Unknowns are overwhelming. When we don’t have a clear vision of what comes next, we struggle to do, to decide, to prioritize. We tend to avoid, to flail.
It’s the Spring of 2020 and we are all existing in a sea of unknowns. The worldwide battle against the novel coronavirus has abruptly transformed how we live, work, interact—and none of us knows what the future will look like. Things are stressful.
I recently wrote about how stress impacts our brains as consumers: We slide down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and become hyper focused on ensuring our basic needs are met (e.g. toilet paper hoarding). Our rational brains get hijacked by our more reactive, emotional limbic systems, which can make simple decisions extra difficult.
Organizations also slide down Maslow’s hierarchy in a crisis moment. And this is where the majority of businesses and business leaders currently find themselves.
Forecasts and predictive models have been rendered useless. Demand has been flipped on its head, supply chains have been interrupted, consumer needs have shifted (and will continue to shift) drastically. Digital transformations have been accelerated out of necessity. Unknowns galore.
But despite how dire this situation is and how ominous this moment feels, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. We will come out on the other side. And the actions your organization takes now will define how you fare in the era dubbed the “Next Normal.” Your organization needs to meet its basic needs right now, yes. But you also need to make sure you are considering both the near term and the long-term.
“The crisis will reveal not just vulnerabilities but opportunities to improve the performance of businesses [...] The result: a stronger sense of what makes business more resilient to shocks, more productive, and better able to deliver to customers.”
—"Beyond coronavirus: The path to the next normal" via McKinsey
A lot of great content is being published meant to support organizations and leaders as they work to meet basic needs and prepare for a post-crisis world. For example:
- How to ensure you’re caring for your employees (via Accenture)
- How to mitigate against supply chain disruption (via Wharton School of Business)
- How to lead and strategize in a time of crisis (via Harvard Business Review)
But in this post, I focus on digital. Every day your digital real estate—your website, mobile app, ecommerce store—becomes more important as people move almost entirely online for any engagement outside their home. Specifically, I outline 8 actions you can take to:
- Keep the machine running: Make sure you’re delivering the best possible digital experience right now without breaking the bank, and
- Innovate for the future: Lay the groundwork for digital experience as a differentiator on the other side of this moment.
You can jump ahead to different items in the list:
- Audit and Remove Shelfware
- Connect Your Tech
- Collate Your Shoppers' New Digital Behaviors
- Boost Brand Awareness and Sentiment
- Clean Up (Digital) Processes
- Enable Cross-Functional Workflows
- Build Employee Training
- Look for Unforeseen Opportunities
Let's get to it!
1. Audit and Remove Shelfware
Everyone has cost reduction on the brain—and for good reason. McKinsey estimates that 40 to 50 percent of discretionary consumer spending might not occur over the next few months. This means that organizations need to tighten their belts wherever possible without sacrificing experience, ensuring they don’t miss out on spend that is occurring.
One of the biggest areas of bloat, particularly in larger companies, is shelfware. That is, technologies and tools that have been purchased but are not being actively used. In 2016, a report titled “The Real Cost of Unused Software” concluded that U.S. organizations wasted $30 billion over the course of four years—or $259 per computer—on unused tech.
Now’s the time to audit your tech stack and eliminate tools you aren’t using or figure out how to put them to work. Conduct your audit in three steps:
- Stack rank your tools by annual cost: Determine how much you’re paying to each vendor and rank ’em.
- Sense check usage and utility: Talk to the stakeholder(s) and power user(s) who own each respective tool and determine if the tool is a must-have, an efficiency-driver, a nice-to-have, or if it isn’t actively used at all.
- Act according to renewal date: Determine which contracts are coming up for renewal and when. Prioritize and act according to renewal date to avoid an accidental auto-renew.
- In a special climate (like this one), determine which vendors are open to renegotiating contracts.
Your audit should reveal where you can make cuts and/or seek out solutions that can replace multiple technologies (consolidate).
Note: The goal is not to eliminate technology. On the contrary, you will need a robust technological foundation to succeed in a future where digital commerce is king. The idea is to clarify your digital objectives, understand the needs of your digital teams, and eliminate legacy, dated, or unneeded software—while making sure that your teams are actively using the tools that will streamline operations.
2. Connect Your Tech
Speaking of streamlining operations ... In auditing your technology stack, you will get a full view (if you don’t already have one) of the tools that power your digital experience right now. This includes software you use to connect with your shoppers, customers, and users via digital channels such as:
- Customer support software (chatbots, ticketing systems, etc.)
- Engineering platforms (project management, debugging, etc.)
- Product management (analytics, a/b testing, etc.)
- UX design (user research, voice of customer, etc.)
- Digital marketing (a/b testing, analytics, automation, etc.)
- Internal collaboration and communication (messaging, project management, etc.)
Many of these platforms play nicely together. You should take some time to explore the integrations available to you and activate them where you can. Because the more connected your tech stack, the easier it is to facilitate cross-team alignment and reduce time wasted “syncing.” This is particularly important right now as remote work becomes not just normal, but necessary.
If your tools don’t integrate with each other, reach out to your vendors to express interest in a specific integration. Chances are that integration is already on their product roadmap; if so, they can give you a timeline estimate. If it isn’t on their roadmap, perhaps they can add it or they can support in building a custom integration. Either way, it never hurts to ask!
EXPLORE FULLSTORY'S INTEGRATIONS
If you are a FullStory customer or are curious about which technologies FullStory integrates with, browse our integrations directory here. Don't see an integration you need? Reach out and let us know!
A better integrated technology stack will reduce time spent on back-and-forth communication, as well as confusion that arises when teams operate from siloed data sources. This means your talented folks can focus more energy on solving problems and innovative thinking rather than syncing, aligning, coordinating.
3. Collate Your Shoppers' New Digital Behaviors
Shopper behavior has shifted, is shifting, and will continue to shift in the coming months. Act now to collect and contextualize these changes as they relate to your business. For example:
Are you seeing an overall increase in traffic?
If you are in the grocery, home-based entertainment, or household supplies business, you may be nodding enthusiastically. One way to make use of this spike in traffic is to increase the number of a/b tests you're running. Use the tools and data you have available to generate relevant hypotheses about where shoppers are getting stuck and test with the intent of maximizing return.
Note: Because we are in a unique moment, remember that learnings from these tests may not be fully relevant post-crisis. However, any boost in revenue right now is a good thing and will set you up to hit the ground running when circumstances stabilize.
Have you seen spikes in visits to more informative pages versus product detail pages?
For example, FAQs, Terms & Conditions, Shipping & Delivery, Return Policies, Support pages, etc. If so, you may want to make key information more discoverable via your digital properties. Ungate, reorganize, adjust your primary navigation and homepage to make sure your shoppers have all of the information they need to act.
Even if this means you make it easier to cancel, postpone, return, get a refund, now is the time to be there for your customers in whatever ways they need. Meeting customer needs now will only build connection, loyalty and affinity for your brand in the future.
Are you observing increased drop off in your funnels?
Because even the simplest actions are difficult when we are under stress, you may notice an increase in abandonment lower in your purchasing funnel. This likely means shoppers need more reassurance and/or that they are more sensitive to friction that didn’t matter as much pre-crisis.
Can you make things clearer? Can you make things simpler? Can you add more guarantees? Can you reduce cost? Can you reduce anxiety? If so, now is the time.
The key to acting on shifts in customer behavior is to identify anomalies and think about 1) how you can understand and address these shifts in behavior right now, and 2) how you can prepare for shifts that may be permanent.
4. Boost Brand Awareness and Sentiment
Businesses are usually focused on getting someone to act: To become (and stay) a customer or user, to transact, to spend time, to engage, to click. We are in a moment, however, where people are ceasing to act. According to a recent survey, 44% of U.S. consumers indicate that they will reduce spending over the next two weeks and 43% are delaying purchases because of economic uncertainty.
But information consumption and time spent online are up. Way up. Now is the time to double down on building positive sentiment and brand awareness. What makes your product unique? What makes your people special? What makes your brand human and lovable? And how can you showcase these special characteristics to the world?
Brands are building and sharing tons of free content (not to mention tools and services); they are shifting production resources to arm healthcare workers; they are building Spotify playlists to help people work from home. From small actions to large pledges, these acts of goodwill shape how people feel about your brand.
Encourage your teams to get creative and use this moment to build connections with your customers—and be vocal about your efforts online, across your social media channels. Consider campaigns to build goodwill over campaigns that push for the transaction at any cost. Because that goodwill will be invaluable to your business post-crisis.
5. Clean Up (Digital) Processes
Many organizations are focused on cutting costs, but few turn to process to do so. Refining process is something we all tend to de-prioritize, but crisis moments can illuminate major gaps and pain points in our internal processes. And if you can address these gaps right now, you can increase efficiency—reducing cost—and set yourself up for a more productive, successful “next normal.”
For example, many companies struggle to connect customer support to product and engineering. Support requests that have to do with digital pain fall through the cracks for many reasons. Maybe the support team can’t recreate the issue. Maybe they can’t communicate the issue to the engineering team. Maybe the impact of the issue is unknown and it is deprioritized.
In this moment, as people turn to your digital experience to answer all of their questions, you will quickly discover pain points in the handoff from support to engineering. While there is a light shining on these gaps—fix ‘em.
Using FullStory to Facilitate Communication From Team to Team
FullStory is designed to build consensus between teams. Shareable session replays, notes, and integrations connect disparate teams to FullStory—and one another.
For example, with FullStory a support team can see in real-time where and how users are running into friction within the digital experience, adding context to even the most complicated cases. This context leads to quicker bug resolution and can reveal impactful insights for the product team.
Learn more about how FullStory works here.
By reviewing and refining internal processes, you can reduce the amount of time it takes to ship a digital fix or improvement. This means a reduction in call center volume and support requests—which means cost savings and happier customers.
6. Enable Cross-Functional Workflows
Similar to conducting a process review, now is the time to revisit how your organization is structured and how your employees work together.
Most organizations that can have shifted to remote work. If remote work is new for you, you are likely already evaluating how your company is structured. It may be beneficial to take this time to double down on processes and tools that facilitate cross-functional collaboration.
“Cross-functional” simply means a team consists of people from different areas of the business. Historically, businesses have operated in siloed, hierarchical structures: UX designers work in a team, engineers work in a team, marketers work in a team, sales folks work in a team, etc.
Cross-functional teams, on the other hand, are often built around a specific objective (rather than a job function) and include people from different job functions all working toward the same goal. For example, you may have a cross-functional team responsible for optimizing the customer journey for a specific customer segment. That team might consist of an engineer, a designer, a product manager, a marketer, an executive sponsor.
This type of structure helps break down barriers and bureaucracies that slow things down. Organizations with cross-functional teams tend to be more agile, more flexible, more comfortable testing and learning—all characteristics that are important mid-crisis and that will continue to be important post-crisis in a digital-first world.
Organizations can foster cross-functional collaboration by setting clear goals for each team, establishing clear roles and responsibilities within each team and streamlining communication from one job function to another.
Today and tomorrow, organizations will need to make sure they can deliver a seamless customer journey. Your customer doesn’t care about the design of your app versus its features; they care about the consistency of their interactions. Cross-functional collaboration can facilitate a customer journey mindset and this is where the future lies.
7. Build Employee Training
For many organizations, theoretical digital transformations have been accelerated. Retailers that operate physical locations, healthcare providers that push toward in-person appointments, restaurants that rely on steady in-person business, etc.—these organizations are having to shift to digital, ready or not. Possibly before employees have a firm grasp on what to do and how to do it.
First, you should understand that there is no going back to a pre-COVID world. The shift to digital commerce has only accelerated. Now is the time to double down on digital and develop tools for your workforce to support future success. Training should revolve around:
- Technology—The technology you have at your disposal should facilitate a better digital experience for your customers and users. Do the relevant teams know how to use these tools? If no, as in section one, lean on your vendors to bolster training.
- Data collection and management—Digital success is a factor of the data you have available. To build experiences that your customers will use (and love), you need to understand what they want, why they want it, and how they prefer to use it. This understanding comes from a shared, accessible source of truth, comprised of clean, trustworthy data.
- Customer empathy—Digital success is also a factor of customer empathy. Your organization needs to operationalize empathy. Train employees to regularly read messages from customers, such as support emails, social media messages, survey responses. Encourage them to observe customers trying to accomplish a job or articulate a need. Along with refining process, you’ll want to make sure that customer insights are democratized. Adobe, for example, “set up listening stations where employees can go, either online or in an Adobe office, to listen to customer calls. And at every all-employee meeting, leaders give an update on the company’s customer experience delivery.” (source)
- Specific skills (Marketing, Design, Development, etc.)—Depending on employee job functions, you may want to prepare customized training.
If you are able to shift internal resources to building employee training around digital, do it. And do it now. Your workers may be furloughed, their responsibilities may have been reduced or changed. Facilitating training now will show your people that you are thinking about the company’s future and their futures. It will mean you have a workforce that is prepared for a post-crisis digital-first world.
8. Look for Unforeseen Opportunities
Our default in times of crisis is often to narrow our focus to make sure our basic needs are met. But organizations and their leaders need to challenge themselves to look up and out.
Consumer habits are shifting in a massive way—and abrupt shifts like this do not happen under regular circumstances. Your customers are governed by inertia much of the time. When everything becomes an unknown and habits are disrupted, people are more sensitive to new information, new ways of doing things. Their mindset becomes more open and behavior is easier to change.
This means opportunity. While you may not know what that opportunity looks like just yet, keep your eyes open. Get (and stay) close to your customers. Let them guide you. Let them tell you and show you what they want, what they care about, what they need. Do the same for your employees. Absorb information and make space for innovation wherever possible.
"The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity." — Margaret Wheatley
On the Other Side
In a conversation with Harvard Business School students several years ago, Honeywell CEO Dave Cote talked about his experience during the 2008 recession—sharing insight around the choices the company made and actions they took.
"I’ve been a leader during three recessions and I’ve never heard a management team talk about how the choices they make during a downturn will affect performance during a recovery," he said. "There will be a recovery and we need to be prepared for it."
Adopting both a “right here, right now” mindset and a long-term mindset when you, your employees, your customers, your users are in the midst of a crisis may seem like an impossible feat. But that’s exactly what your organization needs to do.
Keep the machine running, but keep your eyes up and out. Pay attention to patterns. Innovate. Make bold choices. Try new things. Clean up, fix, repair what's broken. Prepare for a post-crisis world, now.
Editor’s Note: The global crisis caused by COVID-19 is first and foremost a human crisis with human impact. Tune into your reliable government resources for updates, stay safe, and–if possible–support at-risk members of your community.