There are numerous overview articles and background-information articles about the 2019 novel coronavirus. Most of these articles focus on preventive-behavior recommendations and social-distancing tips for individuals. In the almost endless flood of coronavirus news and articles, however, the entrepreneurial perspective is often left out. That’s why we’re taking a look at the following question: What concerns and needs are currently front and center for companies that – in these times of mandatory work-from-home setups and decreasing order volumes – are confronted with these and other consequences of COVID-19? On the basis of discussions with clients in recent weeks, our co-founder and managing director Robert Jacobi talks about what is especially important in times like these.
Robert, what worries and concerns do clients currently have regarding the coronavirus pandemic?
Robert Jacobi: Although our projects are generally continuing as usual, we are, of course, noticing that the current situation is an important topic in almost every conversation. Many banks, for example, have closed some of their branches, but of course they still want to stay in close contact with their customers. We then get asked the question of how to match the service quality in the branch in digital transactions as well.
What advice can you currently give any company when it comes to stabilizing its own situation?
Basically, it’s important to not panic and to check whether all processes and structures are capable of dealing with the situation. By this I mean that the individual teams and departments have to get into pragmatic working mode very quickly: Who is working on what, from which location, and using which communication channels and tools? Companies should also test their technical infrastructure and ensure that it’s sufficiently effective and resilient.
Two further motivations are costs and liquidity: Every company should look at its cost side and not lose sight of its liquidity. Most companies are aware of this and also make it their primary concern. But what many are less aware of is how important it is to keep up communication with the various stakeholders in times like these.
What should companies focus on here, in particular?
In times of social distancing, they should at least show digital closeness. Internally, for example, the question arises of how you can convey to employees that priorities in addressing customers have to be shifted. Externally, a check of the marketing and communication channels is important, because – especially in times of crisis – there is an increased demand for information. In this regard, now is the time for any company to take a self-critical look at what already is working well – and what is not. It may also be possible to make quick fixes that were long overdue anyway.
A company should take an equally critical look at what can be provided digitally – since the branch or store is closed in many cases. In the end, the central question is, “How can I design my product or service in a way that is relevant for my customers and generates added value even in the current situation?”
Can you give some examples?
If you are a bank, this can be an immediate loan. In the case of a media company, it could be a special format that provides all the important information on the development of the coronavirus crisis in a cross-media format. It’s crucial now that companies act as supporters and are visible, instead of hanging back. The major German food retailers are leading by good example here: just last week, Aldi, Edeka, Lidl and other major food retailers issued a joint statement assuring customers that the supply of goods in supermarkets is and will continue to be secure.
Some companies seem to be coping with the crisis better than others. What do they have that the others don’t?
It is still too early to say who will come through the situation well, and who won’t. The situation is still too new to predict, and it also changes every day. At the moment, we are in a phase where external factors determine the development and we simply have to “drive by sight.” But still we tend to see that those companies that communicated clearly and explicitly at an early stage, and pushed ahead with the digitalization of their processes, now have an advantage over those who are “lagging behind” in the development.
I’m glad that, in the past, many of our clients were so smart and open-minded about engaging with the right innovations – regarding, for example, a powerful set of digital tools. But of course it also depends on which industry I belong to.
Can you be more specific?
I can have the best mobile application for booking luxury trips. But if no one wants or is allowed to travel, even the best UX is useless to me.
It is said that one can emerge stronger from a crisis. How must companies position themselves so that this is true for them in the current phase?
We are experiencing a situation in which everyone is focusing on the essentials: on the core and purpose of their economic activity – and deriving from this what their future priorities are. Some processes may be implemented more quickly now – in this respect, the coronavirus could also act as a catalyst. And this is very important for the further implementation of digitalization.
In the future, every analog process must be transformable into digital one, on an ad hoc basis – this is one lesson of the coronavirus crisis that is already evident today. So we shouldn’t stop thinking about innovation processes ahead just because we are concerned about preserving the existing system. To do so would be short-sighted, because there will be a time after the crisis. Those who continue to think ahead now will have a great starting advantage as soon as normality returns.