Almost overnight, the world has slowed down with all eyes turning toward any updates on the latest COVID-19 cases (Coronavirus). It has a certain, almost inexplicable scare quality attached to it even though the number of reported deaths remains at low levels. The fact that there is no cure, along with the fear of the unknown, has millions on edge wondering “what’s next”?
The business community is equally stunned, confused, and left to fear and worry about the health of its workforce, as hundreds of thousands (multiplying by the hour) find their business calendars re-written in the wake of the growing number of conferences and trade events now being canceled:
According to the USA TODAY: “The fast-spreading virus has threatened this summer’s Tokyo Olympic Games, killing six in Japan and shutting down most schools, sports competitions and Olympic-related events in the country. In the United States, more than 41,000 people have signed a petition calling for South by Southwest to be canceled, a 10-day gathering in Austin, Texas, that draws about 400,000 people a year to discuss and celebrate the convergence of film, tech and music.”
According to the Financial Times, airline passenger carriers expect to lose more than $110 billion from COVID-19. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC recently that the company has already lost several hundred million dollars in approximately one week due to fears of the virus. In fact, Kelly said “It has a 9/11-like feel”.
For businesses, now what?
Taking care of employees
For businesses of every size, in every region, navigating the threat of health risks, and the wellbeing of employees and their families should be the priority. In terms of whether operations need to be shut down, it’s a decision best made in consultation with company stakeholders (including employees). Even in the case of COVID-19, it is best to follow recommendations of the CDC.
Quickly re-evaluate supply chains
Businesses that are reliant upon a global supply chain, particularly those with supply lines to Asian countries, need to quickly re-evaluate these supply chains and diversify to multiple supply sources across countries to prevent macro impacts.
Impact on certain industries
Some industries will feel an immediate and direct impact. Sectors like aviation, tourism, and hospitality especially will see and feel lost demand – with somewhat drastic and significant effects. Other industries will most likely feel a delayed impact since consumers will delay the purchase of large-ticket items for near-term fear of their personal finances (buying a car, home, or even expensive technology products).
Cater to the direct needs of customers
Companies need to communicate often with their customers, with strong use of online and omnichannel methods in order to communicate and allow them to order goods online. This also means that companies should invest heavily in technologies that maintain quality customer services and touchpoints while minimizing travel. Particularly as more trade conferences are canceled, companies will need to leverage video meetings and webinars in order to continue to deliver thought leadership opportunities and product/service education.
Proper disaster planning
It is wise for companies to review disaster plans with their employees and prepare for any worst-case scenarios. Companies should discuss with their employees how a large shutdown might affect operations and discuss how to maintain business operations as best as possible. Hopefully, this is not the case with COVID-19, but proper planning is necessary.
Marketing and sales planning
Especially for those companies that face more immediate impact, such as industries like hospitality, travel and certain consumer goods, companies will need to plan special communications for their customers, keeping them apprised of situations and letting them know what their policies are for cancellations. For example, many airlines have already begun to waive their change and cancellation policies. Companies will also need to adjust marketing and promotions and prepare to announce special and even aggressive promotions to win back customers once COVID-19 is no longer a threat.
Encouraging employees to work remotely
Many companies will most likely encourage employees to work remotely. If this is the case, here are a few guidelines to help the company and its workforce maximize the situation:
Knowing what to expect, continuously informing your employees and customers of the latest information and how it impacts your products and services and planning for all scenarios are the keys to businesses surviving the threat of COVID-19. Those companies that take the right precautions will not only survive the threat, but they will also come out stronger in the eyes of their customers, stakeholders, investors, and employees.
For more advice and consultation, particularly for marketing, communication and PR matters, contact Merit Mile today for an immediate session to help prepare and navigate COVID-19 for your business.