The current Covid-19 crisis has gotten me thinking about all of the big challenges that we have faced at TRC. These include:
• A flood that destroyed our Headquarters
• A fire that destroyed our biggest call center
• Three recessions of varying depths
• Transformational industry changes such as the move from phone to web
We’ve persevered for over 30 years through these and other challenges. I thought it might be helpful to share some of what I learned as a result. Hopefully it will help others navigate the very challenging current business environment.
Of course if you don’t have a plan you’ll more or less have to make it up as you go along. But let this be the last crisis that you haven’t planned for. With each challenge our plans have gotten better. You have to think through even unlikely scenarios. For example, you might have had a plan for people to work from home but did you think through whether your systems can handle that kind of load or whether it can be sustained over a long period of time?
My business’ most important asset is our staff. I’m lucky to work with really talented and smart people. Thing is, they are smart enough to recognize trouble and talented enough to have other options on where to work. Providing them with honest communication on where things stand and what you are going to do is critical. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Your credibility will carry you far. I’m proud to say that more than half my staff has been with us for 20+ years. That doesn’t happen if you lose credibility....
I’ve been really impressed with the way our company and our clients have reacted to this crisis. First and foremost, we’re taking precautions to slow the spread. We, as well as our clients, moved quickly on things like suspending travel, replacing in-person qualitative with on-line approaches, and working from home. So far this has kept our staff and our clients free of the disease and allowed us to tirelessly meet our clients’ rapidly evolving needs and deadlines.
I’ve also been impressed by the way our clients have reacted from a business standpoint. With all the scary news and panic buying, it is impressive that our clients have reacted to the crisis seriously and thoughtfully. While it might seem insensitive to talk about business issues in a crisis like this, the reality is that we need a thriving economy for the well-being of everyone.
Every recession is different and this one is perhaps the most different of all. It came on more suddenly and was driven not by economic factors like inflation, commodity prices or financial institutions collapsing. With that said, such downturns are not unprecedented. They are referred to as “event driven” recessions. Unlike normal recessions, the event driven variety tend to be short lived with fast recoveries. According to the Goldman Sachs article the stock market typically takes just 15 months to fully recover from an event driven recession as compared to over 100 months for a structural one (such as the financial crisis of 2008). It is important to understand that while it takes 15 months to get back to where the market was pre-bear market, the recovery starts much earlier than that; it might have already started.
Simply put, even as the crisis grows you need to plan for the upsurge to come. In the short term, you need to understand what consumers are thinking and when that thinking will change. Most critically, you need to understand how to connect and the tone your audience will accept from you so you don’t alienate them. Longer term you need to understand how this recession will change behavior. We do so many discrete choice conjoint studies that I tend to think in terms of “features”…so what product and service features will change forever due to behavioral changes? For example, more on-line usage is a no-brainer given the success of this extensive national experiment in remote working....
On a day when I am packing up my office to work from home as a measure to combat the spread of Covid-19, I am faced with a dilemma that we frequently see in research – the need to differentiate the must-haves from the nice-to-haves. We have no idea how long our work-from-home mandate will last, so I’m planning for the long haul.
Technically, I could take home all of my personal possessions, but it’s a lot. I do not work light. My work office is more crammed with stuff than my home office is: an array of plants, pictures, mementos, décor and awards. Colored highlighters, pens and markers. None are mission-critical to my job, so they’ll stay behind (with the exception of one plant that I can’t bear to part with).
But then I have to make the decision as to which work-related items I must bring with me and which ones will enhance my work-from-home experience but aren’t absolutely required. Do I need my pencil sharpener? Note pads? Date book? Spare mouse? Speakers? What about my folders? All of them? Which ones?
I only have so much room in my vehicle, and only so many trips to the parking lot that I’m willing to make. So I need to determine the nature of each of these items and then decide: if it’s critical it goes in the “take” pile. If it’s nice to have, then I need to weigh it (literally) against the other nice-to-have items and take some and leave the rest.
In feature prioritization research, we ask participants to tell us what features they would like to see in a product, whether that’s a consumer good, a service, an app, or another type of product. The problem with just asking it that way is that the sky’s the limit – there’s no space issue, no concern for how many trips they have to make to the parking lot. So we place limiters on the exercise, such as having each item add cost, or telling them they can only have 5 features. This helps separate the critical features from the rest of the pack. But it still doesn’t tell us which are the nice-to-haves; items that could provide differentiation from what else is on the market, but aren’t considered table stakes....