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How to sustain a business during COVID-19 crisis

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Businesses are currently forced to check the health of their companies and immediately respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. -- ART BY JOY D. DAGUN

Agora awardees sharesdiz insights in keeping business health in check

By Adrian Paul B. Conoza
Special Features Writer, BusinessWorld

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) has forced consumers to be confined to their homes, pushed most establishments to shift to a remote work mode, and has kept essential services open and even making them busier.

This calls for businesses to check the health of their companies and immediately respond to this ongoing crisis, as esteemed leaders from diverse sectors discussed in the fourth online forum of the Philippine Marketing Association (PMA) last April 15.

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The panel, all of whom are awardees of PMA’s annual Agora Awards, shared their experiences on how they have been sustaining the health of their businesses during the crisis.

Ana Maria Aboitiz Delgado, chief customer experience officer of UnionBank, shared that the bank is up and running in full force, with 90% of their workforce running the bank securely from home.

“The fact that we heavily invested in digital over the last few years has prepared us to ride out this crisis well and to continue to serve our customers as they should be served,” Ms. Delgado added.

Lafayette Alvarez Lim, chief executive officer (CEO) and president of New City Commercial Corporation (NCCC), said that it has been difficult times for their supermarkets as they have gone busier.

“It’s really been a very challenging time to operate a supermarket, with the logistics and even the stocks coming from Luzon not coming in a quickly and not in the desired quantity,” Mr. Lim observed.

Nonetheless, NCCC keeps its fighting spirit with workers whom its CEO commended for helping the supermarkets continue serving their communities.

Paulo Tibig, president and CEO of VCargo Worldwide, shared that even before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ), their company has seen that they would encounter a critical situation as a logistics company.

Currently, he continued, they are one of the few shipping companies that handle medicines, COVID test kits, and related shipments in the fight against COVID-19.

Jorge Noel Wieneke, owner and president of Tokyo Tempura and the president of Association of Filipino Franchisers, Inc. (AFFI), said that as a company founder, he has been preparing for the crisis.

Upon accepting the reality and assessing the effects of the pandemic to the business, he is in the process of negotiating with other people and is thinking of ways to innovate the business, such as venturing to online delivery.

“We’ve been doing this for two weeks. It’s giving us some hope and motivation to really survive,” Mr. Wieneke added.

Initiatives during ECQ

During the online forum, the panel also shared the actions they have put in place in order to sustain their business during the crisis.

Ms. Delgado shared its numerous initiatives during the ECQ. It kept most of its branches open for the first two weeks, and retained those with critical numbers of transactions.

Other actions UnionBank took include extending due dates for loans, waiving bank transfer fees, reminding the public not to share sensitive information such as one-time pins, and rolling out its 5G-enabled Bank On Wheels to supplement ATMs.

A remarkable initiative by UnionBank is its integration of remittance services through the bank’s mobile app, which was a product of collaborating with remittance firms.

At NCCC malls and supermarkets, Mr. Lim shared, associates and employees from different business units have been allowed to apply for work at the supermarkets. The company has also given its employees financial incentives and assistance during this crisis.

The company has also set safety protocols for personnel and customers as well as regular disinfection measures on its branches.

Mr. Lim also noted that they have set different modes of shopping in place, namely the online grocery, call-and-delivery, and call-and-pickup services.

It’s sister printing business, PrintLife, has produced face shields, aerosol boxes, and swabbing stations, which are donated to hospitals.

Mr. Tibig, meanwhile, shared that VCargo has established safety protocols in its hubs and offices as early as late January, and it has conducted many orientations for its teams considering that couriers meet a lot of people in their work.

The company, its CEO continued, has aligned its operational activities with business counterparts and has tried to develop with them plans to ensure continuity within the value chain and supply chain of principals.

He also stressed staying relevant to what they are offering as a company. “Logistics is always an integral part. It cannot be removed. While we have a team that works from home for alignments, coordination, and monitoring, we still need that physical distribution,” he said.

Mr. Wieneke, on the other hand, said he wears two hats in managing the effects of the crisis.

As the owner of Tokyo Tempura, he started responding by taking care of his employees. He then went towards staying relevant and connected to customers, which materialized into a Tokyo Tempura Kit consisting of 80 pieces of shrimps that customers buy and cook at their own homes.

“We saw an opportunity that food has a feature of family activity,” Mr. Wieneke observed when he saw pictures from customers cooking the shrimps with family members.

As the president of AFFI, he takes the lead in caring for the association’s members. AFFI has created a public forum as well as a health hotline catering to the needs of members. The organization has also started a program where members can call them during this crisis.

“I’m lending my shoulder and my ears to them, because everybody is kind of worried,” he said. “Definitely, the 99.6% is hit by this situation. All of us will be in the starting line again.”

Adjusting to uncertainties

PMA’s online forum has also captured insights from these leaders on how companies could adjust to these uncertain situations.

Mr. Wieneke advised businesses to get out of a shocked state of mind and accept the reality. “You cannot hide from reality. If you hide from reality, you will lose everything,” he said. “This is the time where you assess already and innovate your product.”

He added that the mentality of the startup will serve as their weapon in fighting the effects of the crisis, since every business has started small and so have been accustomed to this kind of mentality.

Mr. Lim also agrees in getting out of the mentality of being stuck in the status quo and so advised businesses to pick up from their strengths and start looking at what they are going to do next.

Also, Mr. Tibig finds this crisis as another instance when the resiliency of leaders is being revealed.

“In times like these, we need people who will organize ways and means to ensure that our companies will survive,” he stressed, challenging businesses to look for “what this crisis would bring to the table”.

He also finds collaboration with stakeholders and cooperation within the value chain vital actions to take.

For Ms. Delgado, this crisis is a powerful time to build and maintain connections with people.

“Even amidst the crisis people still have wants, desires, and dreams. While they are afraid and can’t go out, if your brand can make a way to get to them at home, you will earn so much brand equity,” she said.

The panel also actively discussed revisiting early concepts, drive-thru groceries for example. Most of these are what Mr. Tibig refers to as the convenience concept, where goods and services are brought to the doorstep of consumers.

Such concepts might not have been effective before, the panel agreed, yet perhaps they have been waiting for a fitting time like this crisis to become helpful and profitable ventures.

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