“Business is always part of the community from where our customers come. Being able to do some thing for the community in need will never be more important than now.”
Do you see how suddenly communities in our lives have become so strong and so important. Suddenly you and your loved ones are actively part of so many communities. So what if they are online? The people behind them are real. And did you notice that there are so many of them. Each one has a different purpose. And you are part of them because of your different needs in your life. From home supplies group, to your housing society group, to the blood donation group, to your child’s school group and their parents’ group, to your alma mater group, to your office gang group, and the list goes on and on.
So what is this? In psychology, it is the basic human instinct of self-preservation. In the early human history, our reasoning mind told us that we cannot beat most of the predators alone. But as we come together in a pack we could achieve far more. Not only can we hunt but we could till the field better, clear the husk faster and rear the cattle more efficiently. We saw strength in numbers and a way to keep our near and dear ones safe. We build communities because it just was the better way. There was sense of power and security in the ‘collective will’.
It is the same thing at play today. In the face of a calamity, one that we have still not figured out how to overpower, we are bunching together to survive better, even when we are maintaining physical ‘social distancing’. That is the best way we know. Well what does it have to do with business today? Quite a bit actually. Businesses can do well in these times by being part of the sharing or integrating themselves into the community or maybe even just assisting a few of the relevant ones. The basic premise I have spoken about in my previous share (“Be in the business of hope, whatever your business is” - https://www.audiencesutra.com/post/be-in-the-business-of-hope) is the idea of ‘empathy in action’. Demonstrable empathy in dealing with customers means that your business has to walk the extra mile to be part of the lives of the people you are asking for business from at these times. And just to be clear, it does not mean spending more money. It is the gesture and our attitude that is more important. Therefore, if empathy and intention is going to determine the effectiveness of this effort, then it is the only thing that will stand in the way of it coming across as a charade. So the basic rule before everything is - if you don’t feel it, don’t do it, simple. But then once you do feel it, your business needs to get some things right.
1. Solve a problem, or try something new, whatever you do, ‘innovate to help’
Businesses can’t possibly understand and solve all the problems our customers and their families are going through. At such times action will count more than just fluff pieces about what we think they should be doing. Action means our businesses can help reduce some of the daily problems of our customer which look like a mountain at this time. That is what real innovation would look like now. For example, in case of e-commerce supplying essentials, bunching things together and in different large quantity pack combinations which can be customized will help because that is how people are buying these days. Make delivery packages in a way that people are able to carry them back home from the pickup point as doorstep delivery is no longer allowed. Pack in a way with quality assurances that customers have to do least amount of sanitization. If you are used to taking instant payment, provide options now. If you digital payments is effected by connection then provide options for crediting lumpsum in advance. Allow people to help each other by transferring credit when they have no access to funds. These are some random examples. But this will require your business team to dig deep to really pay attention to what your customer needs most help with and find a solution in your own way that makes their lives a little more easier every day. That is likely to be appreciated far more than any big ticket solution. And rest assured, the rest will be done by your happy customer. They will become your advocates and promote you around their communities.
2. Be honest, even if you are not able to help, but do help find a way out
When you are not able to meet expectation, which is likely to happen in these situations, please be honest about it. For example, don’t take money from people on the pretext of supplying something that you do not have in your inventory yet and then return only in credit points. Understand that people want to have as much liquidity as possible due to the fluid situation. Even a small daily update or contact letting people know of their product or delivery will help prepare people and not let them get worried about outcomes. Be honest about your business realities and your situation. And give the best possible solution under the circumstances. When you take a step and try to help people out going of your way, then people will also understand and take a step towards you. It will help shine a light on your intention to help the community. Your honesty in dealing with your customers will disarm them and make people drop their guard down. And when that happens, we can start to build real human connections beyond just the business transactions.
3. Your time and your actions count more than your transactions
These are times when people want to do more for another human being in need. Generosity need not come from a super human effort but from what we are able to do. Going back to our earlier share of patisserie business example, if we feed destitute people or daily workers that help the community, with a small meal of bread and stew, because we can, then it will attract invaluable support from the community in addition to generous donations. Not only will it help us help more people but we will be able to gain support from a wider community and obviously gain more business as an outcome. But, more importantly, it will earn you a permanent place in the hearts of the people in the community.
In summary, what you do now as a business and as a human being counts most for people and communities around you. At these times of need, your generosity and intent to help people with their daily lives will not only endear you to your customers but also give you precious learning about what are the real things about your business that will help you grow it. Understandably, it could be uncomfortable at times doing this. But then anything new is uncomfortable. And then, I guess it is better to be uncomfortable than be sorry later, that we could have done more.