Listening to your community during uncertainty can propel business

COVID-19 has devastated businesses across many sectors in Central Ohio. With almost 11 million Americans still unemployed at the end of 2020, there is simply less spending across the U.S., with no firm rebound in sight.

Companies have had to take a hard look at their sector to prepare for the days and months ahead. In the auto industry, we saw drops as big as 48 percent in automotive travel when the pandemic began. With fewer people on the roads, the outlook didn’t seem promising for the industry.

But, if COVID-19 has taught our business community anything, it is that we’re all in this together. Consumers are listening to what small businesses need as best they can and helping however they’re able — and we owe them the same benefit. Listening to the community, hearing their problems and adapting your business model to address their needs in real time can propel your business in a time of crisis and beyond.

Humanize customer relationships

Learning how the crisis changed the needs of your customers and patterns within your industry is essential to set a foundation that helps your company weather the storm.

Using industry-specific online forums and social media to research problems customers are experiencing is a great place to start. Humanize your relationship with customers by asking them to sample your products and provide honest feedback. That can go a long way to help your company thoughtfully alter your product lines, price points and services to provide a solution that makes sense for your customers’ new pandemic realities.

Listen to real-time consumer problems

As many consumers experienced a lasting decrease in disposable income during the pandemic, predicting how spending in your industry has shifted and will continue to shift is key to informing your current and future product line. As you humanize your consumer relationships and solicit direct feedback, you can gain specific insights. We learned, for example, that people were likely not going to trade in their car heading into the summer as they planned to be more conservative about spending during a time of uncertainty.

This prompted us to ask how we could alter our product line to create affordable products to make consumers’ cars last longer. To get through uncertainty, leaders must figure out a way to help customers and minimize their pain points, even if the solution doesn’t fit the current business model.

Create real-time solutions

Sometimes you have to pivot your strategy to cater to the customer with real-life solutions in times of crisis. By soliciting real-time feedback and understanding consumer problems, LSI learned that we needed to launch products in the RV market as travel trends shifted.

As we audited other ways we could leverage our business’s resources to address the most urgent needs in our community, we modified our production line to manufacture and produce around 200,000 units of hand sanitizer to both donate and sell on our site.

Each business, consumer, and community member has experienced COVID-19 differently. But at our core, we all have a goal to get through this to the other side. We’re stronger together, and by truly listening to our community, we can find ourselves closer to the other side, and potentially even learn how to operate better as a business along the way.

Chris Gabrelcik is founder & CEO of Lubrication Specialties Inc.