Business Continuity During COVID-19: Best Practices From Top Executives
By Leor Melamedov
In every crisis there’s an opportunity for those who are able to quickly sense and adapt –– and the coronavirus is no exception.
Lightico spoke to some of the world’s most successful lawyers, financiers, automotive professionals, insurance officers, healthcare innovators, agency presidents, and tech founders to learn how executives across vastly different fields are not just surviving, but in many cases thriving during the coronavirus crisis.
During the pandemic, a business continuity plan typically includes embracing remote work, adopting digital tools, and maintaining (virtual) channels of communication with clients abounds.
But more than anything, a common undercurrent of resilience, creativity, and flexibility can be felt in the thoughts these executives shared with us. Against the odds, they are delivering more value than ever to the clients who depend on them. And many have discovered new behaviors, habits, and technologies that they’ll keep, even after the coronavirus fades away.
Keep scrolling to gain insights from across industry leaders, or jump straight to an industry of your choice:
Law: Embracing videoconferencing, remote payments, and paperless transactions
Automotive: Implementing special hygiene measures and customer-centric payment plans
Insurance: Putting safety and effective customer communication first
Healthcare: Accelerating adoption of telemedicine and digital platforms
Consulting and PR: Applying for PPP and other grants and staying in constant contact with clients
High tech: Offering special promotional rates and embracing flexible work
The legal industry has been hard hit by the coronavirus, with perhaps the exception of labor law and insolvency law that have found growing interest during the crisis. Courts are in many cases suspended, and face-to-face meetings have largely declined. The lawyers we spoke to are using videoconferencing to close the gap, as well as regularly writing emails and picking up the phone to stay connected with clients.
A recurring theme among the lawyers was a willingness to cut costs by reducing discretionary spending and reducing salaries. Many senior partners reported volunteering to take a paycut before their associates to offset loss of revenue while still keeping morale up as much as possible.
Some experts are predicting that the coronavirus will radically transform the traditional law industry model, and weaken things like the partnership model and in-person court hearings. Digital tools will democratize both law education and law practice, and courts may even move partially online, according to some predictions. Whether these more disruptive changes will really come to pass remains to be seen. But it’s safe to say that less radical digital options such as Zoom meetings with clients, digital payments, and remote work will augment the famously staid law industry’s pre-corona habits.
Ensuring secure remote work and harnessing videoconferencing technology has been key for this personal injury attorney:
We were able to secure enough VPN licenses that the vast majority of our staff can work remotely. We stay in touch regularly by phone, email, and video meetings, and this ongoing communication has been key to keeping us successful during the pandemic. A skeleton crew stays in the office to ensure phone calls are answered and forwarded appropriately, as well as to handle calls from prospective clients, and bookkeeping, along with ingoing and outgoing mail.We are still able to meet with clients by phone and videoconferencing. Videoconferencing technology has also been very successful in allowing us to continue moving our clients’ cases forward in litigation, because we are still able to conduct depositions and settlement conferences. Things might not be “business as usual” but we have largely been able to keep our essential business functions running smoothly, and we have been grateful to keep our entire staff working hard, while we all continue to secure favorable outcomes for our clients even in the face of all this uncertainty.
-Katie Harris, Personal Injury Attorney atCharles E. Boyk Law Offices, LLC.
Another high-profile attorney also finds videoconferencing useful –– but admits he misses the special energy of meeting with clients in person:
The hardest thing for me with servicing customers and selling during this period is the lack of “in-person” touch, with eye contact and hands-on exchanges. Lawyers rely on lots of non-verbal cues during a meeting, either receiving them or giving them, including drawing options and circling them on paper. Appropriate joking and a light-hearted tone can be hard to convey when you’re not in close proximity. We're relying on video conferencing with clients to bridge this gap.
-John Stocks, Owner at Van Siclen, Stocks & Firkins
This CMO of Florida-based law firm offers some advice on how to stay lean and efficient during the crisis:
Reduce expensesTry to reduce your monthly rent, get a discount on utilities, and cut costs by temporarily suspending extras such as the company’s newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
Increase and speed up cash flowsSpeed up collection of receivables, and stay in close contact with current customers by keeping in touch with them via email and phone.
Maintain team productivityFirst cut executive salaries, and only then reduce hours or cut employee salaries if necessary. Openness and fairness goes hand in hand with productivity.
Some lawyers came to the crisis already armed with an impressive arsenal of remote and paperless tools:
As a modern lawyer who has embraced technology to reduce overhead and deliver significant value since I founded Russo Law LLC, I am pleased to report that I have not experienced any issues working remotely. I use online legal directories like Martindale and Avvo to help identify new potential clients and I use Zoom to build trust and rapport so the potential clients can meet me and see my face. I use Bookings to schedule my appointments and Clio Grow and Clio Manage to generate and submit proposals and engagement letters to clients for their digital execution.I accept payments through LawPay so there is no need for clients to worry about opening mail, sending checks or incurring unnecessary fees for wire transfers.Lastly, I use a combination of Microsoft Office tools and Dropbox to collaborate with clients. No paper, no stamps, no hassle!The only issue I’ve experienced for my clients embroiled in legal disputes is that many courts are currently closed. But the courts are starting to show signs that they will reopen and begin accepting cases for commercial matters.
-Lou Russo, Owner at Russo Law
Finance and lending
The financial industry spans a wide spectrum, from traditional banks to neobanks, from venture capitalists to credit unions. Prior to the coronavirus crisis, old-world financial institutions tended to move slowly compared to other consumer industries. Banks usually offered an app and website for many daily transactions, but customers would frequently be bounced from digital to non-digital channels, leading to confusion and frustration.
All of that changed with the coronavirus. Digital transformation, once viewed as a “nice-to-have” has now taken center stage as banks rush to digitize in hopes of maintaining business continuity and keeping customers safe. Banks are finding innovative ways to service their customers remotely, such as eSignatures, eForms, and text messaging communication.
The U.S. government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) put banks’ digital readiness to the test, requiring them to rapidly distribute billions of dollars of essential funds to struggling businesses across the country. Amazingly, even the most traditional of banks managed to transition from manual data entry to automation seemingly overnight.
As for neobanks and other digital-native institutions, the crisis definitively confirmed the need for the products they’re offering, and led them to expand existing initiatives such as remote work and automation.
It seems that the coronavirus was just the push banks needed to double down on their digital transformation efforts.
The CEO and founder of the biggest international startup accelerator in Southern California touts the benefits of remote coworking tools, automating processes, and diversifying investments:
Before the coronavirus crisis, my business operations were 50% physical and 50% virtual. Since the beginning of the coronavirus lockdown, my team, startup cohort and myself are all working from home. All of our meetings are held through ZoomRoom. We also update each other via emails, Google Excel sheets, Google Calendar, our Slack group and phone calls.The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing everybody (businesses and individuals alike) to realize that they have to be online. Therefore, I recommend businesses to invest in their teams and operations and incorporate web, computer-based technologies and software to make sure that they can still work and operate their businesses from home when needed.The internet and high-tech give us the opportunity to automate processes in order for us to increase our reach and income in faster and smarter ways. That is the beauty of the internet and technology –– they are democratizing almost every aspect of our lives and we have to be smart now and take advantage of it.In Expert DOJO's case, we are currently creating an online training program for startups which will be in the format of college courses and include lectures, workshops and lessons with investors, mentors and industry experts. We are also working on increasing our investors’ database and startup investment portfolio, and diversifying our investment opportunities beyond startup companies.This crisis has made us realize that we need to offer more services to the business community and have the highest execution standards for everything we do in order to survive this and any other future crisis.
-Brian Mac Mahon, CEO and Founder of Expert DOJO
The digitization trend continues across the spectrum of Fiserv companies. The president of a $650 million fund backing religious institutions says Americans are seeking spiritual strength more than ever –– and he’s committed to providing the financial backing:
This is not a time for the church to retreat, it is a time for the church to advance. And we intend to help them do that. As the world adjusts to the spread of COVID-19 and Americans adjust to the realities of social distancing, the need for the church and for spiritual strength is magnified. Our commitment is to provide transformational capital to churches because our mission is to help churches grow.
-Dusty Rubeck, President of CDF Capital
To say that the automotive industry has felt the crunch during the coronavirus crisis is a major understatement. Toyota and Honda reported that sales in April 2020 were half of what they were in the same month last year.
While dealerships are seeing reduced sales action, auto lenders are busy handling a flood of auto loan deferments and other types of financial relief. The catch is that dealerships still need to maintain business continuity for the thinned out business that remains, and lenders need to find ways to modify existing loans without in-person interaction or stacks of paperwork.
Many dealerships and auto lenders are working hard to increase the level of customer care during this time by proactively reaching out to borrowers, offering special payment options, and maintaining extremely stringent levels of hygiene in dealerships. Customers will remember the companies that watched out for them during the coronavirus, and will likely be more loyal to those who did.
One Toyota dealership is going the extra mile to provide the highest hygiene standards, special payment options, and assistance with recalls:
For many automotive dealerships, their parts and service departments are helping to maintain dealership business during these unprecedented times. A recent study found that 85% of car buyers indicated that the service department experience impacts their likelihood to purchase. And some research has found that 40% of a dealership’s overall income can originate from the service department.At Toyota of San Bernardino, my team is offering a variety of services to help customers during these times –– and expect they will last well beyond the current global crisis:
We’ve implemented car pick up and delivery service with extra special sanitizing and cleaning efforts. Our delivery personnel are going the extra mile to care for our customers’ cars.
We’re offering special payment options through Sunbit, a technology company that helps consumers (across the credit spectrum) to split their purchase into three, six, or 12-month payments at reasonable APRs.
We’re taking the time to address Toyota recalls and assist customers who might have a little extra time right now to get the necessary recall work done.
We believe that providing excellent car service will bring many of the same customers back when they’re ready to purchase their next Toyota.
-Dave Woodland, Service Director atToyota San Bernardino
Insurance companies during the coronavirus have a tremendous opportunity to reduce bulky paperwork and burdensome in-person sales meetings. Many insurance companies now have staff working remotely and are using videoconferencing and phone calls to communicate with customers. It is likely that even after the pandemic passes, insurance agents will find they are more productive with their time and can reach more clients by serving and selling to them remotely.
The insurance executives we spoke to were, unsurprisingly given their industry, highly attuned to issues of risk and safety. They have drawn up detailed plans to minimize employee and customer exposure to the virus, while assuring customers that they are still operating.
There are also growing numbers of business interruption insurance claims and coronavirus-related health insurance claims. Insurance policies often don’t cover these types of unforeseen losses due to pandemics, partially because they need to maintain a significant surplus to cover an increase in natural disasters.
Despite the limitations on insurers’ ability to cover losses related to the coronavirus, insurers are adapting to the new normal brought about by the pandemic, and seeking other ways to support their customers remotely and safely during these challenging times.
The VP of Global Risk Management at this insurance company puts safety measures and effective communication first:
A first step to any organization maintaining its business during the COVID-19 situation has to begin with ensuring the safety of its employees. This may require the employer to procure products to protect the staff (PPE) if they are required to have public contact or it could involve sending the staff home to work remotely.Remember that the public may not recognize that the business is still operating, which falls on key marketing efforts to educate the customers on the best way to continue to use the services or purchase products from the organization. An active marketing campaign and strong outreach to customers is warranted during these times.Our organization has taken several steps to maintain our BC during the COVID-19 situation:
We have been preparing for the potential pandemic for many years and our strategy included a solid work from home model for all office workers. This entailed providing laptops and other tools to make the home a potential work space.
We identified those key business functions that required office space while making sure that there was limited traffic in their area. We utilized a rotation program in the beginning to minimize the number of staff in the building at any one time.
We prioritized communication with employees and customers. Communication is critical during this event. It is OK to admit that not all the answers are known. Leveraging various information sources and monitoring announcements from the CDC and WHO organizations should provide ample awareness in the proper approach to reduce the risk and flatten the curve.
The insiders we spoke to admitted that the healthcare industry has typically lagged when it comes to adopting digital transformation initiatives. This makes the industry’s overall success in serving patients remotely and digitally during the coronavirus even more remarkable.
Clinics and hospitals are providing telemedicine services, prescriptions are being digitized, and remote patient monitoring is becoming more mainstream. The sudden spike in usage of such digital tools has its origins in the need for safe, remote patient transactions. But healthcare practitioners are seeing other benefits from switching to digital channels, including saved time and lowered costs.
Legacy systems never served patients or doctors well; now they are a liability. The effort to replace them with modernized systems is likely to continue well into the future.
One CEO of a precision medicine company is impressed by how quickly the healthcare industry adopted digital tools, and encourages providers to maintain these positive changes after the crisis ends:
Having been an investor and entrepreneur in healthcare for two decades, I’ve watched an industry that could become efficient, lower costs and better connect with patients and caregivers, scoff at technology –– citing bureaucracy, policies no one can explain, and resource constraints.Then the pandemic hit. Amazingly, telemedicine is now here in full force. Practitioners were forced, whether in intensive care or general practice, to use video to reach patients safely and maintain care. Payers expand CPT codes overnight. New revenue models, technology platforms, and care delivery are born. I think the impact of these changes will force payers to revisit drivers of costs in healthcare and rethink what’s necessary. Providers will be redefining themselves for years to come. Those that embrace technology will fare better than those that stick with pre-pandemic practices.
-Tracy Warren, CEO of Astarte Medical
Consulting and PR
Consulting agencies and boutique agencies have traditionally relied on in-person meetings to gain new deals –– especially lucrative ones. This model is now being jeopardized due to the coronavirus, putting revenue at risk. And with businesses across the world faltering, agencies are often seen as an unneeded extra expense.
To cope with reduced revenue streams, the agency executives we spoke to are focused on cutting discretionary costs and applying for grants while amping up the value they deliver to their customers. They are going the extra mile to serve their customers in an empathetic way, while providing them with useful educational resources and innovative solutions.
Overall, they have seen success with remote work and flexible hours, which keeps agency workers focused on serving customers in an agile way while serving employee needs.
To ensure business continuity, the CEO of a leading marketing agency has taken a four-step approach, including applying for the PPP:
We made tough choices: Our leadership team, after considering the data before us, made the very difficult decision to lay off two employees and convert two others to contractors. We love our team more than words can say, and we already miss it as it was. At the same time, we knew for sure that as a small business we would not hit revenue goals as planned in this downturn, and that our colleagues would likely have better chances now in finding new employment and/or securing unemployment than they might in another couple of months. It was absolutely heartbreaking. As an adjusted team, we turned our attention to how we can be of highest and best service to those small businesses similarly affected.
We changed how we talk: We re-evaluated our vision statement, which read, "To help people create marketing, careers and lives they never dreamed possible," and seemed hyperbolic at best in this new climate. We adjusted it to read, "To help people create focused communications to overcome any obstacle," which we honestly believe we can do for the folks in our industries. This pivot helped us to renew our sense of purpose in all this madness, and makes clear to our clients, prospects and target audience that we have their best interest in mind and can help them through this.
We focused on new opportunities for innovation: We have revisited our SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis with a particular focus on opportunities. Our clients have different needs now than they did even a month ago, and we are fully focused on uncovering those new needs with programmatic surveys then identifying from that data opportunities we have for meeting those needs. This approach will both help us more readily hit our revenue and profit projections and will also help our clients do the same.
We applied for funding: We applied for the Payroll Protection Program, the Spanx by Sara Blakely Foundation $5 million grant program to support female entrepreneurs, and the Facebook $100 million Small Business Grants Program.
We continue to seek every opportunity we can tap to weather this storm. So far, we have delivered webinars to about 3,000 attendees in our industry nationwide, gained about 1,200 marketing qualified leads and gained about 120 sales qualified leads. More than that, we can sleep at night knowing we were of true service and help to other small businesses that needed support in how to communicate to their team and clients during this crisis. As the Stockdale Paradox reminds us all, "You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be." We will survive!-Wendy O'Donovan Phillips, CEO of Big Buzz Brands
The president of an ad agency founded in 1980 keeps the personal touch –– with a remote twist:
I am in the advertising business, and if you don't make sure to see your clients in person as often as you can, someone else will. During the coronavirus shutdowns, be sure to speak with your clients by phone as often as possible. Meet with them via Zoom and follow-up with letters and emails and every kind of personal contact you can because with all the strains on business right now, now more than ever, if you don't schmooze, you'll lose.-Robert Barrows, President of R.M. Barrows, Inc.
A Top 50 US accounting firm is embracing flexible, remote work while keeping clients’ needs top of mind:
I think that the most important piece of any business continuity plan, to me, is the ability to constantly adapt and react to the situation at hand. At the beginning of this crisis, we thought, “How many weeks will this temporary situation last?” Now, however, it’s becoming clear that we may never go back to exactly the same “business as usual” environment as before. Here’s some of what we’re doing that’s different:
We’re more flexible with hours: Our commitment to exceptional client service is, and always has been, the most important aspect of our business model. Delivering on that commitment and promise is key –– the hours in which it happens aren’t necessarily 9-5 anymore. We have focused on being flexible and supportive to all our team members’ unique situations, which has always been a foundational aspect of our company culture.
We have a strategy for remote work: In the first days of this crisis, we identified essential business functions that could only be performed in the office and were needed to ensure we properly service our clients and maintain our business continuity. We then invested in technology to allow our entire team to work from home concurrently. This investment and focus on technology have always been part of our five-year strategic plan, but became mission critical in today’s environment.
We promote wellness via video chat: Once the technology was in place, we educated our team on the benefits of using the technologies at hand to stay connected. We have daily huddles with our teams; there are video meetings, lunches, and brainstorming sessions happening every day. We’re helping our team to be as productive as possible while also encouraging them to take breaks to spend time with their families, get some fresh air, and recharge. One of the best ways we are using technology in my mind is our daily stretching break, offered to our entire team. We have partnered with a wellness coach who leads stretching exercises every afternoon through video chat. This has been very well received and creates a built-in break for our team throughout the country.
We’re helping and educating our customers digitally: Connection and communication on the client service side is equally important. We are actively encouraging our team to reach out to their clients and ask how they’re doing, what challenges they’re facing, and how we can work through those challenges together. We have increased our digital footprint and prioritized providing timely, relevant information to the outside world in new ways. Whether we are putting out industry-specific articles or putting on a webinar explaining the CARES Act or PPP program, we are making sure our clients are getting the information that is essential to their business continuity and planning.
-Lori A. Roth, CPA/ABV, CFF National Managing Partner atPrager Metis
Of course, challenges abound when it comes to adjusting to such an abrupt event like the coronavirus. This marketing agency is working hard to focus on key areas like security and communication:
Some of the challenges, but also opportunities with virtual business are maintaining a good work culture, connecting physically with clients, battling security issues with data and calls, and learning the best systems to scale your operations for seamless internal/external communications.-Steve Seidel, founder of The Seidel Agency
Few industries were as unwittingly prepared for a pandemic as high-tech. High-tech companies by definition provide digital technological solutions to problems, which is precisely what is needed during this era of social distancing. Furthermore, many high-tech jobs are natural fits for remote work, and even sales cycles have increasingly been managed via phone and email rather than in person.
While high-tech hasn’t taken the same hit as many other industries, very few companies are completely spared from the effects of a floundering economy. Venture capital money has winded down to a trickle of what it was, and prospective customers have less money for new products. To buoy revenue, high-tech companies that have a unique way of helping consumers or other businesses cope with the coronavirus are offering discounts and promotional offers. Many are also helping customers use their products in creative ways to overcome new challenges.
Finally, remote work and flexible hours, which have long been more common in high-tech than in other industries, are likely to become the norm. Many executives who were previously concerned about the effects of flexible work on employee productivity have now turned into believers.
A digital “suggestion box” software company discovers its added value during the crisis, and is offering a special promotional offer:
Our suggestion box application is being used throughout the world to assist organizations in managing, adapting, and mitigating issues surrounding the coronavirus. Thousands of employees are staying engaged and making innovative suggestions to do what’s necessary to prevent the virus from harming their daily operations. DirectSuggest is normally no more than $0.50 per-employee per-month, but we are currently offering a free 90-day promotional offer to assist in spreading the level of impact we can make on businesses throughout the world.-Riley Moore, CEO of Direct Suggest
The CEO of a cross-platform SaaS company sees the advantages of a newly flexible working hours policy, and wants to keep it:
We’ve actually been working remotely since day one and that’s how we based all of our operations. The co-founders and all employees come from different countries in Europe, so this was a natural decision. Ever since the pandemic started, we introduced one change: everyone can now work flexible hours. Since all of our families are at home, working standard 9-5 hours has become virtually impossible, especially for parents with small children.When the pandemic dies down, we’ll stick to flexible working hours because we’ve found it much easier to shape work around life and not the other way around. We’ve been much more productive working remotely because we can work at the times when it suits us best. For example, I do my best work very late in the evening, and this is something I couldn’t have done before. I think it’s a change for the better and during this time of crisis, we managed to speed up our development, reach our marketing goals, and get double the amount of work done compared to just a few months ago.-Malte Scholz,Co-founder of Airfocus
Customer-first is digital-first. And digital-first is customer-first.
The coronavirus has served as a kind of litmus test for which businesses have staying power. Customers will remember which businesses moved fast to serve them in a safe and efficient manner –– and which made their lives more difficult and complicated.
Whether it’s by embracing videoconferencing, remote work, digital tools, or all of the above, businesses that sell and serve the way their customers want them to will be better positioned to thrive in the future.
Once this crisis ends, customers will be able to go back to standing on long lines, meeting with agents at inconvenient times, and filling out piles of physical paperwork.
The question is, will they want to? And the answer is a resounding no. Convenience is king, and has been for a while. The coronavirus simply accelerated it. Companies that today prioritize the customer experience, of which seamless digital services play a large part, will earn their customers’ loyalty tomorrow.
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