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Why we need to prepare for the next crisis now

Technology will enable a radical rethink that lasts forever.

Why we need to prepare for the next crisis now

Nine tumultuous months ago, consumers would head to big box retailers to purchase all types of consumer electronics: PCs and laptops, printers and monitors, phones, webcams and tablets. As part of the purchase, the on-site sales advisor would ask the customer if they wanted to buy additional “affinity items,” such as cases, cables, or software.

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But when the pandemic shuttered the economy back in March, consumers switched to buying online, creating a gap in the normal face-to-face sales process. Without a salesperson present, there was no upsell prompt to add these affinity items.

Suppliers and retailers had to work together to pivot to a digital-first method of prompting additional sales; implementing contactless purchase options at in-store point-of-sale kiosks, or digital after-sales reminders and incentives. This is just one example of a much larger transformation that has taken place across the economy and around the world over the last 3 quarters.

Many companies and sectors have been deeply wounded by the pandemic, and the loss of jobs is undeniably terrible. But others, after the initial shock subsided, have radically rethought how they operate, and adapted quickly to the constraints of this new reality.

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It’s not exclusively the big, established, tech-savvy firms that have tapped into the commercial opportunities as we shift quickly–and permanently—from the physical world to the digital one. In fact, many large organizations failed to adapt and have simply disappeared since the start of 2020, while digitally-savvy, forward-thinking companies and entrepreneurs have seized on the opportunities.

Rethinking how your customers want to engage with you is vital. What should be an on-going process is often one organizations ignore—at their peril! Businesses should be constantly looking at the customer experience, and thinking about how to make it more digital, more personal, and more engaging.

These changes must be part of a continual evolution, not a temporary response to a crisis. The recent shift to a digital-first mindset certainly came more rapidly than anyone could have predicted—but was largely inevitable.

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Think about supply chains. Thirty years ago, companies of all types began moving to just-in-time delivery. Sensible, right? You keep inventory off the books until the very moment it’s needed. Good for cash flow, supported by automated ordering systems, “just- in time” became ubiquitous.

But the pandemic wreaked havoc on many supply chains, resulting in well documented supermarket shortages of toilet paper, cleaning products and flour. For many businesses, this has forced not just a shift in normal trading practices, but a total change of mindset. Today, you must rethink your business to be permanently wired to anticipate disruption and adapt to sudden change.

Organizations and business leaders must accept radical change as a constant, not an exception. And if they haven’t already shifted to this new mindset, it might already be too late. And here’s the pay-off: the more you make digital your primary strategy, the more adaptive your business becomes.

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In this new world, the winners will be those firms that consciously develop a culture of flexibility and rethink how we use the information at our fingertips to withstand the next shock. Of course, not all products and services can be provided digitally, and the widespread move to remote working and reduction in travel will continue to ripple through the economy for years to come. It will impact commercial landlords, transportation companies, retail, business services, and even residential development.

But I’m confident that we’ll start to see new, innovative, groundbreaking solutions to these and many other issues, all underpinned by a digital-first, agile, and adaptive mindset.

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The author is the SVP & CMO of OpenText.

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