How to play the long game

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“It’s crazy to see how flexible we actually are. We always say it’s hard to change, but we’ve now proven as a society that we can change if we really have to.” As an international keynote speaker and expert in customer experience and technology Steven van Belleghem normally spends 99% of his time outside of his home country Belgium. Now he’s working 100% of the time from home. “The first weeks I panicked a little, but I found the energy back to inspire people digitally. It’s the speed of transformation and entrepreneurship that makes the difference. As a person, but also as a company.”

How to play the long game

A crisis like this differentiates the winners from the losers according to Steven van Belleghem. “In this situation, you have to play the long game by adding value to your customers and showing gratitude. It’s all about the willingness to change and keeping your positive entrepreneurial spirit.” Van Belleghem explains the major changes and adaptations that all companies, regardless of the size, should consider to build their brand and reputation.

Think in scenarios
It’s always a good thing to be prepared. However, at this moment it’s impossible to predict what will come. Experts are changing their opinion every week. And sometimes it’s a contradiction of what we heard the week before. As a company, you have to think in scenarios: what will happen next and how can we deal with that. Mental flexibility is really important to prepare your company and employees for the upcoming months and years.

How to play the long game

A good example of being prepared and looking into the future is the transformation of healthy fast food chain Foodmaker in Belgium. After closing 13 take away-restaurants the CEO, Lieven Vanlommel, decided to ask his clients online what they needed during this crisis. Based on the answers he changed the business model and started with healthy meals and meal boxes. Customers can order their box online and the people of Foodmaker deliver it, contactless in a cool box at the door. At this moment they already ask on the website how their guests prefer to have the restaurants after the lockdown: with the do it yourself bar as it was or everything pre-packed.

Add value online
Even though most bakeries and supermarkets are still open because they sell essential products, it still is an opportunity for them to see if they can change their digital approach. Invest more in social channels for example. It’s definitely the moment to rethink your services like online ordering and delivery.

How to play the long game

Show empathy
Adding (online) value to the life of your customers goes further than setting-up online selling and having online customer service. It’s also about communicating: what are you doing during the crisis and what safety measures have you taken. Show empathy. Take into account the worries and the fears that people have.

For example, I saw that the sales of bread machines are booming. That means that lots of people are baking bread at home because they are afraid to go to a bakery or supermarket to buy bread, have the fear that it’s all out of stock or they are afraid of the people instore who touch the bread. There are three things you can communicate:

  • You can explain how you bake the bread and ensure all precautionary measures are taken for it to be safely delivered.
  • You can bring in science to tell them how the baking process works and that there is actually nothing to worry about.
  • You can say ‘let me help you:’ here are a few tricks and recipes to bake better bread at home.


Think of your role in society
We are probably going to see more people having financial issues. Try to rethink your role in society. Instead of dealing with the limits of your business model, you can change your philosophy to actually contribute positively to society. Maybe this is the time that you - as a bakery or supermarket - can help people in need instead of throwing stuff away. The companies that are now investing in their reputation by helping people and adding value to their lives will be on the winning list after the lockdown.

How to play the long game

At Panera Bread in the US for example, they donate everything that has not been sold to homeless people or people with financial problems. The companies that are now investing in their reputation by helping people and add value to their lives will be the ones that are on the top of the list after the lockdown

Let the sales wait
Focus less on commerce and selling. By not working turn-overdriven at this moment, you will probably end in selling more stuff eventually. My current advice for people in sales is to:

  • Reach out to as many clients as possible. Not to sell stuff, but first of all: to ask them how they are doing. Ask them what’s the impact of the crisis on their daily lives and the ones they love. Be sincere and interested in their situation, that makes a big difference.
  • Congratulate clients on how they are approaching the crisis. There are many people and organizations with great initiatives to support society. Follow your clients and customers on Instagram and Facebook and appreciate their actions.
  • Create content that adds value to the lives of your customers. Understand what the dreams and the fears of your customers are. Make content that helps them in achieving their dreams and lowering their fears.


Be prepared for the new normal
Many people say things will never go back to the way they were. I disagree. People crave for the old world. Some things will take a while, but I’m sure people will go out again. People might be a little afraid to step out the door the first time, just like here in Brussels after the attacks in 2016. But life goes on. After a while they will not even think about it anymore.

However, although people crave to go back to their normal life, it doesn’t mean that companies should go back to their old habits. I hope that the flexibility of companies stays. In terms of digital for example, many barriers disappeared. For companies and their employees, there is and was no other option than going digital for communication, commerce and customer service. You need digital to stay in contact with your customers and employees. Even after the lockdown. Maybe we’ll have a lockdown in fall again. Be prepared for even a more digital reality than today.

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