When we look back on crises, a clear pattern emerges – we stay resilient during chaos by acting fast, being flexible and staying laser-focused on trust.
Even pre-pandemic, the ability to move quickly has been a fundamental pillar of successful customer transformation. Now that ability is being thoroughly tested. With daily changes to supply, demand and regulation, the need to mobilise at extraordinary speed is in the spotlight.
Several China-based enterprises offer success stories of how to navigate such a fast-moving business environment. For example, noodle manufacturer Master Kong moved quickly at the start of what would become a pandemic to anticipate panic buying and stock shortages. It focused on supplying online retailers and closely monitored the re-opening plans of offline retailers.
Consequently, Master Kong was significantly more successful than competitors, and has outperformed them on recovering its supply chain and quickly restocking offline retailers as they re-opened.
The companies that thrive and survive pivot at speed. LVMH, the French fashion and fragrance house of Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Christian Dior, announced early on in the pandemic it would make and distribute hand sanitiser for free to feed demand in French hospitals.
Similar examples have continued to pop up across the world: hotels are becoming makeshift quarantine facilities, fast-fashion retailer Zara has offered to make scrubs for medical professionals and airlines are becoming freight companies.
Locally, we’ve seen Archie Rose and Young Henry’s in Sydney pivot from gin to hand sanitiser production. For Archie Rose, the shift hasn’t just addressed a community shortage – though its sanitiser sold out three times in the first two weeks – it meant bar staff could be redeployed to the bottling line when the government ordered bars closed.
Qantas and Woolworths have also taken a flexible approach to trying to minimise unemployment, announcing plans last month for staff secondment from the airline to the supermarket.
Such a move was not the only option on the table for these companies. They could have left their bars, plants, teams and fleets sitting idle, as many are starting to do. Yet in many cases they chose to take an inevitable drop in sales and interruption to their business, and act in the interest of the community. In the case of LVMH, the response has garnered enthusiasm from consumers globally and started a chain reaction that can only strengthen their brand. With conscious consumption holding significant social currency, gestures such as these are likely to see these brands held in high regard on the other side of this crisis.
‘Doing the right thing’ is a tricky line to navigate, with many businesses already criticised for their actions during this turbulent time – the speed and flexibility we’ve seen in the examples above cannot have a positive impact on people or on a business’s resilience without a basis of trust.
Amazon, previously praised for taking on casual workers from the hospitality and tourism industries, later came under fire for reportedly not following health and safety protocols surrounding the virus in Italy. It’s efforts to fundraise from the public for partners who would be out of work during the pandemic – on the surface a good action – have been set against a pandemic-induced revenue increase in the billions, and Amazon has not been left in a positive light.
Doing the right thing then is about more than making a financial contribution to the crisis. It requires an authentic demonstration of agility, empathy and, ultimately, resilience.
We’ve just seen an incredible example of this in a partnership between engineers from Formula One engine maker Mercedes-AMG HPP and University College London. Knowing the difficulty of manufacturing life-saving ventilators at scale, they developed a modified CPAP device that can be used for patients experiencing severe respiratory problems so that precious ventilators can be saved for the most critical.
“As with all things coronavirus related, speed is of the essence,” UCL Engineering’s Vice Dean for Impact Clare Elwell wrote in The Conversation. “The team has pulled off the task of moving from reverse-engineering an original product and producing a new design, through testing and regulatory approval to full-scale production in under 10 days.”
Mercedes is producing 1,000 devices each day, and the partnership has shared the designs and manufacturing instructions with 1,300 other teams – governments, manufacturers, academics and health experts – in 25 countries.
This pandemic will come to an end, but before it does companies will make a choice about the impression they will leave on their customers and the public. Those that make a positive impression – that gain trust and maintain the support of their most important stakeholders – will be rewarded.
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