The COVID-19 crisis has raised questions that businesses never thought of. How do you connect with customers who cannot or will not step out? How do you manage a team that you can no longer just walk up to? How do you set stakeholder expectations in a landscape of variables? And lots more.
But as unprecedented as it is, it’ll put the business world through the same test as all previous crises —the test of your business relationships.
Crises are an audit of your people skills. The relationships you share — within and outside your organisation — will decide how your organisation comes out of difficult times. Here are five tips for building and strengthening business relationships during crises.
- Communicate — and become trustable
Counter the fear and suspicion a crisis creates with authenticity, trust and engagement.
Influence, negotiation, decision-making, communication, collaboration and partnership are core to the people skills expected from a management accountant. But in a remote working world, some of these aspects will have to be reconsidered.
As a leader, while you should be available and communicating with your team, you should also balance control and empowerment, and trust employees to make the right decisions. By being open and empathetic, you are helping them trust you and build a relationship that will outlast the crisis.
- Think — what matters to your customer
According to HubSpot, 44% more emails are being sent now than before the lockdown. In a crisis riddled with isolation, make sure your customers are not lonely. Let them know about the measures that focus on their success, along with yours.
For instance, if some measures have resulted in a saving, pass it on to your customers by allowing them more time to pay you back. Remember, their survival helps your survival.
Banks, for that matter, are helping customers assess their liquidity and capital requirements. Gareth Shaw, head of money at Which? says, ‘People will remember how brands treated them during this crisis’.
- Value — what your employees do
The service sector that thrived on face-to-face interactions is relying on digital platforms to help its customers. At the same time, there’s a greater demand for people to be the interface between customers and businesses. Ever since the lockdown, there has been a tremendous increase in call volumes to customer support centres.
Create a survival strategy around your employees. For instance, a leading brewer reconfigured its factory space and changed its focus markets as part of the initiatives to protect and utilise its workforce.
Employee engagement and satisfaction are not financial indicators. But their decline affects efficiency, client relations and thereby funding. Strengthen your employee relationships and they’ll spread the word for you.
- Reconsider — your supply chain as a network of partners
More than 90% of Fortune 1000 companies had one or more of their Tier 2 suppliers in the Hubei province of Wuhan. Having shut down borders, the current crisis threatens to break down supply chains.
Supply chains built solely around cost efficiencies limits you to vendors from distant parts of the world —making the chain transactional rather than relational. During difficult times, your relationships with individuals in your supply chain, not just the wider business, can make a big difference.
A supply chain built on relationships is run by partners committed to cutting non-value adding activities and creating resilience, rather than just being vendors. While such a network might be easier to build closer to home and therefore could be expensive, the shared context and goals make it worth the investment.
- Instil — confidence in your investors
As the pandemic unfolded, investors panicked. The US stock market lost nearly $3.5 trillion and the London FTSE dropped 25% — its biggest fall since 1987. The unknowns this crisis brought with it were a major trigger.
Investors want to know about the sustainability of their investments. Instead of judging solelyby traditional notions of business value, they are also looking at the environmental and social impact of the business. By responding to them most appropriately, honestly and with complete information, you can help investors regain their confidence.
If you’d like to learn more about building better business relationships, read our new white paper ‘The power of people’ with a focus on leading during periods of disruption and explore more resources here.
And don’t forget to sharpen your skills as a transformation leader with Future Mindset.