The last time oil prices crashed and caused an economic downturn in Canada, we learned a lot of lessons. Looking back on it now, it helped us be better prepared for the COVID crisis that few saw coming.
We’re sharing some of our lessons with you as they might help you navigate these uncertain times.
Protect your customer base
Back in 2015, we watched as our customers call volumes, journeys and work alone sessions went into free fall. While we were actively looking at cash and controlling expenses, we were not as proactive at reaching out to our customers as we likely should have been. Like many business owners facing their first huge downturn, we were somewhat paralyzed by fear.
This time around, we sprang into action immediately and began calling customers one by one. We genuinely had our customers’ best interests at heart when we made the calls and the effort was incredibly well-received. In doing so, we learned ways we could quickly help them pivot in their service models and we put our entire solutions delivery team into production mode to help execute on change requests.
Many of our customers required a reduction in their call volume requirements; we made it easy for them to change their package and acted quickly to ensure changes were made immediately. Others expected an increase in call volumes as they closed their offices and handed 100% of their calls to us. We were able to help them plan for the surge of incoming calls accordingly.
Whether we helped increase or reduce rate packages, everyone we spoke to appreciated the personal touch point. A little hand holding goes a long way. We want our customers to feel supported and know we are there for them now and will be there for them when business returns to normal.
Diversify the customer base
In 2015 we were heavily invested in the oil & gas industry. Our biggest clients were oil companies and they represented a huge portion of our revenue. We were vulnerable. Since then, we’ve made a conscious effort to diversify our client base.
This time around, we don’t have as many eggs in that basket. While the oil and gas industry was the early adopter of many of the safety services we were offering, other industries were starting to see the value. Our rule of thumb was that no single customer would represent more than 15% of our total revenue, and no industry more than 30%.
When employees are on edge, their work will suffer, and the overall atmosphere within the organization can become tense. During the last economic downturn, we began something we now call the “weekly message from the CEOs”.
At the time, it was a daily message (you can scale the cadence of the message according to the economic climate) and the purpose was to let employees know what was going on day-to-day. A steady hand during uncertain times allows for the team to follow suit and have confidence in their leaders.
Our weekly message consists of a few words from the CEOs, and each department contributes a mini report of the week’s activities and what is coming in the following week. Its intent was to ensure everyone felt informed. We were brutally honest regarding the changes in the business and the layoffs that were pending. No one was left guessing, and while the news was often heartbreaking, we learned that complete transparency was by far the best strategy.
At every quarterly planning session, we conduct an exercise called Start, Stop, Keep. Our leadership team brings forth ideas regarding roadblocks that need fixing or improvements (Starts); what we are doing that is of no value (Stops); and what is working well (Keeps). Without fail, during every single planning session the #1 “Keep” is the weekly message. It has become a valued part of our culture and was easy to spin up to a daily message during the recent flurry of activity to mobilize our team to work remotely.
Protect your customer base. Reach out regularly and keep them informed.
Communicate with your team, every day, or minimum every week, depending on how dynamic the situation is.
Diversify. pivot now if you’re able, but long-term, think about how you can diversify your customer or product base to make you less vulnerable to future economic shocks.
Ask for help
Don’t be afraid to put your hand up and ask for help. Nobody has it all figured out, but there are organizations like ours who have been through economic downturns before and are willing to share what we’ve learned throughout the years.
Please feel free to reach out to either of our Co-CEOs. Syd and Cindy are available by email – firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com. They’re always up for chatting with peers in the business community.