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The Coronavirus Crisis: Burdens for Business—and Brand-New Opportunities

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Right now, businesses around the world are in crisis. Many entrepreneurs and business owners are being forced to violate the terms of their contracts and agreements—to their detriment—so people won’t be physically or financially harmed. In these times of uncertainty, we must all come together, not place blame, or force one group to incur the pain caused by COVID-19. As we work toward solutions, it’s more reasonable to share the burden. 

For instance, when I canceled a flight on Alaska Air, I was given no refund and no flight credit. That was our agreement. When I canceled a flight on Southwest, I was given no refund, but I received a credit that expires in a year. That was our agreement.  

Some companies are forcing the entire burden on one party. Airbnb, for example, is forcing homeowners to give a full refund, in violation of the renter’s agreement, to any guest who cancels a reservation. They aren’t giving consideration to the extreme hardship this may cause the homeowner; they’re only looking out for the traveler. But all sides deserve attention and careful thought.   

Vrbo, a competitor of Airbnb, is encouraging, but not forcing, homeowners to give refunds or reschedule trips. Although there’s no perfect policy, this does give the business owner, in this case the homeowner, a say in the transaction. Most homeowners, if they are able, are offering refunds or rescheduling trips even though their agreement doesn’t legally say they have to. They realize there’s a person or family on the other end of the transaction. 

This example highlights the opportunities that are emerging from the dark shadows of the virus. Vrbo saw an opportunity for equity and policies that will empower more users. Arbnb did not.

There are ways we can all cautiously make our way through this crisis, shoulder its impacts together, and even come out on top. Here are four places to start:

Redefine business as usual. Across the U.S., businesses are modifying hours, temporarily closing stores, and limiting inventory—and they’re clearly communicating why. The net effect? Businesses and consumers are sharing the burden as customers modify their expectations and behaviors.

Look for an opening. The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted gaps in our supply chain, how consumers access goods and services, and how we work and communicate. And it’s provided unique openings for savvy entrepreneurs to step in: Distilleries are making hand sanitizer. Garment makers are sewing masks. Restaurants are offering new takeout and delivery menus. Tech companies are helping us monitor our health.

Are you able to retrofit aspects of your business to answer current needs? Can you shift your delivery method from onsite to door-to-door or from in-person to digital? Look for these opportunities.

Focus on retention and loyalty. Customer retention is one of the most overlooked aspects of business. Typically, it’s five to 25 times more expensive to secure a new customer than it is to keep one you already have. During the coronavirus crisis, almost every aspect of your business can be refined for retention and loyalty.

For example, if your customers are feeling stressed and uncertain, exemplary customer service may be the salve they need. Staying in front of your clients with offers that make their lives easier—via low-cost digital marketing campaigns—may be an answer. Talk to your customers directly to gain insights. How can you better serve them during this crisis? What do they need?

Plan your side hustle. If you’ve lost your job or had a downturn in revenue, now may be a good time to plan that side hustle you’ve been pondering. Make the best of this downtime to write up your plan. Even if it’s not complete, treat it as a dynamic document to flesh out later. Talk your idea through with people to get their honest opinions. Start your execution and get a website going, or formulate your go-to-market strategy.

Entrepreneurs, by their very nature, are risk-takers and optimists. They know that this crisis will pass, and business will resume. Consumers will hopefully reward companies that were understanding during this life changing time. Just remember there are always multiple sides to every transaction.

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