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April 17, 2020 Article 5 min read

The disruption of COVID-19 has forced many consumer-facing businesses to scale back operations or to shut down temporarily. But there’s plenty you can do now to ensure your staff, customers, and suppliers are there when things improve. Here are our top considerations.

Woman flipping sign to 'closed' for her small business. Significantly reduced operations or complete shutdowns related to COVID-19 have left many consumer-facing businesses in a state of disarray while government and the health systems respond to the crisis.

But there’s a lot to be done while we wait to see how and when businesses come back online. Here are five steps you can take now to minimize lost revenue, ensure customers and staff will return, and be ready to quickly restore business momentum when the restart phase begins.

1. Focus on cash conservation

It’s likely you’ve already addressed liquidity and cash flow during your initial response to the COVID-19 crisis. But it’s important to remember the restart date is uncertain, and there will be unforeseeable twists and turns in the road ahead: You don’t know what the “new normal” will be financially or how long it will take to build the business back to former levels. Since your cash situation can mean the difference between survival and permanent closure, it’s critical to keep a close eye on funding and remain alert for — and take advantage of — new opportunities for financial assistance. You’re likely aware of the small business loans and other opportunities available through federal assistance programs, but state and local opportunities are almost certain to emerge over the coming weeks and months. Be on the lookout and be ready to apply.

2. Assess your IT infrastructure

Now’s a good time to thoroughly assess your information technology infrastructure. Are cybersecurity and maintenance protocols in place and being followed? Headlines are emerging daily about scams and cybersecurity attacks that are taking advantage of people working from home. Are you keeping your remote staff informed?

Now’s a good time to thoroughly assess your information technology infrastructure. Are cybersecurity and maintenance protocols in place and being followed?

Consider possible data security issues relating to IT infrastructure at physical locations that aren’t regularly staffed at this time. It’s important that systems are monitored remotely to ensure access is restricted based on need. It might make sense to conduct additional third-party security vulnerability assessments and/or penetration testing to address increased cybersecurity risks.

If your business is cloud-based, it’s important to be comfortable with the status of your third-party technology vendors. Are they well-staffed and fully operational? Are the turnaround times for support adequate? It’s likely they’re facing the same challenges as you with people working from home so ask questions about their internal controls and data security.

3. Focus on staff communication and retention

When faced with a potentially difficult future staffing scenario, it’s important to have highly visible leadership. Maintain regular communications with staff and make sure to weave in key aspects of your company culture to retain loyalty. Set up regular personal touch points with staff, be as transparent as possible about what’s going on, and communicate information in real time about the future restart.

For many consumer-facing operations, it was challenging to find and retain qualified team members before the crisis hit and may be even more challenging now. Do you have a plan to communicate with valued furloughed staff and bring them back quickly when you restart operations? Or a plan lined up to find new workforce if necessary? It may be necessary to consider incentives to encourage staff to return or budget for higher wages going forward.

Is your talent management team prepared for the anticipated churn in your workforce? Plan now to replace staff that doesn’t return. There may be new staff behaviors and regulatory requirements that need training to be quickly developed and delivered before you can restart operations. Communicate new health and safety regulations to staff in your regular communications to prepare them for the coming changes in the restart phase.

4. Keep customers close — and innovate

At this time, customer loyalty and trust are being put to the test. What are you doing to keep close to them? Are you engaging them with advertising, social media, or industry updates? Are you communicating short-term COVID-19 operating information such as availability of services, reduced supply or operations, and which locations are available to serve customers?

At this time, customer loyalty and trust are being put to the test. What are you doing to keep close to them?

Are you innovating with unique services, product offerings, or delivery services that fit the times and enhance the client experience? Have you adequately addressed promises made to customers such as facility access or memberships that can’t currently be fulfilled?

The key is to find ways to stay relevant and keep trust with customers to help ease any anxiety related to your services during these trying times. It’s important to keep your brand in mind with trusted customers and not to be seen putting profits over health and safety of employees or customers.

5. Consider the supply chain

Is a supply chain critical to your operations? If so, you should do a risk assessment to ensure suppliers will be operating when you restart, and that safety precautions are in place for inbound goods. If you’re currently operating at reduced levels, anticipate potential supply chain issues as your suppliers’ business ramps up to previous levels.

Reach out to suppliers with weekly phone calls and discover if there are any shortages in the market. If so, consider backup or alternative suppliers to meet short-term requirements. Identify your high-priority suppliers and have a plan in place if any disruption is likely.

Are there upcoming governmental regulations or inspections that may bar you or a supplier from reopening? Will there be any recertification or licensing process necessary to reopen? Any disruption could cause a domino effect in operations so be ready to pivot and adapt quickly.

Prepare your restart plan

Once you’re able to restart operations, you’ll face another whirlwind of activity and new challenges. You’ll be rewarded having planned ahead with a well-thought-out restart calendar that considers the items above and likely more — this will be a critical path to ramping up operations.

The plan should include an assessment of physical locations, staff work environments, customer interfaces, operating hours, and a detailed anticipated schedule of how long it will take to be fully operational to meet your customer demands.

Talent management will be a central part of your plan. How long will it take to recall furloughed staff, recruit new staff, train, and ramp back up? Assume a starting date and work backwards from there so you have a clear plan and priorities are in place once you know when that date is going to be. Keep your plans top of mind and revisit it every day if necessary.

Things will change

It’s too early to know exactly what you’ll have to deal with in the weeks and months ahead. But one thing is for certain: things will change. You may have to reopen under new regulations or use a phased-in approach. Things may vary between different geographies. There will be challenges — and we’ll be here to help. Most importantly, stay focused, stay positive, and stay flexible.

Need advice? Contact our COVID-19 task force to schedule a complimentary consultation with our experts and visit our COVID-19 assessments page to patch any holes in your preparedness plans.

COVID-19: Adapt faster, emerge stronger.