Is your business prepared for what is coming next? It’s been several weeks since the start of serious actions being taken to combat and contain COVID-19 and the coronavirus that causes it. If your company hasn’t been directly impacted by these new rules of normal, your suppliers and customers have been.

Many consultants are offering advice on how to protect your business, employees, and customers. Much of the advice is general and has the potential to aid various industries equally well. The prime business advice is that companies must develop contingency plans to address changing customer needs, mitigate disruptions to the workplace, and be ready for the return to normal once the pandemic abates.

Gartner’s suggestions are aimed at managers who face an uncertain and rapidly evolving situation as a result of the coronavirus. The CEOs who wait to “read” shifts in customer perceptions and needs, or who fails to anticipate interruptions to supply chains and operations, restrictions on mobility, travel, and mass gatherings as a result of the COVID-19 crisis will only increase risks to their organizations and miss potential opportunities to build customer loyalty.

Companies should monitor customer channels for unexpected and quick changes to customer behavior and purchasing needs, and prepare for potential disruption to budgets, plans, campaigns, and strategies in the months ahead.

Specifically, Gartner recommends four actions:

  • Build COVID-19 contingency plans
  • Monitor, report, and react to shifts in customer behavior
  • Prepare marketing teams for interruptions and challenges
  • Review marketing plans for potential impact

McKinsey & Co., offers suggestions for internal plans as well. It believes companies need to increase communication, balancing the needs of the business with morale building and the setting of reasonable expectations for the future so employees know that their well-being is top of mind. They need to change working norms, making remote work practical and simple whenever possible. Of course, companies must protect people’s health, with whatever measures are appropriate to the workplace: positive hygiene habits, personal protective equipment, amended sick-leave policies—whatever it takes to ensure health and safety.

The key to mitigating risks associated with COVID-19 and identifying opportunities is scenario planning. Gartner believes company leaders should create three scenarios, spanning from best-case to worst-case, and consider the potential impacts to customers, the internal team, and brand strategies and tactics.

Monitor leading indicators of how and where the pandemic is evolving and conduct scenario planning using both epidemiological and economic inputs, says McKinsey. As companies develop scenarios, they might want to consider the article “Safeguarding our lives and our livelihoods: The imperative of our time,” which details McKinsey’s nine epidemiologic and economic scenarios.

It is always a good idea to coordinate with others across the organization: legal, finance, supply chain, IT, and operations. Maintaining a customer-centric approach is import during times of stress and quickly changing expectations. Companies must not only monitor customer values and sentiment against a local and even global background, they should also improve realtime listening, through social networks, for example, to detect shifting customer sentiment so they can react immediately.

As managers make decisions, they must carefully weigh short-term interests versus the value of sustaining and nurturing longer-term customer relationships during this time. The actions taken now will set the tone, internally and externally, for how the organization will weather the crisis. From an internal perspective, it’s important to anticipate how business disruptions will impact existing operations and formulate strategies to protect and adjust budgets. In addition, companies must assess the needs of employees and prepare for alternate workplace operations.

Once the pandemic is under control, governments lift restrictions in an orderly manner, and companies return to full employment, the new normal will take effect. As McKinsey admits, the pendulum might not swing back fully once the outbreak has relented. Having experienced a new way of living, consumers will recalibrate their spending habits, increasing the likelihood that spending may permanently shift between old and new priorities. Decoding this new normal—and ensuring that the company has a strategy to navigate it—is an important part of the work of a manager. Approaches like using a portfolio of initiatives and planning for decision making under uncertainty can go a long way toward creating a protocol for business leaders to follow.

The next normal will look unlike any in the years preceding the coronavirus, the pandemic that changed everything. Leaders need an integrated perspective on the unfolding crisis and insight into the coming weeks and months.

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