We are living in unprecedented times with a global pandemic that may have widespread repercussions on the world economy. In the U.S., many states have issued executive stay-at-home orders that will have a lasting impact on many businesses. As of April 20, the U.S. has seen 22 million Americans apply for unemployment since President Donald Trump declared the coronavirus outbreak a national emergency on March 15. And, according to a report from McKinsey & Co., the U.S. and European economies could take until 2023 to recover from the coronavirus crisis.
We may not know what the future will bring, but one thing is certain — new information becomes available every day.
In light of this, BNP Media’s Clear Seas Research arm has been conducting ongoing COVID-19 surveys with readers across seven disciplines, including mechanical systems, which includes Plumbing Group brands Plumbing & Mechanical, PM Engineer and Supply House Times. Wave two of the survey of mechanical contractors was conducted the week of April 2.
The top responses indicated that main concerns are the current economy and business goals. 72% of respondents say they are concerned with the current economy, 65% are concerned with business goals over the next six months, while 64% say they are concerned with achieving business goals over the next three months, dropping significantly from the first survey’s response of 82% conducted the week of March 24.
When asked about their business outlook, 48% of respondents reported active business is on schedule, while 36% say that it’s delayed. Only 16% of respondents indicated that active business is cancelled. Additionally, 41% of respondents say planned business is on schedule as opposed to the 46% who say planned business is delayed. The percentage of respondents who say that their planned business is cancelled went from 10% to 13% in the latest outlook.
Another informative bit of data is the number of businesses taking advantage of the CARES Act and SBA loans. According to the survey, 41% of respondents are applying for a small business loan while 31% aren’t sure yet; leaving 15% stating that they do not qualify for the loans and 14% who qualify, but choose not to apply.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
One of the most interesting items of note in this report is the way businesses are shifting to virtual options to communicate with both employees and customers.
One of the most notable changes is the surge in video chat and online software being used as a communication method — much like many companies in many different industries. In late March, only 1% of respondents were using video chat services to communicate with employees and/or customers. Now, 38% are using it to reach employees while 30% use it to reach customers.
“One of the greatest impacts I see industry-wide stemming from the pandemic is the adoption of new technology,” Ashley Martin, NIBCO vice president of sales told BNP Media’s Plumbing Group in April. “In sales, we are finding ways to communicate and connect through technology that we will likely be using for a while. People are adapting quickly and getting used to Skype and virtual conference calls being the new normal.”
NIBCO implemented remote work for its global headquarters team and is enforcing the 6-foot distancing rule inside its manufacturing plants. The now remote customer service team at NIBCO is available via phone call, email, online chatting and video chatting. Video chats with customer service is a new option that NIBCO put in place to provide customers with a deeper level of virtual service throughout these confusing times.
Phone calls still remain a high priority with 85% of survey respondents using them to stay in touch with customers. Phone calls as a communication tool to reach employees have increased from 1% in March to 71% now.
Email communications also rank high, with 86% of respondents using it to communicate to reach employees and 73% using it to reach customers. Text messaging as a communication method has also increased with 71% of respondents texting employees and 51% using it to contact customers.
There’s quite a lot of information contained in this report — and we’re making it available to PM readers for free. To download, visit https://bit.ly/2VohCK0. It will be interesting to see what the next survey results bring. Stay tuned.