A proportion of businesses that are still operating healthily in the current lockdown may have slowed their pace as they wait for the re-opening. An Australian business leader, however, believes that businesses would be wise to use the downtime to re-strategise and plan for the post-lockdown bounce back – believing it is a great opportunity to return to a pre-covid world, smarter.
Tom Walley is the General Manager of Corporate Traveller Australia the SME business travel division of Flight Centre Travel Group. With nearly two decades’ experience in leadership and sales across the UK and Australia having worked with hundreds of organisations including customers and supplier partners, Tom has an in-depth understanding of the SME business sector and what is needed to drive growth and profitability. He says businesses can be developing plans now to capitalise on opportunities that arise when they can trade freely.
“At Corporate Traveller, despite the lockdowns and the short-term downturn in the travel industry, we’ve continued innovating, releasing new capabilities to improve the customer experience now and into the future. Likewise, other industries can expect demand for their products and services to return and shouldn’t shy away from using this unprecedented time to take stock and make decisions to re-invent parts of their business to better serve their customers. They should see it as a genuine opportunity to flourish and get ahead of competitors during the early bounceback.”
Below, Tom shares his seven ideas for businesses to put in place now to help them recover quickly after lockdown:
1. Have a marketing and sales strategy ready to launch post-lockdown.
Businesses often cut marketing budgets during economic downturns. However, marketing helps to not only build your future customer base but is also a critical function for retaining customers with brand touch points and retention offers. Now can be a good time for businesses to review their marketing and sales resource ratio mix. Look to drive operational effectiveness through the existing technology to automate the sales and marketing process and it might be an opportunity to bolster marketing capability with less BDM and develop a more optimised post-lockdown strategy
2. Innovate through your existing technology to differentiate your brand. It goes without saying.
Innovation can help your business stay competitive and be profitable over the long term but it’s critical in these times that your innovation is laser focussed, meets the changing needs of your customers, leverages existing technology wherever possible, and is supported by a culture of innovation to empower your front-line employees to share new ideas to improve the customer experience. At Corporate Traveller, for instance, during the pandemic we enhanced our travel booking platform SAVI. It now features enhanced traveller safety capabilities with greater policy control, a Clean Hotels Indicator and SAVI Credits – a module that provides visibility and utilisation of unused ticket credits, which will become more important as businesses start to emerge from COVID-19 with a focus on credits and cost-controls.
3. Create a cashflow positive strategy.
Now is the time to negotiate better terms with suppliers and revise any processes and systems preventing you from managing cashflow. For example, if you have a monthly invoicing model, consider sending invoices as you complete certain work to encourage consistent cashflow. Reviewing the pricing of your products or services, if you haven’t done so for some time, could also help.
4. Strengthen your customer service function to retain customers.
Good customer service is key to building customer loyalty and increasing referrals – and you will need to maintain a balance between digital and human support. Customer service should ultimately be human-centred, with technology as a support. If your budget allows, consider investing in AI (for instance, a chat function) to improve efficiencies and address smaller issues, while retaining customer service people for higher level support. At the end of the day, customers want to be able to speak to a person and know their issue or feedback has been heard. Now is the time to also focus on training customer service staff. Ensure they are educated on your products or services and are well-trained to resolve issues, communicate professionally and empathetically, and respond well to disgruntled customers.
5. Improve your business reporting to provide a full picture of performance, strengths, and weaknesses.
This is the time where your pre-COVID business models weaknesses and or strengths will be amplified, it’s critical that what you measured pre-COVID is still applicable now, if not, re-establish your new baseline. You and your management team will want the important numbers and metrics to provide a full picture of your business’s position and performance, strengths, and weaknesses. Creating these reports now will enable your team to find and address the issues, and the opportunities, that will place your business in a better position post-lockdown.
6. Involve your human resources professional.
The human resources function in your organisation remains a critical component of your business during lockdown. HR directs every living resource of your business and is responsible for cultivating a healthy and productive environment. However, HR can also be used strategically. Empower HR to use available data to ask and answer strategic questions about the future of your business, providing you with crucial information on outsourcing and cost management, allowing you to better control your finances and direct growth. Ensuring your HR department knows where the business is heading also ensures they can recruit and train employees effectively. While many companies hire and train employees according to the skills needed in that moment, a more economical, practical, and future-proof approach is to ensure HR have a good anticipation about future growth. This allows them to invest time and training on existing employees first, to ensure your workforce is prepared for any changes.
7. Update your business’s travel and expense policy.
As business travel is more complex in a pandemic environment, it will need to be considered in your business strategy and will require robust policies and procedures. Having said that, maintaining travel – when it is safe to do so – makes good business sense. Companies that travel know that doing business face-to-face helps them to develop relationships and secure sales more effectively than in a virtual meeting. Take the opportunity of lockdown to update travel policies and procedures – with an emphasis on health and safety, flexibility, and budget. You could also build a contingency budget in case borders open sooner than expected. Your travel management partner can help by providing real-time travel information updates through technology and an experienced team that can advise on navigating restrictions.
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