I was making my way back from the NAWLA Leadership Summit 2020 in March of last year when the COVID-19 pandemic got real, at least for me. Ironically, many of us at the event were downplaying the virus, not realizing the magnitude and gravity it would take on. I was in for a rude awakening, though, which came courtesy of a phone call from Amerhart’s director of HR. A passenger who tested positive had traveled through our small airport a day earlier, she informed me, adding that I would have to quarantine for the next two weeks. I’ve been working from home ever since.
The fallout from the health crisis came fast and furious after that, with Amerhart forced to adapt alongside its peers and the rest of the world. We experienced many of the same setbacks and challenges as everyone else; but, all in all, we’re getting through it effectively and with minimal disruption. Indeed, we expect to come out stronger than ever on the other side. A huge part of the reason for our success thus far is our COVID response team, which has spent countless hours sifting tirelessly through piles of information and filtering the accurate and pertinent details to employees.
At the same time, a lot of other “chips” have fallen into place. For instance, because one pillar of our strategic plan is technology investment, our teams were well-positioned for the transition to telework. Perhaps one of the biggest factors, however, was customer buy-in to Amerhart’s first-rate online platform that debuted in early 2019. As it turns out, the system would help us further improve our already impeccable service despite the unfortunate circumstances.
Bending Over Backwards for the Customer
The e-commerce site lets customers access any information they need, around the clock and without having to speak to their assigned sales rep. They are able to retrieve product specifications, place orders, review invoices, and reconcile billing questions, among other capabilities. The system was intended to make doing business with Amerhart easier; but this is a people-based industry, where face-to-face interaction is preferred, so some resistance was to be expected. As the pandemic deepened and workplace restrictions took effect, acceptance of and appreciation for the platform took off. It subsequently evolved into the invaluable resource we intended it to be and granted us, through the sheer knowledge and accessibility of our company through the platform, the opportunity to better serve the customer base.
With the ability to be in front of the customer a thing of the past, at least for the time being, Amerhart salespeople are going above and beyond to see that the needs of those customers are met. It is not a company edict—but more of a personal mandate—that has encouraged many of our salespeople and employees to adopt a “response rule.” They only give themselves a limited amount of time, maybe five or 10 minutes, to reply to a customer’s phone call, voice mail, or email and get them the information they have requested.
Stepping up service has also meant doing double-duty as a consultant to customers that are facing adversity during this unprecedented crisis. Our salespeople understand the capacity of their customers and what they manufacture and, therefore, are in a position to advise them on other prospective opportunities.
We might, for example, steer a manufacturer that is sidelined from its primary business at the moment to subcontract with other customers. The company that is in trouble could then use its existing machinery and equipment to make a product that may not be part of their regular lineup but that is in demand.
As another example, Amerhart now offers a product that has an anti-microbial surface, which more than ever is invaluable to sectors of our industry such as hospitality, medical, educational, and gaming. It’s the same material the customer always uses to build cabinets and work surfaces, but with added peace of mind—a selling point to show that the customer is taking steps to combat the spread of the virus.
The more helpful you are in easing a customer’s pain, the more valuable you are to them. There’s no more truth to it than now, during this pandemic, when customers are arguably feeling more pain than they have ever before. If you can help them get through it, you become way more relevant to them and the relationship you share only strengthens.
Showing customers how much they matter has been crucial, but demonstrating care and concern for workers has been equally important. Amerhart has gone to great lengths to do that as well, from allowing staff to take sick days without using their paid leave, to expanding employee benefits to include consultation services for well-being, to investing in specialty disinfection services at company headquarters. Even in the most uncertain of business environments, we firmly believe that the safety and well-being of our coworkers is top priority! If you don’t have your people, then you don’t have a business.
Use Your Core
All of the steps we took, whether aimed at customers or targeted to employees, align directly with Amerhart’s corporate values. They fall under four groupings: Together, Inspire, Community, Build. The subcategories under the Together heading—teamwork, integrity, positive attitude, and alignment—especially speak to what we’re going through today, in too many ways to name here. But teamwork, in particular, is essential. You must trust in your team to do their jobs, from wherever they are, and to the best of their abilities. Alignment is also key at this time, given the fractured office environment. With so many employees working remotely, ensuring that everybody is on the same page—and communicating accordingly—has never been more imperative.
If your business does not have corporate values, create them! They are so much more than just nice words on the home page of your website. If you do have them already, make sure they remain relevant and in the forefront of your coworkers’ and customers’ minds. Bring attention to colleagues’ actions that reflect these values, in or out of the workplace. This is the foundation in creating your company’s experience and culture. With these, not only will you survive these trying times, but you will come out of this and other hardships stronger than before.