Since early March, expressions like social distancing, pandemic, quarantine and isolation have begun to be part of our lives and of our daily conversations. All thanks to the (not so friendly) coronavirus, which appeared, as if out of nowhere, and forced us to rethink and transform, in an almost absolute manner, the way we work, the way we live and the way we see ourselves, pushing us into this ‘low touch economy’.
Never before (and in this ‘beautiful garden by the sea’ we’ve seen our fair share of big crises) ‘doing business’ has been so challenging.
In the Algarve – where the business community is ‘fragile’ and characterised mainly by micro-companies, with a strong dependence on tourism – staying afloat is a Herculean task. We were not prepared.
We were also not prepared for the changes we had to make to our lifestyle. We are Latin, Mediterranean and with a very marked Arab heritage in our behaviour, even if we do not realise it. Talking with your hands, touching others in the middle of a conversation (even those we don’t know well), saying hi with a couple of kisses when we meet someone, is rooted in our way of functioning. And our relationships are all personal, even in a professional capacity – it’s not the director of company X, it’s Joana; it is not the Y association it’s Rui; it is not the title, nor the position occupied, it’s that person that makes that company, that business. We know the overwhelming majority of our customers by name; we know their children, their sorrows and their joys.
After a long period of lockdown, which tested our sanity, we have now started the ‘deconfinement’ process. But now we have 2 metres between us and the customers, a mask on our face and, not infrequently, an acrylic wall to separate us. And the proximity, not only physical, but the one we had when we ‘did business’, has gone, giving way to what many call ‘the new normal’.
I must confess the concept is a little daunting at first – “I liked the ‘old normal’, can’t we go back to the way it was?” The short answer is: no. But if we give it a few minutes (or a few hours) another question may actually arise: why do we so desperately want to go back, if we’ve heard, for most of our lives, that ‘moving forward is the way to go’? Undoubtedly, change can be challenging, terrifying at times, but it was thanks to evolution that humanity has arrived where it is now (and I will refrain from rambling about whether this is a good or bad place, in light of everything we know today – asking you to do the same – because we would be here forever and it would completely change the scope of this discussion).
The creativeness and the ‘desenrasca’ spirit have always been taken to the limit by us Portuguese. So, why doubt our ability to take this new boat to safe haven? It is true that we do not yet know how to navigate these waters perfectly. But don’t forget that the automation of processes (and I am not talking about factory assembly lines), the digitisation of companies, remote working, online meetings, the ability to function without our cash flow depending on direct contact between customers and salespeople, are not new concepts. They are trends that already existed and have been accelerated now, given the circumstances, and that are expected to be assimilated by most sectors and companies after the crisis caused by this pandemic.
E-commerce will continue to grow and become, for many, the preferred way of shopping, even for products that traditionally were not sold online. Social Media and PPC (pay-per-click) ads, like Google Ads, will now be entitled to the largest chunk of our marketing budgets. Customers want autonomy in the purchase process and will demand more intuitive and accessible sales platforms, so it’s time to go through the websites and to create landing pages designed exclusively for selling a single product or service (yes, one for each one, if you want to increase conversions!).
And if, at this point, you’re thinking that you will have to reach into your pocket again, at a time when most pockets have little or nothing to give, I may be able to have some good news – by adopting this type of business model, you will be able to make some (serious) savings.
Maybe you will realise that you do not need an office after all (or at least not such a big one) and pocket the rent money for the coming months (or years). On the other hand, the Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) will decrease, because procedures will be more efficient, and you may just need a smaller team, working from home (where, trust me, they will most likely be also more productive). If you outsource some of the more technical issues, you will be able to have a group of professionals working for you, possibly spending much less money than the salary you would have to pay to a single employee who would hardly be able to do ‘everything’ well.
Don’t be afraid to take a have look at what you do and take the chance to identify opportunities, without fear of falling flat on your face. But beware, the distancing in this new way of working does not mean that you will no longer have to ‘know your customers by name’. You might start to know them by their username, or by their avatar, or by their e-mail address, but you need to remain attentive to their needs, just like you did before, so that you can suggest them that special gift for their little girl who will be celebrating her birthday soon, or that bottle of wine to celebrate a new joyful moment (or drown the most recent sorrow).
You have to keep listening to your customers, to ‘know them by heart’ and to interact with them, only now, most of the time, you will have a computer monitor or a mobile phone screen between you and them.
Welcome to the low touch economy. Embrace it!