As challenging as the pandemic has been both at work and in our personal lives, there have been some silver linings. The one common thread running through those has been gratitude. We are who we are in large part because of our experiences and our determination, but all our successes and triumphs would not be possible without the relationships we have built. Distancing ourselves from one another reminded us how much we need each other.
No successful person did it entirely on their own, and no successful business operates in a vacuum. To meet the digital demands of today, organizations rely on vendors for everything from simple storage solutions to complex digital ecosystems. In hindsight, the process of managing these customer relationships before COVID-19 was relatively straightforward. Network security providers could focus on balancing cost and usability, the need for speed, and the delivery of uninterrupted digital services for end users. As long as you had the tools and analytics required to fulfill performance and security requirements, customers were satisfied.
But the pandemic dramatically changed the relationship between service providers and their customers. As organizations shifted their workforces and business channels to digital, service providers’ supporting role shifted, too. Though being a great partner in a time of crisis demanded more, it was what clients needed, and that extra effort helped to turn short-term customers into long-term advocates. Think of the most challenging days you’ve had in your life and I bet you’ll remember who showed up to lend a helping hand. Here are some key approaches that paid dividends for customers in their challenging moments that you should consider keeping in place as we transition into post-pandemic life.
Companies who were already accelerating the cadence of digital implementation before the pandemic found themselves rolling out major new foundational initiatives in days or weeks, rather than the months- or even years-long implementations that had been standard practice. Many initiatives that were viewed as a smart long-term play or a means to streamline efficiency and lower costs suddenly became mission critical. With executive teams under extreme market pressure to digitalize business lines, they had two choices: jump and build the parachute on the way down, or crash.
Over the past year and a half, we have witnessed countless successful examples across industries of scrambled rollouts executed quickly out of necessity. It was never perfect and rarely graceful, but they got the job done when their back was against a wall. Where executives used to meticulously plan out, phase and test deployments, they suddenly faced a dynamic where being overly careful was a recipe for failure. For many, this has created an enduring willingness to move fast and a growing mindset that getting it done quickly is the most prudent strategy. And for many larger organizations, it represents a significant polarity shift to the standard IT orthodoxy.
Despite growing will, many organizations don’t have the internal resources to execute right away and the only way for them to establish digital platforms quickly is through the support of third-party ecosystems. Leadership teams recognize this. Instead of focusing on what can be done internally, organizations are now looking to get the most they can out of partners.
Vendor partners want to be ready to implement solutions faster than ever. Delivering the perfect solution months down the road isn’t going to satisfy customers as it once did. Instead, drive lean and iterative development towards a minimum viable product.
Be More Bold
Digital transformation for many businesses was inevitable, but there was still a lack of urgency from management teams before the crisis. The pandemic changed the calculus, pushing once-hesitant organizations to leap into action as uncertainty and volatility became the new normal.
As COVID-19 forced companies to embrace digital channels, many pushed even further into the bold digital efforts that would transform their business for the better – especially if they had resisted pursuing them in the past. It sounds counterintuitive, but the pandemic created a new dynamic where companies became fully and urgently aware of the value of digital offerings – and hyper-focused on delivering a virtual replacement for their previously physical offerings. As a partner, you can help customers recognize the value in obtaining expanded services. While for many it began as a survival mechanism, utilizing new, digital platforms has given organizations access to markets and revenue streams they’ve never had before. As customers reevaluate every aspect of their online and physical presence, partners are well positioned to help them continue the transformation of their business.
Be More Communicative
Communication has always been critical to any successful client partnership. If there is a lack of clarity on either side, issues will surface no matter how effective your architecture or solution is. This is especially critical when implementing bold solutions quickly. Management teams want to know what is and is not working right away and don’t want to feel as though they’re being kept out of the loop. Technical issues are inevitable, but slow or unclear communication that damages your reputation is avoidable.
What has made client communication during the pandemic different is the empathy required. With many once thriving businesses having faced wave after wave of foundational challenges for more than a year, a little extra slack – and extra effort – goes a long way. As we slowly get back to normal, some contacts will be dealing with burnout from more than a year of stress and anxiety at work and in their personal lives. You’ll want to check in with customers to ask how they are doing. Take the time to listen to their challenges and be there to offer advice. This is particularly important as we continue to head back to the office and businesses find themselves needing to manage a hybrid, highly flexible workforce. Recognize that getting ‘back to normal’ won’t look like the normal we knew before. Continue to demonstrate that your company is a partner that can be relied on as they navigate whatever new challenges may lie ahead.
Be More Educational
With all eyes on digital efforts during the pandemic, customers wanted to be able to confidently assess the performance of new platforms and processes. Sourcing this information frequently and clearly has gone far in demonstrating the quality of the work, but keep in mind that this may require some additional explanation to the non-tech audiences involved.
While things aren’t as wildly unpredictable as they felt in 2020, this is still a time of flux. As a result, your internal teams may want to collect and review data more frequently. Though time consuming, reporting key metrics as often as several times a week will help your partners best capture the shifting demands of their business, better understand the evolution of the marketplace, and get comfortable with new tools and channels. It will also demonstrate that you are an effective partner that is interested in their business and invested in their long-term success.
Think of the kinds of new outreach efforts you implemented to educate and stay closely connected with partners during the pandemic. Maybe it was instituting quarterly business reviews to ensure you were helping them meet shifting goals, maybe you organized virtual tasting events or offered video-based training to help them learn, optimize and grow value from their existing investments. If something you tried was successful, why not keep it going?
Maintaining the crisis-driven practices you established as the pandemic set in will help digital vendors remain invaluable partners to the customers that want our continued support as they navigate their new reality. We still don’t know exactly what “normal” will look like, but continuing to go the extra mile to offer your support when its needed will strengthen trusted relationships and better position you and your partners for long-term success.