People will remember what you did for them when they needed it. This cuts both ways.
Companies that operate with a clear sense of purpose will find it easier to choose where they can be generous in meaningful ways. It will be easier for them to prioritise the needs of their employees, customers and the communities in which they operate, helping them to weather the storm. This will, in turn, help those companies come out the other side and reap the rewards in the long term.
COVID-19 is encouraging companies to lean into something that we like to call ‘Strategic Giving’ — using your company’s resources, be it money, IP, or competencies — to help clients and communities solve a burning problem. At present, this means being generous first — seeing where you can help before even thinking of any profit.
It also doesn’t have to be solely customer focussed. Where possible, your generosity can and should extend to your suppliers, employees, and community. Microsoft has offered 3-months of paid parental leave to full-time employees, meaning they don’t have to try and balance working whilst homeschooling their children.
Remember: The ones who grabbed a quick buck may make it to the end of this, but they will be remembered. (We’re talking to you R900 bottle of hand sanitiser man).
Why should you care?
The harsh reality we have to face is that not every company is going to make it out of this, but for the first time in a long time, we are all in this together.
Some of us are being hit harder than others — the chips will fall where they may, and we need to be conscious of this and help where we can — but the pandemic, has in many ways, been a unifier.
For those that do see the other side, companies that gave where they could will bask in the warm glow of good customer feeling. When you are generous to people, especially during their time of need, they remember and feel a connection to you. This is an opportunity to create deep and meaningful connections — not through cheap tactics, but intentional communication and action. You have to be prepared to give freely and trust that it will come back around.
Human beings are hardwired to act in a reciprocal manner – we give back what we receive. If we receive a kind action, we are almost compelled to return the kindness…as long as it is perceived as a gift.— Conor Neill
The caveat: Don’t pretend to be what you’re not
Trying too hard can land you in a world of pain and bad publicity — people are stressed and their bullshit-o-meters are finely tuned. The best way for your company to help might just be a slight change in something that you’re already doing.
What you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t pretend to care
- Don’t offer help if you don’t want to
- Don’t hide sales behind generosity
What you should do? Here is our cheat sheet of places you can spend some time:
Be authentic — you know what is right for your business and your market
- Payment platform, Yoco, sells card machines which allow their clients to receive in-person payments. During lockdown, they noticed that there had been a 90% decrease in transactions on their platform. To keep their clients afloat, Yoco developed three new payment solutions: Payment Page, Gift Vouchers, and Payment Request, allowing their customers to process transactions online, instead of solely on their Yoco device
Give what you can (and do it without putting yourself at risk)
- SAB and Illovo Sugar shifted their operations to respond to sanitiser-producing companies’ need for alcohol, helping the greater cause without having to flip their business model on its head
Share your IP or process
- Nicework has always believed in Strategic Giving, we just stepped it up right now, producing Finding North (again) and offering companies some perspective to help their business survive — both free and with no strings attached
Offer packages (specifically to help) at different rates to what you normally would
- People won’t expect you to maintain these rates when the dust settles, and if they do, maybe they’re not the right client for you (that’s okay). Mailchimp announced a $10M Price Relief Fund, offering their service to small business customers who wanted to continue using Mailchimp’s platform but needed financial support
- With their business all but grinding to a halt, AirBnB has been forced to lay off 25% of its workforce. They have received some bad press over their COVID-19 refund policy, but the manner in which they handled these recent layoffs is an example of empathy during a crisis. Opting for a heartfelt, transparent approach instead of the cold, clinical manner chosen by some companies, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky has committed to keeping all employees aware of the process
Where can you make an impact?
People before profit
Your people — customers and employees — must come first. Everyone is under a lot of stress — economies are in trouble, work environments are less than ideal, and no one knows when (if) things will return to some semblance of normal.
People before profit means that we communicate with empathy, thinking about where they are and how they are feeling, instead of only trying to sell, or change the way we sell so it’s not the same as before. Show customers that you care about more than just profit; that it’s also about adding value to their lives during this time.
Align communication with your values
Ensure that what your business stands for is aligned to how you are talking. If people sense a disconnect between the two, you instantly reduce trust and risk losing the relationship altogether.
What are the core beliefs that your business operates on? How do you communicate from these?
Remember: Communication isn’t just about what you say — it’s everything you do and it plays out in your actions.
Don’t go dark
Doing nothing is not a strategy. This is not going to “pass”. Now is not the time to stop talking to people, but it is the time to be considered in what you say.
In the absence of information, people will start making their own assumptions, and eventually you will be forgotten.
If your communications were based on your outputs or processes and these have ground to halt, how can you shift what you talk about? Is there an opportunity for you to talk about your wider industry and what is taking shape as a result of lockdown?
Your customers may be in search of guidance. If they can’t get your product or service right now, how can you help them make-do? If customers cannot buy from you now or in the near future, tell them why and how you are going to help them in the interim.
What position are they in and what is the best way for you to help them? You don’t need to make assumptions, some of the most meaningful communication is when you ask your customers what they need. Worst case — they will remember that you reached out.
Be proactive and reach out to your loyal consumers. They are going through the same, or similar things. Make it easy for them to cancel, postpone, or reconsider their options when it comes to your offerings.
CityRock climbing gym has offered customers the option to freeze, cancel, or reduce their memberships until reopening. In the same message, they state that membership revenue is the biggest chunk of their business and that members who choose to keep their monthly memberships running help to ensure that staff salaries are paid, and that there’s ultimately a CityRock to return to. We’re willing to bet that customers who are able to keep their memberships running are doing just that.
One last thing — this does not have to be selfless
We are all trying to survive and you don’t have to be the Mother Theresa of business. We all want to come out the other side of this with our humanity, reputation, and businesses intact.
Help and be helped. Communicate often, communicate honestly, and be open to listening. We look forward to seeing what you come up with.