Building the post-coronavirus business
Richard Murphy examines the future of business after lockdown and what it means for logistics, staff and customers.
It’s very hard to imagine what the post-coronavirus world is going to be like. It’s fairly hard to recall the pre-coronavirus world right now, after all. And yet, if business is going to survive (and the evidence is that it collectively survives just about anything thrown at it) then that is what we must do.
There are a number of things that are apparent that will be very different as a result of what has happened. The first is that people will be much more inclined to spend online. Even many of those with some reticence to do so have now changed their minds: click and deliver is the new mindset, and it will become even more prevalent amongst those who will remain in isolation when many of us let out of lockdown.
This means that for many businesses logistics are suddenly becoming something that they must focus upon. The idea that it was the customers’ responsibility to take away the goods or services supplied might no longer be true. Delivery might now be part of the necessary service that a business has to supply. Getting that organised is going to be essential.
Also, that means that the price has to be reconsidered because delivery is an entirely new service. It also means that products might need to be redesigned. How can they be delivered by businesses that have always relied upon face-to-face contact, sales pitching and product explanation?
For those who wish to continue with a more conventional model, how are they going to challenge those businesses that seek to undermine the online, as has been so commonplace in recent years? How can they charge for their value-added? And why will the customer know about, and value, it? Will this all be possible with social distancing still a real possibility? How can the business adapt to that?
In all this, what happens to staff? Have they (including you) the skills to adapt? If they can, what can be done to make sure they do so as soon as possible? If they can’t, what are you going to do when furlough is over? Are the right consultation processes in place?
And, whilst all this is going on, do you really understand what the customer is really seeking from you? I ask this because it took me about a decade of being in an accountancy practice before I appreciated that the customers that I was servicing did not buy my technical expertise from me: they simply presumed that I had that.
What differentiated my firm’s service from that of our competitors was that we sought to take as much of the client’s stress away as we possibly could. It was stress relief that the clients paid for: the accounts, tax returns and even the advice was all incidental to that. They paid us to do the worrying for them.
Every business has to work this out for themselves, but the question as to what the customer is really buying from you has to be at the forefront of all post coronavirus business planning, because unless you work that out then nothing else will work.
When you’ve worked this out does it require that you go back and change (yet again) the products that you offer, the way that you offer them, the price that you charge and how you make your services available? I stress, this is not the same as changing the existing products, which is the process referred to in the first to fifth items on this list: this is about new products and services.
So can you make the changes within the resources available to you? If not, should you still be doing this? That’s a completely fair question to ask right now.
Don’t be afraid to start again. We all have to do that sometimes. There’s no shame in doing so. It might create short term pain, but if you can’t see the way for the existing business to survive what is happening then now might be the time to admit it. No one will be blaming you.
But if something new is going to happen, make sure you do the thinking right from the start. The post-coronavirus world is not going to be easy, but there are millions of people who will and need to spend. They could do so with you if you can work out how to link what you want to do with the needs that they want to fulfil. That is the perennial basis for a good business. It just requires refreshing right now.
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Richard Murphy is a practising chartered accountant and director of the Corporate Accountability Network. After twenty years in industry and commerce, he co-founded the Tax Justice Network and Fair Tax Mark before moving into academia as a professor of political economy. He co-authored the original Green New Deal in 2008 and is still engaged on...