Illustration by z_wei via Getty Images.

Published: March 29th, 2020

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly across the planet. More and more of your employees and customers are becoming anxious about personal impacts and disruption. Fewer people are attending events or leaving their home to conduct business. Fewer employees are interacting in-person with customers or business partners.

How can you use information technology to insulate your business from COVID-19 impacts such as:

  1. Reduced sales?
  2. Difficulty communicating with your customers?
  3. Absent employees?
  4. Losing business momentum due to at-home employees and supplier issues?
  5. Intermittent product shipments to your customers?
  6. Intermittent component shipments from your suppliers?
  7. Unpredictable service responses from your service providers?

Many of the ideas listed below increase the social media and web profile of your business as in-person contacts with your customers, employees and suppliers are reduced through mandatory social isolation. Some of the ideas are intended to increase automation in production and administration so that your business can continue to operate with fewer on-premise staff. The ideas are deliberately tactical in nature to recognize that this crisis period is not a time to take on a lot of risk or make big investments. The ideas are intended to be cheap and fast to implement.

Marketing

For marketing, you can increase your use of social media and search to maintain your brand visibility and continue your communication with your customers.

Generally speaking, these target customer groups use mostly these social media websites and their related smartphone apps:

  1. Teenagers and young adults – Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.
  2. Adults – Facebook.
  3. Business staff – LinkedIn.

It’s simple and free to set up a basic web page to profile your business on any of the social media websites. Then building engagement with your business audience involves posting appealing content, with graphics or video, regularly and increasing the number of your followers.
After that, it’s typically necessary and useful to spend money to raise your profile. Here are the links to a quick overview of advertising:

  1. Amazon.
  2. Facebook.
  3. Google.
  4. Instagram.
  5. LinkedIn.
  6. Snapchat.
  7. TikTok.

Increasing the content of your own website can be effective to engage more with your customers and prospects that use search. Consider enhancing these features:

  1. Video content about products and customer experience.
  2. Support content to help customers increase the value they receive from your products.
  3. Product information with photos and a link to your e-commerce website.
  4. Online chat for customer support.
  5. Blogs written by your staff to increase customer engagement.
  6. Clearer separation between your customer website and your corporate website.

The resources you are devoting to your social media and web presence may be reaching the point where you want to formally monitor the engagement and sales results that your spending is producing. Here is a link to Forrester’s list of top software packages for social media management that go beyond what Google Analytics offers.

Sales

To build sales or at least avoid a major reduction in sales, you can enlarge your e-commerce presence to make buying simpler for your customers.

Here is a link to a summary evaluation of 12 top e-commerce platforms.

Many business executives, wanting to increase their e-commerce sales, struggle to know which platform is best for their business. This is a big question that’s well beyond the scope of this article. However, the web pages at these links will help you prioritize your goals and clarify your selection criteria:

  1. Shopify vs. Amazon.
  2. Amazon vs. eBay.
  3. BigCommerce vs. Shopify.

By committing to an e-commerce platform, you are often also outsourcing fulfillment. That can be hugely helpful at a time when your business is trying to manage through a crisis.

Email marketing can be an effective tool to drive traffic to your e-commerce website. Here’s a link to an overview of best practices for email marketing.

Production of physical products

If your business produces physical products, some of actions you can consider include:

  1. Simplify your product designs through techniques such as Design for Manufacturability (DFM).
  2. Reduce the number of products. Recognize that during a constrained period, some products just can’t be made due to manpower or supplier constraints.
  3. Introduce more basic automation. The leadership of most businesses have ideas percolating that they just haven’t managed to implement.
  4. Increase component inventories, perhaps through additional suppliers, to compensate for intermittent shipments.

Provide services

If your business is mostly about providing services, you can use virtual collaboration environments more to make interaction among your consultants and with your customers easier.

For an excellent summary of available software for virtual collaboration, please read: Suddenly working from home and need a solution that works? Here are some options.

If you want to add a more immersive, 3D component to your content and collaboration, consider implementing PureWeb software.

Operations

To maintain your business operations, consider these actions.

Facility cleaning needs to be stepped up in scope and frequency to reduce the number of viruses. For ideas on what to use and what not to use, please read Coronavirus: These products work best to kill the virus.

Employees need to be reminded to upgrade their personal hygiene practices. The use of face masks is helpful to protect other workers from asymptomatic co-workers. Face masks do not help the wearer.

Shipping and receiving processes likely need to be redesigned to minimize human contact. Using cameras to record routine activity can be helpful. For a long list of ideas to consider, please read: 50 expert warehouse automation tips and best practices.

Equipment repair and maintenance probably needs to be scheduled more rigorously and designed to minimize risk of transferring viruses via human contact. Use of hazmat suits may be beneficial.

In-house staff training can move to a virtual collaboration environment just like education institutions are already moving their education offerings. If you’re already a Microsoft Office 365 customer, use Teams more. Others will use more of the Google G Suite.

Finance

In finance you can increase your use of settlement applications to make it easier for you to receive payment from business customers. Move away from settling accounts with physical cheques wherever possible.

Depending on the nature of your business, consider broadening these actions:

  1. Encourage more of your business customers to pay using Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) or their corporate credit card.
  2. If you’re providing a recurring service, encourage your customers to setup a pre-authorized payment with you.
  3. If you have large numbers of retail customers and many, small dollar transactions, consider moving to a smartphone app like the Starbucks app.

If managing the volume and types of payments your business is receiving, may need to consider implementing a treasury software package. Here is a link to summary descriptions of available treasury software packages.

If your business involves large volumes of accounts payable transactions, upgrading this process with spend management software may be useful to pay your suppliers. This is also an area where Robotic Process Automation (RPA) has delivered significant benefits in reducing staff count and therefor human interaction.

Human Resources

Perhaps distributing a link to this video about the importance of self-isolation is better than yet another email from the HR department.
In Human Resources you can increase your use of web-based applications for:

  1. Recruiting/hiring – Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, ZipRecruiter. Click here for a more complete list.
  2. HR/payroll systems – ADP, Humi, Quickbooks. Click here for a more complete list.
  3. Performance Management systems – Sometimes this functionality is included with HR/payroll systems. Click here for a more complete list.

Moving to a web-based HR/payroll system will also increase your ability to provide employees with more self-serve capability.

What strategies would you recommend that will better insulate businesses from COVID-19 impacts? Let us know in the comments below.