An American Heritage article going back to the early 2000s noted some of the larger changes during the past 50 years. The top five items in order included: The PC, globalization, communications, the financial revolution, and management and labor.
What is really interesting is these top five (plus a handful of others) will be key to how we exit the COVID-19 pandemic that will arguably go down as one of the largest business disruptors in United States (and perhaps) global history. While the topics might share similar namesakes the applied implications behind each term has varied widely.
In the post-pandemic planning we need to consider how to make smartphone apps and websites virtually frictionless. How fast can potential customers find what they are looking for and how much energy is expended during the buying process?
The pandemic accelerated our transfer to app and web-based ordering, shopping, browsing and product review. Having a family member place an order for carry-out while another individual already is in the car driving to pick up the order is now standard fare. How businesses respond to this requirement to deliver a near painless buying/ordering and checkout experience is as key as fulfilling the order in the time frame requested to allow customers to avoid lines and waiting.
COVID appears to have rewarded businesses that have made online ordering quick and easy while reducing long wait times. Long is obviously a very arbitrary term (and unique to each individual) but one thing is certain — the desire or ability to comfortably wait is decreasing well into the foreseeable future.
Communication is the area that perhaps we have forever altered. During the pandemic, visiting business entities was not always an option or at the very least, a desired option.
Thus, phone, phone bots, email, chat and texting replaced traditional in-person communication. During the past year, I have learned to love getting text updates on everything from my groceries being ready for pick-up to updates from my favorite retailers.
The businesses that think consistent delivery across all channels will be one step ahead of the competition post-pandemic. People want fast, accurate and diverse ways to communicate with their favorite businesses. Businesses that are appropriately staffed to handle calls, texts, emails and chats in real time will reap the rewards of their efforts.
The key will be fast, accurate and diverse methods (to provide the consumer choice). Finally, the user experience in a chat, text or call should reflect the organizational culture. Every business has a personality. Is that personality consistent across delivery channels?
During the pandemic, we have learned valuable lessons about the limitations of our global supply chains. Pandemic demands shifted to outdoor recreational items putting strains on suppliers while global shutdowns led to delayed order production/fulfillment. End users often were the recipient of delays caused by two issues: Increased demand and decreased supply.
In the post-pandemic world how do we limit supply disruption? And secondly, how can we increase supplies quickly when demand spikes to capture as many sales as possible? Do we have back-up suppliers? Do we have a mix of U.S. and foreign production for key components?
Or, perhaps the biggest question of all, how would our pricing model be impacted with a U.S.-based supply chain?
Electronic financial transactions were never more relied upon than during the pandemic and that shift will likely be permanent. In the nine months since the pandemic gained steam, I visited an ATM only one time for cash. All of my other purchases have been card or smartphone related.
This is an exciting time for digital wallets, card use and person-to-person payments. While cash holds a valid place in our economy and will into the future, we should count on much less cash and more use of alternative payment sources. Do we have a variety of methods by which our customers can pay? Have we embraced the digital transformation?
Finally we reflect on labor and management. Fifty years ago, this was tied to labor relations and labor disputes. Today, labor and management in the post-pandemic conversation will initially be focused around employees seeking a variety of flexible work environments.
Some will undoubtedly opt to allow employees to live and work remotely from wherever the employee so chooses. Others will work to find a better in-person balance by having employees report to the office most days but provide flexibility to work remotely around personal needs. And no doubt others will opt to return to office as it was pre-COVID.
These will not be easy decisions, and the time is right to begin having those discussions. Making a long-term commitment work arrangement during the pandemic, however, could prove challenging if the market shifts as COVID retreats.
COVID has changed each of us more than we probably recognize at the moment. Those businesses that begin to draft and fully prepare for the “new normal” post-pandemic will be best positioned to reap the rewards.
Things will not return to exactly as they were pre-pandemic for most businesses and industries. It is the time to ask ourselves critical questions. What in our industry will be permanent? What elements of our businesses need to change? And finally, are we dedicating sufficient time and energy to put these changes in place as quickly as possible?
Peter Drucker might have summarized change quite astutely, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence — it is to act with yesterday’s logic.” Yesterday’s tool kit often is ill-equipped to solve tomorrow’s problems.