There is no denying it: the first half of 2020 has been rife with uncertainty. Leaving businesses, employees, and leaders having to adapt to working in the unknown, and yet still be accountable to find ways to thrive. For myself and the fellow Konica Minolta leadership team, it was a strong ‘wake-up call’ to take an analytical look at what we have been prioritizing, and to make sure the decisions we make can support not only our customers, but our employees, dealers, and partners too, through these trying times.
To help frame these decisions, we created an impromptu guide – woven through with the ideology that if you embrace this new normal, you can find great opportunities. You simply have to be ready to take action, and take it quickly. Fortunately for Konica Minolta, we were already well prepared as the size of the impact of COVID-19 started to reveal itself, and quickly pivoted to a remote work scenario that kept our core operations in strong shape.
If your business was less prepared, or is still struggling to navigate the uncharted waters of post pandemic operations, I thought it would be worth sharing what we have learned so far:
Customers have every reason to feel anxious about spending for the foreseeable future, and will be even more careful about where they spend. So as a business, now is not the time to experiment. Instead you should be looking to double down on understanding your customers’ needs, challenges and what impacts COVID-19 has had on their industry.
Then look to remove any irritants or stressors that may increase anxiety for your customers. You should emphasise comforting, trusted activities and extend the level of support you can offer. This is an opportunity to strengthen relationships and uncover new growth opportunities that may not have existed otherwise.
There is no time like the present to look at de-centralized decision-making and avoid unnecessary levels of authority. Over the last few months, Konica Minolta has had to make calculated decisions quickly to ensure we respond appropriately to our customers, dealer channel and employees.
Our business model is built on developing trusted partnerships and face-to-face customer interaction; we exist to serve our customers. This model encountered major disruption due to COVID-19, but our sales channels pivoted quickly and self-developed concepts to engage with customers in new ways. As an executive team, we focused on setting the strategic direction and messaging, and then allowed our front line mangers to make sound business decisions based on individual circumstances.
Through active listening and collaboration, we created a cadence for our sales force that allowed them to maintain similar levels of customer engagement. By fostering a culture of trust throughout the organization individuals feel empowered to make decisions that are right for their customers. And you get access to insights without the traditional delay of sending information up and down a management hierarchy.
Ultimately, the sales enablement toolset, and how we interact with customers, has changed for the foreseeable future. The opportunity now lies in how you respond to the changes, and internalize feedback from frontline managers and sales associates.
Agile methodology is a project management style focusing on collaborative efforts via cross-functional teams. It is the response to the linear Waterfall approach, which provides stability in structure but is less responsive to change. With ‘business-as-normal’ no longer a solid reference point, we found that bringing together experts across functions has helped our business identify new opportunities, and most importantly act on them quickly.
While true agile methodology can take time to establish, a great starting point is identifying problems and pulling together a new team to work together to try to find answers. The change in working practice can feel unsettling at first, but by increasing exposure to different viewpoints, ideas often turn into solutions that help stabilize the way your business operates.
Uncertainty is a great breeder of ‘if only’ thinking. If COVID-19 highlighted gaps in your business, or simply reinforced where you think your strategic direction should be, take this opportunity to make the changes you wish you already had. This could be investing in cloud infrastructure, pursuing a data-driven approach to operations, choosing more variable cost structures, or advancing in automation capabilities for example.
This is a real opportunity to take action to either invest in new capabilities or partner with organizations that can speed needed services within your company to fulfil customer/internal demand. For Konica Minolta, it was about reinforcing our commitment to Digital Transformation, and making sure we have the platforms and solutions in place to support our customers’ and dealers’ evolution.
As mentioned in concept #2, our team was able to make quick decisions because we take an ‘insights to action’ approach. This approach values the importance of data to predict behavior based on past information, and then analyze incoming results in real time.
We are in a managed services business that is based on the usage of our products, services and support resources, and for the most part it is a highly predictable business. The disruption of COVID-19 reinforced our business model and the use of real time data to shift resources quickly to high incident areas related specifically to managed IT support. Without the systems, monitoring tools and data this could have been an undesirable experience for our customers.
Making sure you have the correct monitoring and tracking systems in place to not only collect data, but interpret it too, is key to gaining competitive advantage. If you are not already using this data to guide your response to post pandemic activities, then you risk making decisions that are no longer relevant to your audience.
Our team of leaders, as so many others are, are still learning how best to respond to these challenging times. Ultimately, we are putting the customer first, fostering an environment of collaboration and leveraging our innovative approach to help customers navigate the new workplace of the future.