The COVID-19 pandemic remains a health and humanitarian crisis, but the business impact on organizations is now profound.

The global pandemic demands that businesses make rapid, but highly informed decisions to protect their people, customers and partners.

Impact on Commerce: Prioritizing digital commerce

The impact of COVID-19 on customers is profound and the full impact on the economy is still unknown. While Direct-to-Consumer and B2B organizations scramble to meet immediate and emergency needs, the pandemic has activated a new wave of commerce innovation. New habits and behaviors are forming that are likely to remain … after the crisis has passed – and this presents opportunities.

In particular, organizations have an opportunity to double-down on digital commerce, expanding existing offerings and creating new lines of service. For example, retailers are rallying to rapidly stand up “contactless” delivery and curb-side pick-up services for consumers.

Canadian Retailers Need to Adjust if COVID-19 Sticks Around

Leaders can start by addressing three critical questions, considering the geography, industry, size and digital commerce maturity of their business:

  1. How do I REASSURE my customers and employees during this uncertain time?
  2. How do I STABILIZE digital operations with frictionless transactions and the capacity to handle increased demand?
  3. How do I RECONFIGURE my products, services, and markets and establish new partnerships and ecosystems to retain new and existing customers?

Immediate action can also be taken via the following short-term tactical plan:

Within 24 hours: Rapid Customer & Channel Immersion

Rapid cross functional-style assessment of current issues, shifting consumer patterns, value chain breakage/pain points. Identify critical individuals to give missing details on the major issues across the value chain.

Within 72 hours: Product Strategy & Prioritization

Triage and group the issues, pain points, and opportunities into a prioritized product backlog. Customer research identifies new patterns, marketplace strategy established to align with shifts in demand, supply chain audit completed, technology ecosystem partnerships identified.

Within 5 days: Product Teams Deployed

Initial pilot plan established at the conclusion of Week 1 sprint. Deployment of MVP in Initial Channel(s) (i.e. “Hub”) with minimum required features to test strain on systems. Identify marketing needs to drive awareness and demand.

Within 14 days: Optimization

Analyze data from MVP based on initial consumer response and strain on existing supply chain or systems. Dependencies outlined and optimized. Prepare for full launch at the conclusion of Sprint 2.

Next: Scale & Sprint

Scale the launch of the successful pilot product/channels.

Businesses must flex quickly to capture the opportunity; systems must be prepared to withstand the increased loads and actions must be implemented with pace.

Impact on Customers: Acting to maintain responsive customer service

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak requires brands to move at unprecedented speed to serve their customers with quality while caring for their employees with compassion. That means re-evaluating how contact centers are leveraged, how employees deliver relevant customer experiences, where they work, and how digital channels can be used to support the increase in contact center volume.

Consider banking where social distancing restrictions have pushed customers toward digital channels for service.

Leaders that can make the shift to new ways of working will help reduce potential revenue loss, forge new levels of trust with their workforce, and position their businesses for renewed growth once the pandemic subsides.

Looking Past 2020 || Calm Leadership Is What’s Needed

To respond to the evolving circumstances of the COVID-19 crisis, contact center executives need address three critical areas:

  1. Adopt new ways of working: Contact centers + remote access
    Rapidly stand up the infrastructure, management systems and processes required to support an effective remote workforce.
  2. Improve contact center management: Data, workflow and analytics
    Harness data and analytics to inform an agile, responsive and relevant approach to addressing customer needs and support. Reprioritize and sequence customer support so that the most critical needs are addressed first, with non-critical contacts deflected to digital.
  3. Augment and automate service: Virtual agents
    Stand up or enhance virtual agent capabilities to support COVID-19 specific requests or growing BAU volume.

Impact on Leadership: The need to build human resilience

The greatest immediate impact of the COVID-19 outbreak is on workforces. Organizations are therefore focusing on their primary responsibility: caring for their people while rapidly managing the shift to new patterns of work.

At this critical time, they must see through these changes in ways that gain and maintain the trust of their people. That trust depends on leaders demonstrating their care for individuals as well as the wider workforce and community. It means sharing a clear plan and transparently showing how decisions are made. And it requires leadership teams who can proactively respond rather than react, anticipating their people’s changing needs. This is particularly important in public organizations, where leadership needs to calm markets and reassure citizens, businesses, employees and community stakeholders.

Even in the best of times, people’s trust and engagement at work is a function of three human needs: physical, mental and relational. These needs are magnified during times of crisis. Leaders who rise to the challenge by meeting them will build higher levels of human resilience that, in turn enable their people to adapt, engage and serve customers.

10 things the C-suite can do now

  1. Gather the troops. Develop a multidisciplinary C-suite “plan and act” center. Gather feedback from all areas of the organization and all types of workers.
  2. Relieve people from unnecessary work and activities. At a time when people are worried about their basic needs and their paycheck, focusing resources is key.
  3. Responsible leadership is an imitable formula. Use it. Educate and coach leaders on the five elements: stakeholder inclusion, emotion and intuition, mission and purpose, technology and innovation, and intellect and insight.
  4. Hierarchy be damned. If you aren’t used to working in cross-functional, agile teams, now is the time to begin. You don’t get to outcomes via functional silos.
  5. Elevate your most visible leaders based on compassion and caring. Workers will remember the faces and voices you empower to lead the charge during this time. Be sure those voices are not only wise, but compassionate and caring.
  6. Integrate your company’s purpose and values into every communication and initiative. Shared purpose and values is what will give employees the sense of belonging they so desperately need right now. As quarantines and social distancing play out, employees need a sense of connection.
  7. Tell a story. Don’t spew data. People are wired to find meaning and respond best to stories and analogies during times of great stress and ambiguity. What people want as human beings is the larger story, the insights.
  8. Rally leaders around consistent communication. Establish strong communication governance, guiding principles and tone. Leaders throughout the organization need to be in sync.
  9. You were always going to need remote workforce capabilities for at least a portion of your workforce. Now’s the time. Crisis is never the best time to set up new ways of doing things, but this pandemic gives many companies no choice. Pre-pandemic, our Accenture workforce research showed less than one-third of all workers were able to make full use of their technology to effectively do their job. Now is the time to accelerate human+machine collaboration and support people as they transition to digital ways of working.
  10. Don’t allow the crisis of the Now stop you from moving toward the Next. Reserve two hours per day for work focused on getting your organization and your workforce to the future. It’ll feel like you’re ignoring the urgent, but two hours, wisely spent, will help move your organization beyond the urgent and prepare for the future.

Impact on the Workplace: Creating a digital elastic workplace

One of the immediate impacts of COVID-19 is higher rates of sick leave. Another is the need to manage an immediate shift to remote working. These challenges can be addressed by creating an Elastic Digital Workplace. Interventions will differ for each organization, but they should be based on the following foundations:

PROTECT AND EMPOWER YOUR PEOPLE:

Adjust your workplace to enable your people to work remotely through digital collaboration tools – for example, the critical need for virtual care messaging and visits in healthcare. Build the necessary skills around these new ways of working. Start cultivating a digital culture. Construct a workplace of trust.

SERVE YOUR CUSTOMERS’ CORE NEEDS:

Adapt to changing global and local conditions by serving your customers’ core needs, including being transparent in your operations and compassionate in your engagements all of which will create deeper, more trusted relationships.

ESTABLISH BUSINESS CONTINUITY:

Ensure supplier relationships and business to business processes are effectively supported. Develop new business processes to adapt to new ways of collaborating and decision-making.

Productivity in Uncertain Times through the Elastic Digital Workplace

How to Manage Now

With COVID-19, the time to act is now. Deferred decisions and delayed actions have immediate and longer-term business continuity impacts. To minimize business disruption and protect employees, organizations must take steps now – starting within the next 24 hours – to start creating an Elastic Digital Workplace. Accenture’s Elastic Digital Workplace solution enables a highly extendable workplace environment that allows you to quickly scale and dynamically adapt to changing business needs based on global and local conditions.

Within 24 hours – Assess your current state:

Analyze your current technology capabilities and your ability to scale out internally, including your current communications plan and support structure.

Within 72 hours – Identify how you can leverage existing technologies more effectively

Within 5 days – Develop a leadership and culture awareness and change plan:

Design a change management plan, including leadership communications that encourage employees to adopt key technologies that will facilitate connections to their team members and leaders in this new environment, internal meetings and even large-scale external events.

Within 2 weeks – Rapidly modernize and scale your collaboration capabilities as well as your workforce engagement plans:

Identify how to expand your workplace to the periphery, including a focus on home networking, broader networking, security, upgrading other tools and capabilities and helping your people learn and embrace new ways of working with each other.

What’s on the Horizon

While COVID-19 is the catalyst for an immediate implementation of an Elastic Digital Workplace, we anticipate that the crisis will fundamentally alter how we work and engage. Leaders should develop a comprehensive Elastic Digital Workplace implementation plan, focusing on 6 key dimensions.

Source: Accenture