Our customers need us – but we can’t get to them
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Featured in Be the Business March 2020
Louise Hosking, founder of health and safety specialists Hosking Associates, is rapidly moving the business – and sharing her knowledge – online for customers.
It is the ultimate business paradox – your customers need you by their side more than ever, and yet the UK-wide coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown means that you just can’t oblige.
For Louise Hosking, owner of St Albans-based workplace health and safety company Hosking Associates – which specialises in helping companies large and small build an occupational health and safety (OHS) framework – it’s been a head-scratching couple of weeks as she wrestles with the dilemma.
“Every single one of our customers needs support around what’s going on right now,” she explained, “so we have changed our business model to provide that support in a different way.”
Online and upwards
The new way is, of course, online – for the foreseeable future, Hosking aims to replicate the in-person work she and her colleagues do with clients via video-conferencing. But because everything is happening so quickly and businesses are preoccupied with a thousand other considerations, communicating that she and her eight-strong team are still open for business isn’t easy.
Some of the work has simply disappeared. “We do a lot of in-person training,” added Hosking, “and this has been cancelled.” Hopefully, new online training options will quickly help to redress the balance – although as many a business is currently finding, virtual alternatives to “the real thing” aren’t always an easy sell.
“I have a customer we were due to do some training for this week and when they cancelled I offered the option of an online series over a few days,” said Hosking. “After discussion, they preferred to postpone. They wanted to have the interaction between our people and theirs. To actually recreate that online is quite challenging.”
Rapid changes afoot
Over a frantic couple of weeks, Hosking has set about changing her website to better reflect their new – virtual – approach and working out how she and her team can continue to deliver an effective service online.
Coupled with this, the business founder has set up a series of online “Help Hubs” which take place via Zoom. These are free and are designed to allow any firms – local or otherwise – to post questions and tune in for expert answers.
Hosking believes the hubs could prove vital to people who are suddenly working in an environment they are not familiar with. “There’s all sorts of messaging around working from home,” she commented, “and for people who don’t normally do that we want to make sure they are doing so safely, but practically.”
Planning for future customers
There is, of course, a chance that the hubs will open Hosking up to potential future clients. Though she asserts that this isn’t why she is doing them. “I genuinely want to help people that need it,” she said – all businesses need to keep an eye on future revenue streams.
“Right now, I’ve got the opportunity to try out things that I might not normally get the chance to do,” she pointed out.
They key for all businesses, today, is to be as agile and adaptable as possible. Hosking, for example, may be no stranger to standing up and presenting to people – but now she’s having to get comfortable with hosting a video-conference for large groups, too. One she did last week for an audience of 30 last week was “exhausting.”.
For Hosking, there are small mercies to be found in the current chaos – she is grateful, for example, that her team were already employed on a work-from-home basis and were well used to the practicalities of the approach.
She’s also optimistic that there may just be some good that comes out of the crisis. “I’m hoping that when we emerge on the other side, leaders within organisations will have a greater respect for people’s health,” she concluded. “It might sound a bit like a world peace comment, but we all have to learn from this.”
Three top coronavirus tips from Louise
- Communicate like you never have before
Read up on how you can communicate more clearly with your team so they feel as psychologically safe as possible. Be decisive – but avoid micro-managing. You need your team to be innovative right now, so allow space for this too.
- Look out for yourself
Ask for help from people you trust so that you can offload – and in turn make sure you are there for your team.
- Accept there is a lot you cannot control
Be innovative, encourage new ideas, reinvent – but be realistic. Accept that you can’t do as much as you did before, and if your sales have been affected you need to be honest with yourself and with your team.