Repurposing Value And Reconnecting With Customers In The New Norm

Every year, car enthusiasts eagerly await the unveiling of the latest model to roll off assembly lines across the country. This year is no different. In 2020, while many have been patient, all have been anticipating the release of the brand-new Ford Respirator. But you won’t catch these bad boys cruising down the streets, catching eyes and turning heads. Rather, you’ll find them in hospital hallways, catching coughs and saving lives. Yep, it’s fair to say the Ford Respirator is one of this year’s most sought after “goods.”

And Ford isn’t the only one with a new focus. Did you know Prada fashions hospital gowns? Or that Absolut distills hand sanitizer? The truth is, a month ago, they didn’t. These are just a few examples (and genuinely positive stories) of how some companies are repurposing their manufacturing abilities to meet current needs during the COVID-19 crisis. Which got me thinking. How can those of us in the life sciences community begin to repurpose the value we bring to those we serve? Let’s take a look.

Before we start… the fact is, at the moment you read this, many of you can’t reach your customers or you feel it’s just poor timing and want to honor the courageous work many of them are doing. The following are ideas you may be able to put into practice when you AND your customers are ready to re-engage. If you’re not there yet, use this time wisely and upskill, practice new value delivery, and be ready for what your customer needs when they need it.

Repurpose Your Value

In the wake of significant changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford could have said, “we make vehicles not ventilators.” But they didn’t. Instead, they adapted the skills and abilities they already had to build products that offered new value. Despite their inexperience making medical equipment, Ford’s stance was essentially, “How can we help.”

The point is, just because relationships with our customers are now more FaceTime than facetime, doesn’t mean we can’t bring value to those we serve.

Put yourselves in their masks. What would you want and need right now? Although it may be new to you, determine how you can use existing talents and capabilities to offer value in both simple and innovative ways. Here are just a few suggestions of things you can offer:

  • An ear to listen
  • A word of encouragement
  • A new/easy way to connect
  • An innovative service
  • An open invitation of “How can I help?”

For a moment, forget about our goals (I know, but stick with me). Put aside our business objectives. And disregard our knowledge of previous customer needs.

Now, I want you to think about a specific customer of yours.  Not a company or a hospital, but a real-life person you serve and have a business relationship with. Hold on to their name.

Got it?

With them in mind, I want you to imagine their struggles. Envision their ever-shifting goals. Feel their new normal. What is it like? How have their needs changed over the last few months? How can you serve them differently?

More than ever, our decisions and actions must be centric to our customers in their current situation. We must bring unique value during this unique time. Consider the following questions to set your focus.

  • “What do my customers really need from me right now?” That is, “How can I help?”

And the more-challenging follow-up:

  • “Am I able (and willing) to provide whatever “it” is, even if it’s not my area of expertise AND even if it doesn’t necessarily benefit me right now?”

Perhaps not the easiest questions to answer, but questions worth asking. Keeping an eye on current needs, having an empathetic disposition and offering novel solutions will bring value to your customers now, and the same to your brand later.

Reconnect With Your Customers

Many people, including our customers, are feeling disconnected. They feel disconnected from family, friends, work and maybe, even from their favorite restaurant. They feel disconnected from normal. And understandably so. But what can we do to begin reconnecting?

Reconnect Virtually

It’s really physical – not social – distancing. If you haven’t already, embrace video conferencing. Just because you can’t be in front of customers, doesn’t mean you can’t meet with them. And remember, it’s the substance of those interactions that matter most, not the means and methods (although they’re important too). So be ok with calling on customers, even if it’s on the phone. Get comfortable “Going To Meetings,” “Hanging Out” and “Zooming Around.” Connect on their terms, meeting when and how they prefer. For some great tips on connecting virtually, check this blog post out.

Reconnect Digitally

Use digital communication to asynchronously inform and update customers. Polished, easy to understand marketing materials condense information, making quick comprehension a breeze for your customers. And perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If a picture is worth a thousand words, video is worth a million.” It’s true. Consider using video to communicate your messages. Customers will appreciate a short video with valuable information and as a bonus, hearing your voice and/or seeing your face can help humanize the interaction.

Reconnect Empathetically

Be compassionate to your customers’ situation. Listen. And not just to the problems you feel equipped to solve. Maybe they want to talk to you (or anyone) about their current work conditions… how they don’t understand their kid’s homework… or the things they don’t want to burden their family with. Just listen. Ironically, stay at home orders and social distancing practices have afforded us the ability to become closer with our customers. Not in proximity, but in humanity. Use this opportunity and get to know them on a level beyond business.

As an example, a member of our Sales Team at CMR told a story of how he was recently on a Zoom meeting with a new client. They talked for about 30 minutes until the customer paused and perplexedly stated, “You haven’t tried to sell me anything yet? More people need to learn how to do that!” Yes, yes we do.

Reconnect “Per-fessionally”

Just as the story above demonstrates, we don’t have to be all about business, all the time. Especially, during this time. It’s ok to check-in on people and their families. I know I appreciate it when people ask about mine. The personal + professional relationships we build now will be the foundation of our customer interactions later. Yes, innovative offerings that bring value are essential. But empathetic understanding and showing that we care about more than the bottom line will build your brand now and in the future.
Oh, and it’s also just the nice thing to do. ?

Redefine How You Go About Business

None of us should be sitting around waiting for things to go back to “normal.” Whatever normal was, isn’t what normal will be. Whether minor or major, most companies are experiencing some form of disruption to “business as usual.” And that’s not necessarily a negative.

Because companies are also learning. We’re learning what business could look like in the future, long after this epidemic subsides. We’re discovering new ways of going about business. By necessity now, but by choice later.
In many ways, the outbreak has been a window into the future of how business is likely to be conducted. It’s training us for what’s to come.

For instance, face-to-face interactions with customers might be our preference, but recently, it hasn’t been an option. So, what have we learned? Likely, a lot more about virtual meetings and technology than we wanted to, right? Perhaps you’re starting to pick up on cues from customers about their virtual communication preferences? Maybe, in time, you’ll even begin to see more access to some customers with virtual calls and resources, while others will still prefer in person meetings.

The past few weeks have been simultaneously scary and revealing. Both uncertain, and productive. Dedicated to both surviving now and thriving later. But all along the way, we have been learning about what our customers need from us now.

So maybe in the future we’ll have more virtual meetings. Is that such a terrible prospect? We’ve already been training for it! Or maybe we’ll travel less, allowing us more time to meet with additional customers or focus on professional development and learn more about customer needs or the changing market. Redefining how we go about business might mean placing our customers’ communication preferences over ours or it might lead to reassessing our knowledge and skills so that we can bring new value to more customers on their terms. And that’s ok.

In Closing

The impact of the coronavirus pandemic is significant and undeniable. It’s altering lives, disturbing businesses and crushing economies around the globe. One side of the coin is bleak indeed. But flip it over, and you might find a different tale. One that encourages innovative solutions over existing ones. One that favors compassion over compensation. And one that promotes relationships to overcome hardships.

Just like many in the manufacturing sector, those of us in the life sciences industry can repurpose the value we produce. We can reconnect with our customers in deeper and more meaningful ways. We can refocus on who should be centric for us always, COVID-19 or not. Together, we can redefine what going to business feels like and be a much sought after good.

So let’s get to it.

In Case You Skimmed, Here Are The Highlights

  • Be empathetic and understanding of customers’ current situation
  • Listen for how you can help AND “just listen”
  • Be elastic in your business practices, stretching past “normal” offerings of value
  • Deliver easily accessible, simply understood digital solutions
  • Understand customers’ preferred way – and timing – to communicate and connect appropriately
  • Be what your customer needs you to be right now
  • Build relationships today that will fortify business interactions tomorrow
  • Spread positivity and caring

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