There are numerous posts about how to respond to the current COVID-19 crises and I thought long and hard about adding my own perspective – or stay silent … But this is a time of sharing, so here we go …


A two-speed challenge

First of all, things will never be the same. Full stop. The only question is how the futurewill look like. Thus, managing the crisis is not enough. You will need to

… manage the now, while preparing for the ‘new normal’

This is a typical 2-speed challenge that asks for solving two tasks at the same time – all while adapting to the new work environments and routines that you and your teams had to establish almost overnight.


Managing the now

Did you also get all those COVID-19 emails from all those CEO’s that confirmed how much they care for their employees and customers? They all read the same – as being copied and pasted from one coms department or PR agency to the other. 

To be very honest, they only left me irritated and annoyed.

The same was true for any standard direct marketing email trying to sell me whatever, implicitly pretending there was no disruption and things would be as they used to. My personal n=1 response to all these emails is “How dare you …” – and, the same is true for any VoC system feedbacks that I was asked to respond to and that had not been adapted to what’s going on …

As a result here are my 3 commandments for any business thinking about interacting with its customers in the current situation:

1. This is a time to listen, not to sell (anything).

Ad 1: … not even a standard VoC survey for customers to reply to. Instead: Listen, listen, listen – and show empathy. Now is the time to gain the insights that allow you to make a real difference – and to thrive and prosper when things pick up again.

2. Meet people where they are (and try to be helpful).

Ad 2: This is super tricky as we all go through a roller-coaster of emotions and experience an ‘oscillation of blurred emotional states’ as my colleague Frank Owen called it. The result being, that any kind of mass communication will irritate the majority of recipients – as your chance to meet the specific emotional state of the recipient at this very moment is minimal.

3. Only communicate if you have a relevant message (or just don’t do it).

Ad 3: This is more of an internal problem in most organizations, as leaders feel an urge to do something. It’s a kind of hyper-activism that fuses with ego. Those leaders are trained to act, to do something, to … Plus, most of them have an intrinsic goal/motivation to be significant and experience ‘self-efficacy’. That leads them to do the wrong things for the right reasons. Don’t do it. Although I know, it is very difficult and demanding to resist …


Preparing for the ‘new normal’

Instead, leaders should focus on adapting to and planning for the ‘new normal’ after the dust of the COVID-19 crisis settles. This, again, is a very demanding task as there are no precedents to draw conclusions from – although there is lots of talk about the 2008 financial crises or the post-1929 depression.

Here it is important to understand how what we experience right now will shape the things to come. The best way to look at it is through the lens of a large-scale innovation project. Because the uncertainty is extremely high and will only unveil itself step-by-step – like when peeling an onion.

Thus, the best approach is to:

1. Listen to your customers and observe how they change their behaviors.

Ad 1: A great tool here is the well-known CX principle of looking at ‘Jobs To Be Done’. And then analyze how people change their behavior to adapt to the current situation when carrying out those jobs – i.e. work from home, use more digital tools, shop more online, etc.

2. Build hypotheses for what’s to stay, and turn those into future-state scenarios.

Ad 2: Creating scenarios and defining how best to respond to them is the best way to deal with uncertainty – just like with the V, U and L scenarios that economists are currently drawing on. When doing so for your customers and how your interaction with different segments might change, you can create future-state personas and/or customer journeys to make those different scenarios more tangible.

3. Once the ‘new normal’ becomes more visible and concrete, detail the most likely scenario and step-by-step translate it into your next (growth) moves.

Ad 3: Once the new reality becomes more clear over time, translate your insights and the most likely outcomes into more detailed blueprints, and start planning to execute against them. Again, personas and journey maps can help to support this process. At the same time, those future-state journeys will tell you how to adapt your offer, your interactions and your messaging – and what kind of heavy lifting is necessary to address that ‘new normal’ and turn it into reality. Obviously the better you plan for shifting gear and the faster you are able to execute against your plan once time has come, will have a tremendous effect on how you will be able to make a difference to your customers and watch your competitors disappear in the rear mirror.

In other words, listening now to gain the insights to plan well for the ‘new normal’ of the future will have a crucial impact on if and how you will be able to thrive and prosper in the post corona age.

Felix Bennien focuses on customer-centric business transformation and business model innovation. He founded beta is the new normal, to help companies accelerate their business transformation and adapt faster to new technologies, business environments and customer needs.