We all know how quickly life can change. If 2020 has taught us nothing else, it’s that we can’t rest on our laurels and assume that everything is going to be as we expect it. If you’ve managed to get through this year without having to make significant changes — you’re in the minority! That’s not to say change is always a negative thing — we just have to know how to handle it.
Perhaps the most important thing to remember when negotiating business change is that we can’t just be inward-looking. Yes, there will be immediate essential aspects of operations that you need to take care of. However, whether the changes are due to political, environmental, or commercial reasons, your customers are always affected, too. It is imperative to have strategies in place that put customer needs at the forefront of your considerations.
This is all very well to posit in theory, but how do you set about putting this in practice? How do you adapt to change, while also supporting your customers? We’re going to take a look at the ideas, tools, and strategies that can help you along the way.
Planning for the Unexpected
Most business leaders know that coping well with change requires excellent planning. If this is general alterations to business operations, this will usually take the form of a change management strategy. For more abrupt, unexpected change — much like our recent COVID-19 pandemic — a robust business continuity or disaster recovery (BC/DR) plan is needed. In both circumstances, there should be a distinct focus on how you continue to meet customer needs.
Why include this as part of your planning? Well, when changes occur — particularly of the unexpected variety — it can put you on the back foot. You might be running around, trying to put out a variety of figurative (hopefully not literal) fires. As such your focus can easily be taken away from making efforts to keep the customer, and how changes affect them, at the forefront of your concerns. When you include their needs as part of your planning, you have a clear guide that prompts you to take actions that both meet the needs of the company and ensure your consumers are well informed and supported.
Most such planning involves meetings with representatives from all departments so that consideration can be given to what each, alongside its systems, and its employees. It can be wise to include a member of staff in these meetings that acts as a consumer advocate. They should be tasked with working to understand how each posited circumstance could impact consumers, and what additional resources can be used to minimize disruption and relationship damage.
Possibly the single most important way you can put customers first during periods of change is through a culture of communication. It’s a vital tool. One recent study showed that customers are three times more likely to buy from a company if they had live chat support. At the most basic level, you have to make certain you provide regular progress updates across all your channels — your website, social media, email subscription list. Following an initial announcement about the changes, make a point of issuing communications that set expectations about your actions, and let them know what is going to happen next.
It’s vital to remember that communication is not just one-way. Make it easy for your consumers to keep an open dialogue with you. Set up dedicated phone lines, email addresses, and live online chat so that customers know that you are there to support them if they have difficulties or are uncertain about aspects of the process. Invite them to give you insights into what they need, or issues they are facing — feedback is often easier to obtain if you reach out to them using the channels they use.
Remember that communication takes many forms. Create video explainers for your YouTube and Instagram channels. Work with influencers to reach your target demographic, and deliver your message with clarity. Recently, beauty science influencers have been instrumental in helping the public make safer, healthier product choices, and avoiding pseudoscience. In the same way, the videos you produce during periods of change can not just educate consumers, but also improve overall confidence and trust.
The change process can be difficult for customers. When they’ve gotten used to a certain way of doing things, it can be tough to kick out of those habits. Whether these are adaptations to get past an emergency or permanent alterations to ensure smoother operations, you need to encourage your customers to change along with you and keep engaging with your services.
Technology is frequently a hurdle for customers. During the recent pandemic, it has been necessary for many businesses to move to online sales and operations only — a lot of customers may be resistant to this. When this occurs, be sure to be proactive about giving customers the resources they need to make the transition to remote services easier. Act as pre-emptive tech support, and not only guide them through connecting with your online service but also advise them on what may be the most appropriate software and apps they can use to make the process easier. Take as much of the additional work out of it for them as possible.
Supporting and encouraging their engagement is also about highlighting the benefits of change, too. Take time to understand what their pain points are likely to be, and address them. When transitioning to online, those pain points are generally likely to involve convenience, perceived lack of human contact, and security. Build ways to address these into your change plan, and make certain that you highlight them to your customers. They’ll likely find a lot of positives about these changes, but you may need to guide them to that realization.
Change is always going to be a part of the business landscape, and this can be disruptive for both companies and their customers. You mustn’t neglect your consumers as you set about adapting to altered circumstances. Make robust but agile plans, make communication easy, and support your customers in ways that encourage continued engagement. Change isn’t always simple, but with some extra attention to details, you can make it positive for everyone involved.