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Of all the changes we’ve seen over the last four or five months of this slow-motion nightmare, at least one thing has become clear. We all need security and empathy. The leaders who have shown they can listen to their communities and respond with transparency have made us feel secure and heard. So, use this crisis to change for the better! Your human-abilities are crucial for deep leadership through these times.
We are seeing a plenty of change now, as many European countries and some parts of MEA, North America, LATAM, and APAC cannot hide from Digital Transformation. It’s now a means of survival. Everyone is learning about ongoing adaptability to simplify customer and employee experience.
In this article I will give you some small actions you can take in your company today to create a safe human experience. Some of these you might have seen other companies do already, but others are urgently necessary, especially in industries like health care, pharma, medical devices and retail stores — locations where human contact is unavoidable. The goal in these areas will be to create more secure, inclusive, and simple experiences for everyone and in the end help your business.Now is the time to Simplify, Not Further Over-complicate Human Experience – Ricardo S Gulko Click To Tweet
The power of positive, impactful action
Consider some of the most common organizational responses to Covid-19. Some companies have shown they care about minimizing lost revenues; others have remained luckily untouched, and a few have risen, as real leaders, to care for their employees, customers, partners, and communities, in some cases as far as kickstarting key initiatives to take the virus head on!
It is easier now to see how leadership and customer culture come from the top, but also personality, and soul. Marc Benioff, Jack Ma, Joji Nakayama, and Geoffrey S. Martha (new CEO of Medtronic) have done great work to care for their staff, customers and their businesses. Many would call them the heroes of our times, and they would be right! This is the short list of what they’re doing to help the world keep its head.
- On March 24, Marc Benioff (Salesforce CEO) outlined an 8-point plan to help mitigate Covid-19. This included a commitment to freeze layoffs for 90 days, which Salesforce took immediately. More recently he launched Work.com to help businesses get employees back to work safely and as quickly as possible.
- Jack Ma started a Twitter account in March with the sole purpose of coordinating efforts to ensure every country has enough medical supplies to fight the virus, including less resource-rich nations. His company, Alibaba, has donated money and medical supplies across the globe.
- Joji Nakayama, President and CEO of pharma company Daiichi Sankyo adopted measures to help meet its employees’ basic needs. Bonuses were delivered to employees around the world to help during this hard times. They sent teams of researchers home to ensure security and well-being prior to coming back to work. Hundreds of smaller actions have shown that Mr. Nakayama — and Daiichi Sankyo — care about people over profits.
- Geoffrey S. Martha (new CEO of Medtronic) released their patent on a ventilator design to the public, for anyone to manufacture and distribute. I wrote the full story in a previous article.
These are just a few of the most public-facing actions these leaders have taken, but they are backed up by consistent patterns of humanity, personality, and soul.
Now is the time to reconsider how you are serving your customers, employees, and communities. Small changes can mean a lot in this moment.
Yakult Adapted Packaging to ‘’be Adopted’’ (Deep Leadership)
The above companies did things that in many cases would fall under the jurisdiction of governments or foundations. They pushed their limitations as businesses. I call this Deep Leadership: not just caring about showing a nice face for PR campaigns, but to do what is really key.
Is your company doing that, and are you doing your part as a leader?
The action does not need to reach the grand, hundred-million-dollar scale. For Yakult it was changing the packaging for 6 of their bottles to reduce the chance of contamination by Covid-19. The previous package had small open places for fingers, in both sides of the boxes, to help you open it.
They closed those open parts, preventing the outside world from potentially contaminating the small bottles inside.
Yes, in case you are asking I am intimately familiar with Yakult beverages since I started drinking them when I had five years. One is in my stomach right now. J But let’s be honest, few design changes actually improve the experience of the product. Now when I drink Yakult I have more security, which has also improved my trust in their brand. That’s a meaningful difference!
Simple changes can matter! By improving the design and focusing on their customers they increased trust and made their products simpler to experience. As Stan Phelps always says, “The little things which reinforce warmth and competence can make the biggest difference”.
Textbook business decisions can fail without the common sense of customer-centric thinking
Many people talk about empathy, humanity and customer centricity, but this crisis forces us to show the world who we really are, whether these are just words or whether we mean what we say.
This is the case with some supermarkets operating here in Germany and across the globe that are putting the need for growth over people: their customers and employees. Kaufland CEO and Lidl owner, Mr Dieter Schwarz has not shown deep dedication to safety, yet.
Locations are taking some actions to help, such as voluntary disinfectants at entrances, and posters requesting the use of masks.
However, they are not enforcing these measures, nor are they limiting how many people enter their stores, nor are they keeping many employees in their stores to help keep traffic to a minimum.
The result is unfortunately that many people do not wear masks; aisles and checkout lines become too crowded to keep social distancing; some use disinfectant and masks but many do not. This shows the limits of their caring for safety. A disinfectant stand and poster do not show deep caring! The same lip-service can be seen in Edeka (German supermarket and hypermarket) and many other chains. Is this customer centricity?
Based in Cologne, Germany, REWE supermarkets has taken a few measures to support customers, for example partnering with Deutsche Post and DHL Paket (Packages) to create a platform for food delivery for at-risk customers. Shoppers can complete an order form to be handed over to Deutsche Post and DHL Paket, who will relay the form to REWE stores. The only problem here is that the program only exists in North Rhine-Westphalia region, and there are 15 other states here in Germany served by REWE! Why not step up everywhere during this crucial time to raise brand experience across the country.
Small changes to care for customer health
Many national governments have required extensive measures to protect customers and employees. Take Israel, where many supermarkets, coffee shops, and banks have taken action:
- Limiting the number of people allowed to enter and interact
- Requiring masks
- Enforcing social distancing
- Allowing 4 people per cashier maximum
- Allowing customers to enter in small groups only
- Providing fever measurements as needed
These small, basic actions help to ensure the health of people in their stores, offices, and in the broader community.
Another global chain, called café Aroma, is using a simple app to make low-risk delivery simple and convenient. When you place your order, you are prompted for a pick-up time. They send an SMS close to your pick-up time to let you know the order is ready. So simple and elegant?!
With the app you don’t spend time in-store. Customers pick-up and go without endangering themselves or their employees. This simplifies the experience for employees and customers, who continue to feel safe about their visit. And no lines!
Others are adopting plastic or acrylic protection shields. This is happening in stores of all kinds: pharmacies, supermarkets and offices. These methods have been reported to work when mixed with masks, social distancing, and open windows to avoid air recycling.
How to Lead during a Pandemic
Now is the time to adapt — to the customer’s needs, to your employees’ needs, to your partners and communities. Whether you act through a multi-million global initiative, with new design or packaging, or even through a series of small changes, real leadership carries more weight now than last year. People will remember.
I am providing a general check-list below, followed by industry-specific best practices for doctors, banks, retail and supermarkets to help. These are taken from some of the companies described above but also a few more.
Common sense simple actions in response to Covid-19
I am not a rules person normally, but now is a time when we all need clear and reliable guidelines.
- Change protocol and demonstrate care for customers and employees:
- Require colleagues to use masks in places of interaction. FFP2, FF3 compliant masks N95-compliant respirators should be the minimum as these significantly reduce risk of infection.
- Enforce social distancing, preferably in a polite form.
- For offices: Adopt new common-sense rules to increase social distancing at the toilet, coffee machines, cafeteria, elevators (lifts), and entrances/exits.
- Clear rules for hygiene. Hands, office, corridors, laptops, desks and cubicles etc..
- Install shields to protect cubicles, cashiers, and offices from other colleagues and customers.
- Limit in-person collaboration when possible, but when necessary apply rules to create more security or use digital tools which are great, when possible.
- For teams that interact with customers and employees, it is OK to ask hard questions because caution can save lives. Avoid putting any sick employees in contact with customers.
- Define standards of conduct for customer interactions to ensure customers do not get close to employees. If impossible, such as for healthcare providers, mitigate exposure to the greatest extent possible, and frame interactions with safety protocols, such as cleaning hands, disposal of gloves, etc. Make sure the whole team has all protective material available first!
- When employees get sick ensure they stay home until fully recovered by any illness. This is better, preventing spreading any illness or virus, but even better to assure colleagues they aren’t contagious and are taken care of. Responsibility and sense of security matters.
- Learn about the safety rules of all people in your extended network, and institutes that are sharing accurate information in your country, including services suppliers and freelancers. Facts matter here to safe life’s. For instance the CDC in the USA, the WHO.int and in Germany the Robert Koch Institut for instance.
- Work-from-homers should limit trips to the refrigerator, and either disinfect packages/items being brought into the home or give them a waiting period of 24-72 hours before bringing them in.
- Consider job mobility. How are employees commuting to work? Can you help them reduce exposure during the trip? Or stop them from commuting?
- Communicate changes clearly and simply. Then re-explain. It may be necessary to repeat on a daily basis for teams that daily change, or are dealing with customer contact.
- Remember that toughness here can save lives. People might complain, but they will appreciate your efforts to keep them safe.
Industry-Specific Recommendations: Design an experience to ensure safety!
Because even small changes can be impactful, now is a great moment to walk through the customer experience and identify any areas that need to be changed.
TK (Techniker Krankenkasse), a large health insurance company here in Germany, provides a great example. They began to offer phone and video doctors’ appointments. They also shifted to paperless authorization for in-network doctors and prescriptions. These changes make sense now, but they will continue to increase efficiency in the future. Business logic and customer-centricity align!
So, during this time of change take a long hard look at archaic procedures and processes. It’s the right time to cut bureaucratic and unnecessary processes. Create home experiences that make interactions with your organization pleasant and efficient. Run simple! Here are a few ideas being successfully implemented.
- If you are a doctor… consider integrating sensors such as Dexcom and Medtronic to analyze your patient’s basics from their home to reduce their travel to-from your office, especially those in high risk groups.
- If you are a leader… Observe your team’s productivity as remote workers. Many leaders are skeptical, but the data about work-from-home compellingly shows that productivity rises. Trust your team; try not to micromanage.
- If you are a bank… Organize experience digitally as much as possible. When impossible, give customers clear time slots to avoid crowds. And clarify safety protocol prior to the visit. Both of my banks have digitized nearly all transactions, even small things that required signatures before.
- If you are a retail outlet or supermarket… Don’t give customers the opportunity to decide their experience. Design it properly to avoid backtracking, confusion, and inefficiency. After all, people will probably wait outside as enforcement of social distancing, so they will appreciate the need for efficiency.
I would appreciate to hear your thoughts about this article. Businesses adapt every day in new, creative ways, so please let me know if I should add more ideas. I’ll continually update this list over the next few months as we receive new information.