The COVID-19 pandemic was a big test for many companies: could they weather the storm? For some businesses, the answer was yes while, sadly, for others, it was no. But what caused some organizations to sink while others stuck it out? And what can existing companies do to ensure they continue to prosper amid future uncertainties? One answer is future-proofing, which is creating the conditions for your business to thrive, even when situations aren’t ideal or when the unexpected happens.
A recent article from American Express points out that future-proofing your business doesn’t have to be difficult, time-consuming, or expensive, especially if you make it a part of your regular business planning. Yet, future-proofing can provide you with security and financial stability as you navigate the uncertain and ever-changing business climate.
In the following sections, we offer strategies for preparing for both known and unknown challenges ahead.
Companies that have a strong relationship with their customers are likely to thrive even in turbulent times. For example, during the pandemic, businesses that already had communication lines open were in a perfect position to find out how they could continue to serve their customers despite public safety requirements. Based on customer requests, restaurants and other establishments quickly pivoted to delivery and curbside pickup options, while utilities put a moratorium on power shut-offs in response to lack of payment.
The better you know your customers, the better you are in a position to understand their needs during a variety of circumstances. As a bonus, customers can provide you with great ideas you can use right now. Here are a few suggestions for improving the relationship you have with customers.
- Use every customer care interaction as an opportunity to learn more about their concerns.
- Be aware of the customer journey and ensure a positive customer experience (CX) every step of the way.
- Make it easy to find the “contact us” section of your website.
- Invite social media followers to submit ideas for improvement.
- Ask employees, vendors, and partners for their input about your customers.
- Give your best customers advance access to new products and services and solicit their feedback.
Make the Most of Technology
Technology can help with three critical future-proofing goals: offering a superior digital CX, empowering employees, and making smart decisions. Your customers are also doing business with technology powerhouses like Amazon and have come to expect similar convenience in all their transactions. Examples include robust search functionality, an easy checkout process, and seamless returns. The importance of excellent digital CX also applies to customer care, which can be more automated, given consumers’ increasing comfort level in dealing with machines.
Employees must have a positive digital experience as well, both to perform their tasks efficiently and to maintain job satisfaction, both of which are critical to the future of your company. And you must be able to use business intelligence to make decisions based on data, rather than assumptions or guesswork.
Strengthen Corporate Culture
Another component to good decision making is having core beliefs and values that form the basis for how you will move forward. If you haven’t updated your mission and vision statements in a while, or if you never created them, now is the time to explore as a company what you want to stand for. Ideally, come up with a phrase that you may or may not share with the public, that encompasses your intention.
For example, a women’s clothing retailer might aspire to “helping women of all sizes be comfortable in their clothes.” With such a vision in place, it becomes easier to make decisions — such as where to locate stores and how to market — and attract long-term employees who align with your philosophy. The following video explains additional steps you can take to strengthen your corporate culture.
Keep Up With Industry Developments
Understand the factors influencing your success, such as new governmental regulations, the cost and availability of raw materials, and emerging customer desires. For example, the current chip shortage has been a big factor influencing the automotive industry and much has changed as a result. Car manufacturers and dealers are having to put customers on waiting lists to buy vehicles that now cost more as a result. Companies that saw this change approaching were able to prepare in advance and shift processes as needed.
Keeping up with industry developments includes knowing what your competitors are up to and secret shopping is still a good way to gather information. Based on information like pricing, processes, products, and CX, you can learn how you compare and pick up ideas for how to do better. Even if you end up believing your business is the leader in your area, it helps to know what you need to do to maintain that position.
While companies that do one thing well often flourish, the old advice to not put all your eggs in one basket also applies to future success. Going back to the example of the women’s clothing store, it’s obvious from the vision statement that women’s clothing is the primary offering. But if the company wants to help women of all sizes be comfortable in those clothes, there’s a lot more they could do, such as providing styling services or creating videos or courses aimed to enhance self-confidence.
Consult a Crystal Ball
While no one can truly tell what the future will bring, you can come close by examining current trends. For instance, many companies saw that the work-from-home (WFH) arrangements that started during the pandemic weren’t just a passing fad but a fundamental, permanent shift in how business gets done. They used that insight to enhance their offerings or develop new ones to help companies meet the challenges they faced as a result of this pivot. Future-proofing means being willing to innovate based on informed ideas.