Continuity Plan in place as COVID-19 hit; others did not. Those that did have reinforced the importance of not only having a plan, but ensuring it is well communicated and socialized among employees and even practiced. If you were one of the companies that felt under-prepared for this crisis, make the effort to ensure that doesn’t happen again.
  • Stay close to your customers. So much of the next-next will be dictated by what your customers need from you and how you need to adapt to deliver on those needs. Therefore, it’s more important than ever to stay to close to your customers, to understand their business pressures and opportunities, and to be soliciting frequent feedback and insights.
  • Know that you can handle anything – you already have!
Sarah Nicastro
Author

Field Service Evangelist, Future of Field Service