Content provided by Global Business Solutions by Google's International Growth Team
Strong operations management has always been a vital part of ensuring business growth and sustainability. During times of crisis, your business may well be faced with several operational challenges, the precise nature of which can vary by market. Here are some best practice approaches you can use to help guide you through moments like this:
Be transparent and upfront
We're all human, and most people accept that things can go wrong or get delayed, especially in times like these. The key is to be communicative, and keep people informed of what they can expect, and when.
- On your website, clearly state your lead times, costs and returns policy.
- Tell customers what changes or disruption they're likely to experience, and be upfront about the need for flexibility.
- Even if you're not yet experiencing delays, start communicating these messages as soon as possible on your website — and proactively follow up with things like order confirmation and shipping emails.
Establish a command centre
Task your top team — Procurement Manager, Logistics Manager, CFO, Head of HR, Head of Sales and Head of Marketing — to oversee supply chain stabilisation. Their key activities should include:
- Assessing which of your tier 1, 2 and 3 suppliers may be unable to fulfill their obligations because of the pandemic.
- Managing pre-booking logistics capacity and optimising routes as much as possible.
- Pinpointing the most critical parts/products and ensuring they're in the most optimal locations.
- Running different scenario-based sales and operations planning for SKU level demand. This will help inform and shape production and sourcing.
Focus on your most important customers and products
Develop clear rules and priorities around your products and customers. Once you've set and agreed them, communicate them around the business.
- Establish rules based on current levels of demand, supply and capacity for your most important products.
- Decide which of your customer segments should have priority, based on their needs, urgency and lifetime value to the business.
Review and assist your most important suppliers
- Which of your suppliers make the most critical parts? Are there alternatives? Consider the costs vs benefits of giving extra support to these suppliers. For example, improved payment terms, bridge loans, or even potential equity.
- When things return to normal, be mindful that a sudden spike in production can lead to quality issues, especially if you're working with new suppliers, or existing suppliers are having to re-start.
Check your contracts for force majeure
Many logistics providers are claiming force majeure – entitling them to legally cease operations or services in times of extenuating circumstances. This may leave your business vulnerable, so quickly identify which of your contracts have this clause, and prepare for the implications.
Be proactive with customers
It's understandable for people to request refunds, make cancellations and start tightening their belts in times of financial strain. But there are steps you can take to minimise the impact on your business and reduce chargebacks requests.
- Try offering alternative products or services. For example, store credit if you're a retailer, or new travel dates if you're a travel firm.
- How about offering customers a discount instead of a refund? Again, travel operators could move bookings for free and waive any fees.
- Develop an internal decision matrix to decide which chargebacks you want to dispute, and the ones you're happy to accept. Bear in mind chargebacks can incur additional fees and take time to process, so it's worth deciding early on which ones to dispute or simply refund.
Understand chargeback rules
The domestic and international credit card operators you use may have different liability rules. For example, some allow cardholders up to 6 months to initiate a chargeback, so it's important you're aware of the risk and future implications.
Speak to your payment processors
Ask them which trends they're seeing in the market right now, and what steps other businesses like yours within the same Merchant Category Code are taking to get ahead of the situation and soften the impact.
Understand expectations by market
Your global markets will have different rules and expectations around what happens at times like this. Familiarise yourself with them all, and reduce chargebacks by launching proactive messaging on the timings and processing of refunds.
Keep customers informed
First and foremost, be proactive and update customers on things like refunds, cancellations or even just small delays in their item being shipped. Not only does that give shoppers a positive feeling about your business, it also helps on an operational level by reducing incoming ticket volumes.
- Update your website to let customers know what's happening. Include a clear CTA (call to action) so they can always reach you if they need to.
- Be open and honest about customer support wait times, and be sure to communicate regular service updates to keep customers informed.
- Where possible, divert customers to any self-serve resources you offer, like chatbots or FAQs.
Prioritise business-critical customer support workflow
You'll also need to manage your key customer support operations and keep everything running like clockwork.
- Create a workflow prioritisation plan to help you Define, Plot, Review and Decide.
- Develop a business continuity strategy. This will help you decide which workflows are most critical; prioritise your most important channels and user segments; and manage your backlog more effectively.
Enable and manage remote support teams to provide seamless customer service
- Make sure all your agents are fully trained on your messaging guidelines to customers. That's especially critical during sensitive times like these.
- Develop an effective change management process, so your customer support teams can easily read, acknowledge or find updated comms.
- Setting up regular video calls and 'check in' business reviews will create a continuous feedback loop where managers can tap into customer sentiment, and base decisions around it.
- Lastly, re-evaluate and define new measures of success and new performance management processes. This will encourage your teams to deliver high-quality interactions, even when agents are working from home.
Use the right language
Ensure all your urgent customer communications are not only translated to each market, but are sensitively written and appropriate to the moment. If you're unsure of the predominant language in each country, use this free tool.
Flag up important content to your translations teams
Prioritise your communications and ensure any content that's from your top team or related to crisis response, critical messages, or supporting customers takes precedence.
Keep an eye on your analytics
Is your website seeing a spike in visits from new countries? If so, ensure messaging and product information is translated to their preferred language.
Best practices for speeding up your translations
- Always send your original text in editable formats, such as .xml, .csv, .doc, .docx, .txt, etc. Using non-editable formats (e.g. .pdf, .pptx, .ai, etc) will require extra processing that will only slow the process down.
- Tell your translation agency in advance that you'll be sending over some urgent content, then set and agree deadlines to avoid delays.
- Give your translators clear instructions right from the start. This will help reduce back-and-forth communications, which can again slow things down, especially if you're in different time zones.
- Keep stakeholders to a minimum and have a dedicated person in your business who is responsible for the process and dealing with the agency. Make sure your designated in-market reviewers are primed to review the final version before it goes live, too.