COVID-19 guide to businesses: Helping your customers and partners

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COVID-19 guide to businesses: Helping your customers and partners

These are trying and uncertain times. Now more than ever, our global community must come together to face the coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) crisis.

It has been many years since the global economy has faced such counterproductive conditions that stem mainly from stalling activity in order to protect human health. But disruption is not something new. It has been a condition for businesses, governments, and societies for generations, and increasingly so in our modern tech-fueled world.

What do we do now? That is the question every business, every government, every family and every individual are asking themselves as COVID-19 spreads across the globe.

In addition to stay calm and be patient – because also this crisis will go over – there are things you as a business can do.

IBM Institute for Business Value has published a four-part guide to helping you, as a business leader, to structure your thinking in how to cope with the crisis, addressing: 1. Your employees. 2: Your customers and partners 3: Your finances and your suppliers and – not least – 4. Your wider ecosystem including local communities.

COVID-19 responseThe full guide with detailed recommendations for each part can be downloaded for free – see below.

Zooming in on one part of the COVID-19 guide to businesses: Customers and partners

We are required to keep ‘social distance’ – this also goes for meeting f2f with our customers and partners.  In addition, uncertainties with employees and suppliers may lead to unmet commitments and customers may lose trust in you.  On the other hand, it is also in times of crisis that you can prove yourself as a trusted partner:

Hopefully, you already have these policies and actions in place, but for sake of good order, let me recap them here:

  • A reset of your “business as usual” communications activities so that customers and others are not receiving out-of-context or tone-deaf messaging.
  • Clear information about the cleanliness and health of your facilities and your products, as well as any changes to business practices (locations, hours, delivery expectations, etc.).
  • A communications strategy and specific cadence, including outreach from the CEO, other executives and leaders and 1-on-1 engagement with the most valued customers and partners. Don’t underestimate the need for over-communication at this time.
  • A multi-channel mechanism for accessing and resolving questions, including consistent social media listening and appropriate response mechanism.
  • A program to solicit immediate feedback—on your communications, your activities, your products, and services—to inform and improve your efforts.

Also, you must consider how you can help customers with liquidity problems balanced with an updated policy on how you handle your overall credit risk.

New business opportunities and ways of conducting business emerge

Questions business Coronavirus

Most businesses will experience decreased demand for their products/services, and this may be a lever for creative management teams to rethink their business model and come up with new intermediate or permanent new business areas. We already see examples here in Denmark, as globally – of distilleries and factories quickly reconfiguring their production – or part of it – to produce clinical ventilators, protection equipment, and disinfectants. In China, Sinopec – an oil company – started selling boxes with vegetables from 340 gas stations – delivered contactless directly into the trunks of customers’ cars.  Small business?  They sell on average 600 per day per station.

Another trend, which we are convinced will come out of this crisis, are increased expectations by customers to engage with the companies through digital channels and a better, digital user experience. Business-to-business practices with physical meetings will more often be conducted virtually through web meetings, both in private and public sectors. Actually – yesterday evening – was the first time ever that our local city council had their monthly meeting virtually – and the first reports say, that it was a great success.  We see brick & mortar shops offer face-time shopping (customers interact with shop owner/assistant via facetime to see and buy clothes) with local, same-day door-to-door delivery, etc.

In our IBM Garage and IBM Client Innovation Centers, we are now running 100% virtual business opportunity mapping, ideation and design thinking workshops with customers to meet this increased demand. Doing this remotely is also new to us – we normally prefer 1 – 2 days concentrated workshop days with our customer teams. But it works! And the added benefit is that we as well as our customers can involve experts and colleagues from more locations and often countries than would otherwise be the case.

In conclusion:  The impact of the corona pandemic on people, people’s life and society cannot be downplayed.

But in the aftermath, we will look at how we handled ourselves during the crisis, and whether we learned the proper lessons. We will see that flexibility and adaptability are not options but necessities. Those who use this crisis to permanently adapt – we sometimes talk about ‘digital Darwinism’ – can emerge stronger.

And IBM is here to help with that.


If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact me directly at

Research & Innovation Executive, IBM Research - IBM Watson

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