How companies have moved through the COVID-19 crisis can be broken down into three stages - stabllization, re-opening and growth. That was the roadmap laid out by Salesforce Chief Operating Officer Bret Taylor as he kicked off the firm’s first EMEA virtual conference today. Expanding on his point, he said:
The first stage, which we all just collectively experienced, is really about stabilising each of our companies in the face of quarantine, a situation that none of us planned for in January. The second phase, which is just starting, is really about re-opening - re-opening our economies, re-opening our communities and re-opening our companies….This is a process that's so complex prior to getting a vaccine. The office that we're going back to is not the office that we left. As leaders we need completely new data, completely new tools to ensure that we're taking into account, health and safety of our employees and our customers, as we re-open our businesses.
Finally will come return to growth, he said, although what the ‘next normal’ in business looks like remains to be defined:
The main thing on my mind is what happens when this is all finally over? What does that 'next normal' look like. We've all been forced into these digital experiences, but what will remain? How will our customers be permanently transformed? That’s what all the great companies around the world are thinking about right now. How can we come out of this crisis stronger than we came in?
To map onto these three phases, the Salesforce Live event featured a number of customer use cases, including AXA PPP Healthcare, one of the largest insurance organizations in the world. The company has been supporting people for over 300 years, but the past few months have been like nothing that came before. In the words of CEO Tracy Garrad:
I've worked in a transformative business landscape for nearly 20 years now, but I think I can safely say this last three months have probably been the most challenging in my whole career, probably like a lot of other business leaders out there. I took up this role about a year before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK, and during that 12 months, we'd defined a pretty significant program of investment to modernize our business, compositionally, but also in terms of infrastructure and systems. But of course the emergence of the pandemic seemed to really change everything almost overnight, so I found it really important to establish some key principles from the outset that would really help with fast decision making.
There were two main priorities, she says - firstly, keeping AXA’s employees safe and secondly, how to ensure that critical services for customers could continue to be delivered. On the first point, planning was key:
Having observed what had happened across Europe with lockdowns, we started to plan rapidly for the expectation of a lockdown happening in the UK. So for our people that really meant enabling, engaging and empowering them as remote workers. As well as the obvious challenges of physical deployments of kit and training, it also needed us to create HR policies on the fly, all sorts of HR matters that just in the normal run of thing wouldn't really have been necessary. We made a commitment to our staff around job security during the lockdown. And all of those employee activities and support mechanisms have really paid off in terms of the commitment from our people at this unprecedented time.
And from an AXA membership perspective, there was a clear priority:
We really needed to reassure them that we would be there for them.
What complicated that seemingly simple objective was the decision by the UK Government to take the unprecedented step of procuring the services of all private hospitals in the country to tackle the COVID-19 crisis and help the NHS to cope. But this inevitably had implications for AXA’s customer proposition, says Garrad:
That had certainly never been in any of our business continuity plans. We could anticipate that customers would start to question the value of the product they had with us if the core element of private hospital availability was no longer available to them for a period of time. So we had to quickly kick into some policy approaches, as well as the introduction of more digital services to ensure that there was continuing value from the products that the customers have with us. Of course that also involves a massive customer communication exercise and regulatory engagement.
That involved successfully using Salesforce tech for outreach:
I'm really pleased that we have been able to get updates to our to our proposition out there. We’ve made a customer promise that really gives customers the assurance of continuing value from that product . As the weeks go on, we've had great feedback that the customer communication was managed really well.
AXA went from having around a fifth of its workforce (21%) able to work from home in February and scaled that up within 3 weeks to over 90%, which Garrad says provided a “real confidence boost…about the ability to move at pace”. That confidence may also shape future developments, she speculates:
There's a lot of feedback that we've had from our people about the degree to which they're feeling more of a work/life balance, and how much they're enjoying not commuting, I can certainly say from my own experience that I've enjoyed that quite a lot too. So I think there are a lot of positives that we can roll forwards. It's definitely given us the platform and the opportunity to just consider what kind of operating model we want in the future and we've started to engage with our people about that, too, in terms of how we might we might set up.
Phase 2 of the journey outlined by Taylor is return to work. For an example of that, Zoe Morris, President of Frank Recruitment Group provided insight.