As I’ve worked with and spoken to leaders of companies across the country over these past few weeks, a single word can be used to describe everyone’s feeling about their current situation: Uncertainty. The word also applies to all of us on a personal level. We are in uncharted territory, dealing with an invisible force, with no idea of when or if things will return to normal.
So, as with everything in life and business, we have a choice to make. Are we going to be impacted by what’s going on around us, or are we going to have an impact on what’s going on around us? I can tell you that the businesses that are having success right now have chosen the latter path, but it has not been an easy one.
I concede that there may not ever be another time in our lives where it could be as easy to throw up our hands and say, "There's nothing I can do." There may also never be a time in our lives when doing just that has such damaging and negative consequences for ourselves, our families, our employees, our customers and our communities.
Our businesses have been classified as an essential service for one reason: The people in our communities need us. And we have to be there for them. The alternative is unthinkable. Can you imagine reverting to a life without plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electricity in our homes? That's what some people will be faced with if we’re not there for them right now.
In a time when everyone is suddenly living in their homes more than ever – using their HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems more than ever — we need to be able to navigate how to serve them. We need to be able to do it in the right way, too — the safest possible way. And even if you feel like you might not have done this up until this point, it's not too late.
For those of us who have been (or still are) struggling with the reality of this COVID-19 situation — for those that maybe, at some point, downplayed the impact of the virus — it’s crucial to recognize that it's OK to shift your position. It's not too late.
So, how do business owners navigate this ever-changing environment effectively? How is it possible to protect your employees, protect your customers, keep your business running, and at the very least, come out of this situation physically and financially healthy enough to carry on when this all is just a memory?
COME TO TERMS
The first thing you have to do — you — is come to terms with the fact that this virus is real and its impact is real. It will continue to impact all of our lives and businesses for some time to come. If you've come to that conclusion already, that's perfect. If you're not there already, it’s time to get comfy with these three words: "I was wrong." I can tell you that I, personally, was wrong about COVID-19. I lived in denial for a while, thinking to myself, "There's no way this is as bad as people are saying. The media is out there to scare us all. This will go away."
I was wrong.
KEEP EMPLOYEES SAFE
Now it’s time to work on your business. The blueprint from companies successfully navigating this virus is simple: Start from within. As owners, you need to be obsessive about the safety and well-being of your entire staff. This means doing everything and anything to provide your employees with any and all personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to keep them safe. And you can't just provide it to them; you have to show employees how to use PPE effectively. Practice with it, be militant about using it properly. Make sure your employees know it’s for their safety and the safety of those around them. This isn't about just making it look like you’re addressing the situation. This is about recognizing that the situation is real, it's serious and that PPE items are the things that are going to keep us safe.
You also need to go virtual now — not tomorrow, not a week from now… now! The technology exists for you to do this immediately; there is no excuse for not embracing it in an effort to keep your employees safe and employed.
Protecting the safety and well-being of your own people is your most important task right now. You can’t protect your customers and your communities if you can’t even protect your employees. And quite frankly, your employees won't want to be there for your customers and your communities if you can't protect them first.
You need to understand that even if you do everything possible to protect your employees during this time, some of them still might not be comfortable performing their jobs in this environment. And you’ll have to be OK with that. Empathy is critical. This is a scary time, and no matter what steps you might take to ensure the safety of your people, for some, it won't ever be enough. The same will go for some of your customers, and that's OK.
COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR TEAM
Maintaining communication with your staff right now is important. Using remote technology, continue conducting your department meetings, 1-on-1 employee meetings and coaching sessions as usual. In fact, you should be meeting with your staff more than you used to meet in person.
When the training team here at Nexstar began working from home, we immediately implemented a 15-minute call each morning just to touch base with our team, find out what everyone was working on, and help each other out. Almost organically, these 15-minute calls have turned into brainstorming sessions for ideas related to what we could do to help our member companies. The calls have been invaluable. We’re communicating with one another more, not less.
LET CUSTOMERS KNOW
Once you've set up your business to run safely and effectively — even in uncharted territory — you need to let customers and your community know you’re open and there for them. Your customers are going to have a heightened sense of anxiety related to having a person in their home during this time. If they don't know that you're addressing the situation head-on, and have your employees' safety and well-being, as well as their safety and well-being in mind, then there’s no way they’ll be comfortable having you in their home.
That's why it's critical to reach out to customers to let them know that you’re able to provide them with essential services safely. I've seen companies accomplish this via ad campaigns, email blasts, dedicated website pages and videos. Use all these tactics. Get the word out that your company is doing everything possible to protect your employees and customers during this time. Customers need to hear and see this message to feel confident with having your technicians in their home. This should be the primary message for all of your customer communication and marketing right now.
DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU DO
The companies that have followed the steps above have had success; some of them are posting numbers better than they've had in previous years, with customers more pleased than they've ever been. If you follow this blueprint, you should have the opportunity to serve your customers and communities during COVID-19. Now, it’s critical to do what you told them you would do.
When your technicians arrive at your customers' homes, they need to use all of the PPE you communicated to your customers that they use, in the correct manner. They also need to maintain a safe distance when speaking with customers in person.
From there, it’s critical that they use their time in the home to the fullest. Your technicians must try to eliminate potential future issues with your customer's systems right then. They should be trying to reduce the chances that the customer would need to have another technician out to the home, on another service call, should something else fail in the future. In other words, when a customer has an issue that demands attention, it’s critical that technicians do a full evaluation of the entire system, so they can catch potential issues immediately and don't have to come back.
NOW MORE THAN EVER
Because customers are spending more time in the home and using their HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems more than they ever have before by default, that makes the services we provide more essential than they've ever been. But simply being there for customers isn’t enough. We must earn our customer's trust more than ever before. Not all companies will do this; not everyone will follow the blueprint above. Companies that do follow this blueprint will be indispensable to the customers and communities they serve. Now is your time.