There will be a time when our society will move past the COVID-19 onslaught. We can envision stores being full of customers again, having to navigate through rush hour traffic, and watching outdoor activities in full swing. The reality of this vision is that these things will not just happen automatically. They must be planned and ready to launch when the opportunity arises.
Last month’s article discussed how to ensure your marketing engine is working properly. I want to build from that foundation and discuss one specific focus that can help set up any organization for readiness and success.
A marketing mindset indicates we must create differentiation that did not exist pre-COVID. When you consider the product "P," which is the one of the "4Ps" I will focus on, there are recent examples of companies switching their manufacturing lines to make masks or switching their alcohol production to create hand sanitizer. I am certain there are many other companies that successfully adapted their product line to serve customers in new ways with essential products at this critical time.
Product innovation can be complex and costly. Philip Kotler, considered the dean of modern marketing, recently noted that the service aspect of most product-driven organizations can often receive the least amount of focus but offers the greatest opportunity for differentiation. While I agree 100 per cent with Dr. Kotler (he is one of my marketing heroes) it is evident that most companies pay lip service to this point. I constantly see and hear ads that proclaim a certain company has "the best service" and I cringe because most companies fail to live up to their claims. Leaders in organizations want to believe this is true for them, but they rarely take a specific assessment to confirm how true this may be.
A colleague was recently in a FreshCo store and recounted the announcement that was played in the store. In clear and conversational language, the message described the need to use hand sanitizer, ensure that face masks are worn at all times fully covering the nose, mouth and chin, and to please follow the arrows that can be found by looking down on the floor. It concluded with a reminder that this is for everyone’s safety. This is the first example I have heard of where the store is politely guiding people on the best actions to safeguard everyone during the shopping experience during this pandemic. It was not a fearful message; it was done as one person in conversation with another which helped FreshCo take what has become a routine in-store announcement to a point of differentiation. The message was undeniably clear in what was being communicated for everyone’s benefit.
While this may seem simple, most solutions should be this simple. Albert Einstein wisely stated, "If you cannot explain it simply, then you don’t understand it well enough." The FreshCo example is a service differentiator.
Now is the best time to assess your service capability, determine where improvements can be made, and get ready to implement immediately when the time is right. And maybe the time is right now and not waiting for the post-COVID opportunity. The situation will be different for each organization and you must conduct your assessment to determine what is best for your customers and your company.
Your customer will determine how good your service is. You must deliver to the standard the customer expects. Ask your customers what they expect from your service in a personal and thoughtful way and not via some tedious, overused, online survey only. Talk with them one on one to hear how their expectations have changed during the pandemic. Ask your front-line staff what they hear directly from customers. Collect this data and look for nuggets of customer insights that can shape your service delivery. Be careful not to claim you exceed expectations until you have a baseline of your customers’ expectations.
Every organization also needs resilience and adaptation. Individually and collectively we must be working to tame the elephant in the room — anxiety and inaction due to COVID-19. We must focus on personal resilience so that we keep working and moving forward. While this is not easy, it is necessary. If there is an obstacle, we must get around it, over it or through it, somehow, some way. This is a time to push your thinking and innovation beyond where it has been in the past.
When you consider this approach, you will be changing the way you and your employees think about your business. This is a good thing as you consider the need for adaptation in the future. You are conditioning everyone to look for "the rock under the rock" to find gems of innovation. And you are building a culture of resilience as people know that hard work can lead to improved solutions and a business that thrives, and not just survives.
Tim’s bits: Be open to change, learn from other companies, listen to your staff and customers. Demonstrate your resilience in the face of challenge or opportunity. With new and innovative solutions and approaches you are committing to serve your customers for years to come.
Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.