Guest blog by Rhonda Bassett-Spiers, CEO, iTradeNetwork (client)
Making a sale should be the beginning of a customer journey, not the end.
Transactional business practices do not cut it anymore for any industry, and never has that been more apparent than during COVID-19. The pandemic highlighted the need to flip the script for clients and customers. The focus changed from sales to support to keep businesses afloat.
The pandemic severely disrupted the food and beverage industry. For some, it halted everything, but together, we made it through. We listened to others’ needs, stepped in and stepped up to help. Not only did we get through this unprecedented experience, but we also rose above it, emerging better than before.
How did this happen? It happened because of a renewed commitment to corporate social responsibility and a new commitment to build a culture of care for customers.
Building a Culture of Care for Customers
During COVID, we heard a lot about companies recognizing the serious toll the pandemic took on the mental and emotional well-being of employees. Many took action through the creation of new protocols and resources to provide the support needed. Employees were more than just workers; they were people, some like family, going through trauma. Many companies answered the important call to address their employee’s trauma.
But what about recognizing and supporting the toll on our customers? Our customers and clients do not simply exist to pay us. They offer us the opportunity to forge more profound relationships beyond the transactional, especially during a crisis like COVID-19.
COVID’s Impact on Our Industry
Since doors to restaurants and bars were forced shut, and capacity was limited, suppliers’ products had nowhere to go. Grocery stores were running out of supplies as shoppers started panic-buying. The crisis created chaos in the supply chain, but organizations stepped up and helped those in need by innovating new ways to put their products and solutions to use.
During COVID, restaurants had to pivot fast. Despite their own challenges to stay open, many owners turned their restaurants into community kitchens, helping to feed everyone from first-responders to families facing economic hardships. Even those who knew their business would not survive made sure to share what they did have despite that fact.
As of March 2021, just over 10% of restaurants in the U.S. have closed permanently.
As restaurants closed down, grocery stores became essential businesses for families. In 2020, owners added extra store hours, held special store hours for seniors and adapted to technology that allowed for online ordering, deliveries and touch-less in-store payment opportunities. Retailers also became the sites for drive-thru COVID testing and, in 2021, vaccinations ensured the safety of their employees and customers alike.
As a leader in supply chain management, iTradeNetwork recognized that its technology could be a powerful ally in times of crisis. We put our platform to use in a new way that helped companies in the food and beverage supply chain navigate uncertainty.
Just days after the pandemic shut down the world, we recognized our marketplace of more than 8,000 trading partner clients could help others outside of our customer base. Retailers were desperate to find new suppliers to fulfill the gaps, and suppliers were desperate to find new buyers for their goods. Our response was to allow anyone in the industry to register to gain free access to our marketplace.
Last summer, iTradeNetwork partnered with Uber Freight to transform iTradeMarketplace into a donation platform, allowing users to easily donate produce to Feeding America food banks with zero shipping charges.
We continue to work on behalf of our clients, helping them navigate any sudden roadblocks or issues they encounter.
What do you have to offer?
In these times, we need to realize it is not just about making the sale anymore — it is about making connections. To achieve that, it is important to build a culture of care in which the well-being of your customers, and potential customers, is the priority.
How can you create this culture of care? First, you have to make time and space to listen and understand the challenges your customers face. Second, take those challenges and examine the products and solutions you offer. Ask yourself: Is there a better way to use these products? Could they help others? Can they benefit more customers if you provide it for a lower price or provide free access, like iTradeMarketplace?
The point is, focus beyond the bottom line. Look at the whole picture. Take care of your customers and your industry, and the financial reward will follow.
Still not convinced a culture of care is good for your business? Think about this: what is it that drives you to continue to go to the same doctor, the same grocery store and the same restaurant? Is it the transaction, or how they make you feel?
Do you agree? Feel free to comment below.