The following post is courtesy of Diane Harrison who is principal and owner of Panegyric Marketing, a strategic marketing communications firm founded in 2002 specializing in alternative assets.
As the nation slowly reopens businesses and the economy begins to percolate, consumers and investors are struggling to understand how the new norms and protocols for consumerism will affect us all. There are some ominous signs that big cities will suffer from more than viral fallout of stalled businesses, as political factors are also negatively impacting the fabric and infrastructure of urban living. Small businesses have been decimated by Covid-19, but all businesses will feel the burn of a general exodus from city living should enough people decide that virtual working can also mean a greener locale in the suburbs.
RESTARTING PRESENTS A WHOLE SET OF ISSUES TO TACKLE
Prior to the shutdown in March, only about 5.2% of the U.S. workforce was working from home. But the working model has changed suddenly and in a big way. In an April article by Richard Eisenberg in Forbes.com, ‘Is Working From Home The Future of Work?’ Gartner, a business research firm, reported that HR executives surveyed in March 2020 showed ‘76% said the top employee complaint during the pandemic has been “concerns from managers about the productivity or engagement of their teams when remote.’
Gartner’s survey findings also projected that close to half of employees would work remotely at least part of the time after the pandemic. This creates a set of challenges for businesses of all kinds to navigate through: issues of productivity, creativity, engagement, and client relationship management, not to mention profitability. For the financial industry, where marketing is a relationship-driven necessity, how will the new work situations impact fund managers and investors in building and maintaining the trust and service interaction so necessary to long-term success?
HARVARD’S RECOMMENDATION TO HAVE A ‘HEART’
One solution is to break down some basic relationship management steps as described by the Harvard Business Review, which published an online article in April, ‘Ensure That Your Customer Relationships Outlast Coronavirus.’ As the article states: Drawing on nearly 70 years of combined experience in business practice, research, and education, we have found that five key strategies help companies weather crises and preserve their bonds with consumers. Let’s take a look at their 5 strategic suggestions and how they might be adapted to the alternative asset community,
HBR HEART: Humanize your company—spell out the steps you are taking to help customers, employees, and other stakeholders. Your company’s social media sites and customer mailing lists are ideal vehicles for doing this.
For the investment fund community, clear and continual communication is paramount to preserving investor comfort with their fund managers. Stepping up on the frequency, the clarity of content, and the ways in which investment businesses share information with the investors they serve is going to remain a high focus in 2020 and beyond.
HBR HEART: Educate about change—Tell them about all changes to your operation, including new hours, facility closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, and ordering options, among others.
Focus on what is going on with your business— how you are adapting to the new business practices, what investment changes are or aren’t happening and why, and how will you share information with your clients, Since they can’t meet with you and there aren’t large information gatherings being planned, written and video content becomes more important to keep a sense of community going.
HBR HEART: Assure stability—Elaborating these points of assurance is important in reminding consumers that your company’s value proposition — your worth to them — transcends the obstacles imposed by this crisis.
Some topics that will likely be of great interest to investors will be fund managers’ outlook on the economic impact of the global pandemic, which threatens many sectors of the economy. How does that present opportunities and threats to the fund’s focus and portfolio? Risk—the many forms of risk assessment each manager is evaluating and what plans are in place to address these. Operations—how are the vital processes being handled in a decentralized employee environment? As most practices are automated, it’s more about employees supporting each other and working in virtual groups as needed.
HBR HEART: Revolutionize offerings—Tell your existing customers how you are serving them in new ways. Reach out to potential customers by offering new products or services that solve a new problem.
What can a fund manager do to reflect the new way of doing business? If you haven’t had an existing practice of addressing client questions in a proactive way, consider instituting one. Appoint someone to be the Q&A ambassador in terms of gathering investor concerns and getting them the answers they desire. Some issues might be handled in a confidential way with individual investors, but others might be so general it will lead the business to address them on the website and provide updated information to all, giving all investors a sense of the proactive practice of sharing what’s important to the client base.
HBR HEART: Tackle the future—Highlight what your company has learned from the pandemic experience, as well as how these learnings might improve the way your company operates after the pandemic ends. That is, signal that your company will come out stronger on the other side of the storm.
As each of the prior four steps are taken, keeping a Lessons Learned summary will prove helpful not only in getting through this particular challenge, but in providing a solid starting point for whatever might come next. Anticipation of future challenges will be easier to predict if there is someone in the firm, much like the Q&A ambassador, charged with organizing what you have addressed and made changes to as well as capturing potential challenges that come. Sharing success stories with your clients not only improves communication with them, but conveys a sense of optimism and adaptability that all of us are craving.