Learn from other entrepreneurs how you can innovate during COVID-19

Get a free Techzine subscription!

The digital channel has suddenly become much more important. Because of the outbreak of the coronavirus, companies are facing new challenges, in which the digital channel (online) can often offer the solution. We heard from various companies how they have dealt with the new normal and how they are adapting through innovation.

In a virtual event, set up by Salesforce, several customers of the company talk about the actions they took after the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent lockdown in many countries.

Product presentation on the website

Bugaboo, the Dutch company that sells strollers, was one of the speakers. They explained that customers initially postponed their purchase. However, babies will still be born, and a choice for a stroller needs to be made either way. For Bugaboo it resulted in a considerable increase in traffic on their website because people shifted their search for a stroller to online, also because many physical shops were closed. By now, it is evident that many shops have noticed a significant increase in the number of online sales.

“It almost feels like you can touch the product”

At Bugaboo, they chose to improve the online presentation of their products. You can now see every detail of the product. They want to make sure “it almost feels like you can touch the product”. They use numerous large photos and videos, in which you can see how the strollers are used. In addition, there are large photos (renders) available of the strollers from pretty much every angle. You can also choose from a large number of colour combinations, so you can easily see what design you like and what you don’t like. This makes it a lot easier to make the right choice and to a large extent, replaces the experience you might have in the physical store. In the end, Bugaboo has seen no decline in sales numbers.

Increase contact with your customers

Chief Marketing Officer Deborah Fell of Hästens., a Swedish manufacturer of beds, also gave a presentation on their experience. She states that many of their customers had to deal with closed stores. In the end, stores, where you can buy a new bed, are not categorised as a basic necessity. This caused customers to worry and see a big loss in revenue. The stores that sell the beds and mattresses of Hästens are in the end the customers of Hästens. These stores are vitally important to the company, because that is their sales funnel. Deborah Fell said that good communication with the customers was essential during the COVID-19 crisis. We needed to help them conduct business in a different way.

Hästens had recently completed a pilot with the Salesforce Marketing Cloud platform, which is used to send a weekly newsletter to customers and partners. In this newsletter, they inform customers and partners of the steps they are taking to keep everything running smoothly. Marketing activities aimed at selling more online, promotions and discounts, new stock, media coverage: everything is shared with customers and partners. This way, they feel involved and can see that Hästens is not sitting still during a crisis but is working hard to help the stores wherever they can. They ensured that the stores could continue to sell their products. In the end, the CEO expressed the wish to turn that weekly newsletter into a daily one, so that customers stay informed more often. And thus, the daily newsletter was created.

In addition, Hästens organised a three-day virtual conference in which it talked to its customers. They gave presentations for six hours a day, on how things can be addressed during COVID-19 and where opportunities were to still make revenue. Deborah Fell said: Although these days were long, they gave a lot of insight. The intensive contact helped with the customer relation and resulted in ideas and solutions for customers, but also for Hästens itself.

“The camera should be on at all times. Customers should be able to see you, eye contact is essential for a good customer relation”

In the end, Hästens significantly increased the number of contact moments with its customers and partners, through a virtual conference and their newsletters. In addition, the sales team of Hästens now conducts many video conversations with customers instead of visiting them. The internal requirement is that salespeople should have their cameras on at all times. Customers must be able to see you, they feel eye contact is essential for good customer relation.

The fact that it’s possible to see stuff what is going on in the background, like pets walking by or even children looking for attention, should not be harmful to your customer relation. It’s part of the new normal, people will adapt to this and accept it.

Facilitate remote working with hardware and collaboration tools

Several companies made the same observations based on their experience during COVID-19. The basis of the new normal is the possibility for staff to work from home, but this should be done in an effective way. If you’re an employee and you are staring at a small laptop screen, and internal communication is still only taking place through e-mail, you are missing out on a ton of opportunities. Companies would do well to invest in proper hardware and a collaboration platform.

In order to be able to work properly from home, an external monitor, keyboard, and mouse are essential. This way, you have a large screen at your disposal and a full-size keyboard and mouse, which just works better than working with only a laptop. If you have to buy these products for hundreds of employees, it might be costly, but in general, it won’t have to cost more than 200 euros per employee, and you will quickly see a return on your investment with improved efficiency.

Finally, a collaboration platform is essential. If employees can easily communicate with each other, through chat and video calls, they will stay in touch with each other more effectively, and projects will continue as usual. If everything has to be done through e-mail, communication becomes cumbersome and will start to fall apart. Examples of these platforms are Quip, Slack and Microsoft Teams. If a company wants to use a dedicated video platform, Zoom is currently a popular alternative.

By facilitating proper hardware and better communication, the stress and concerns within an organisation will decrease, and people will have the tools to communicate do their job properly. Many companies see their productivity come back to normal as a result.

Self-service portals are popping up everywhere

Employees can often provide the same service to customers from their own homes. Forwarding phone calls or chat requests is something that is easy to arrange. However, customers themselves are also becoming increasingly resourceful, and it only makes sense to profit from this. Many common service procedures can easily be automated through the use of self-service portals. Since a few years, Salesforce is offering Salesforce Customer 360, which combines all customer data within one environment, ensuring that a service employee has all the required data at his disposal without having to log in externally.

However, it is also possible to add a layer on top of that using MuleSoft integrations. This can create the possibility for customers to change their own data, take out a different subscription or submit a return request. In the past, a substantial investment was often required for this purpose. By integrating MuleSoft into many Salesforce products, this has been made much easier and therefore, very affordable. It has already been proven several times that offering self-service portals can significantly reduce the strain placed on a service center and improve customer experience. For many companies, this is the moment to invest in self-service portals.

Reflect on leadership methods and how to deploy people

We also learned from various companies that it is good to evaluate how you manage your employees and how you deploy them. Jiyan Duran, Sales Director at vegetable box vendor Karma, explains that salespeople perform at their best in a positive working atmosphere. Clearly, empathy is vital in this day and age, but uncertainty in the work field or a negative atmosphere should not be allowed to overshadow your employees. As a manager, try to approach your employees with the right energy, show empathy, but also demonstrate that things are going well and goals are still within reach. In the end, salespeople are outgoing, and they require that kind of energy.

At Marlies|Dekkers, a company specialised in women’s lingerie and swimwear, work is done in a small close-knit team. A large part of them ended up at home when all the stores were closed. Ultimately, it was these people who approached the company with the request to do at least something for the company.

“Transferring the offline experience to online blogs”

After a brainstorming session, two projects were introduced at Marlies|Dekkers. On the one hand, store employees started writing product descriptions and blogs for the new swimwear collection. These store employees possess the required expertise needed to advise women when purchasing swimwear, which trends are popular, how to combine different garments, or how certain products fit, what size is right for a particular person, and more. This resulted in a lot of valuable content that will be published online shortly. Content which the company has high expectations of. This enables the company to transfer offline experience to an online experience. They expect this will improve their ranking in the search results, which in turn will lead to higher sales.

The other project was an online outlet sale. Store employees visited the stores to see what they had on stock and what could be eligible for an online outlet sale. These products were published online in an outlet sale, and all customers received an e-mail telling them about the outlet sale. As a result, the brand could communicate with their customers in a positive way. Ultimately, as a brand, you want to remain visible to your customers and not suddenly disappear off the radar for months. The outlet sale has significantly contributed to achieving this goal.

Learn from each other

Salesforce has already completed two virtual conference days filled with customer stories: how will customers continue to do business in this corona time and in the new normal? Learning from each other can be very valuable. The sessions can all be viewed via the Salesforce website.

Tip: Crisis leads to accelerated disruption, what can your industry do?