The importance of ‘Flex-perience’ in a post-COVID world

The following article comes courtesy of VMLY&R, one of our ‘Thought Leader’ partners at Something Digital 2020.

The next 18 months will see the need for businesses to deliver flexible business models and customer experiences…are you ready to flex?

As we emerge from the national lockdown period of Covid-19, and the reality of isolated or regional spikes and the lack of vaccine begin to hit home; our ‘new normal’ conversations and predictions need to move away from conversations around flexible working to dialogue around flexible business models & flexible customer experiences.

Whilst Australia has managed Covid-19 better than most countries, we are still going to be living with it in some form or another for at least another 18 months.  Even if a vaccine is found in what remains of this year, the logistics of rolling it out across the population will mean that we will all be living with some form of restrictions for some time to come.

During this next period, the ‘new normal’ will be a flexible construct.  What is quickly becoming clear is that we are not in front of this virus and its impact on our community’s local businesses, and the recent resurgences in Melbourne and Sydney have been testament to that.  As our communities, which were in the process of opening up, are brought to a standstill again one fact has emerged; in this ‘whack-a-mole’ period of managing the virus, businesses need to be able to operate in (and transition between) 2 modes:

  1. Open for business as usual
  2. Locked down and still transacting

Those businesses which can identify the best way to continue servicing their customers in each of these modes, that can continue to keep their business open regardless of the lockdown status, will be the ones which survive this unprecedented period.

Before Covid-19 darkened our lives, many businesses across all sectors were, in some way or another, engaged in some kind of internal conversation about their future business model.  The global conversations around Future of Work, Conscious Capitalism and Digital Transformation were forcing organisations and businesses to think about what they sold and how they sold it.

Enter Covid-19 and a lot of these theoretical debates were expedited.  Businesses were forced to pull the trigger on plans that hadn’t been finalised yet. Be that flipping to a remote working model for corporates, re-thinking customer service delivery for retail, or re-thinking technology in delivering customer experience for education; this pandemic forced many businesses to think outside the box or push forward with plans at a speed they would have never considered before.

As a business community we have delivered 4 years of innovation in 4 months; an astounding fact when you consider the risk averse nature a lot of businesses have around change.

The result?  Businesses seemingly fell into one of three buckets:

  1. Flipped to a new business delivery model which has worked well, and whilst it’s a bit bumpy they are interested in continuing that business model.
  2. Attempted to flip into a new business model but couldn’t get it stood up in time, or encountered technical or service problems that they still haven’t overcome.
  3. Didn’t attempt to flip into a new business model, instead choosing to ride it out.

With those that tried to adapt, those that flexed both their business model and their service experience, we saw genuine innovation and lateral thinking that benefited both the communities they serve, and their top line:

  • Lot 100, a winery in the Adelaide hills & Taro Ramen both offered meal-at-home packs leveraging the Hello Fresh model demonstrating the ability to see and flex to a new customer need.  Through their existing restaurant they had the suppliers in place, they had the right skills in the business and they had their existing customer database, and flex-ed quickly to change their service delivery model.
  • Louis Vuitton, Dom Perignon and our very own Brisbane Distillery all added hand sanitiser to their product offering to help fill the initial shortage.  These businesses demonstrated not only their ability to spot a gap in the market, but to also realign and train their workforce to deliver a new product quickly and successfully.
  • Spiffy, a US on-demand car cleaning service flipped to offering sanitising services for businesses and facilities.

We’ve all got a list we can rattle off, a list of businesses who embraced the change and managed to align their people, their product and their service offering to new gaps that appeared in market, and found a way to keep connected to either existing or new customers.

  • Restaurants flexed to become food markets / resellers
  • Cafes flexed their kitchens to become delivery kitchens
  • Taxi firms flexed to become supermarket delivery fleets
  • Doctors flexed to Tele-health
  • PTs flexed in online fitness
  • Schools and Universities flexed to online classrooms

From well-established brands through to newly minted started-ups; we witnessed the survival instincts of businesses around the world kick in and demonstrate their ability to flex and change at speed.  The common elements that these business demonstrated was having a clear vision, leadership that was able to quickly align their workforce to the new model, the ability to flex their systems to that new model; and the ability to get the right training out to their staff efficiently and successfully.

For those who managed it with some level of success, they are in the best position to succeed in this next period of Covid-19.  They have an established and flexible business model which they know can work in both lockdown and open up.  For them, it is now a question of finessing that customer experience, to iron out the kinks and ensure their employees are well versed and trained in moving seamlessly from one mode to the other.

But for the other two buckets, they find themselves in a risky situation; whilst the majority of the country is opening up, there is no way of knowing or controlling when or where the next resurgence will happen. This is extremely hard for businesses who need to have a robust business continuity strategy which now operates at those two levels:  open for business and locked down.  They need to be able to seamlessly flex between the two experiences, and that means having the right service delivery, infrastructure and customer experience in place that can flex with you.   But more than that, it requires having the right customer communication channels, leadership and vision in place so that when the switch is flicked, both your customers and your employees know exactly what that means for them.

There is no waiting for things to pass, it’s clear this virus will be with us for a long while yet…so rather than ride it out, businesses need to plan it out.  What we can learn from that first bucket, is rather than seeing and treating this as a problem, instead treat it as an opportunity.  Businesses who have been brave, who have stepped out into the unknown and tried something (anything) new to keep connected with their customers; those businesses have actually uncovered new business models which will service them well into the future.

These businesses have demonstrated that, intentionally or not, that they have change at the heart of their culture.  They all have the following traits that are essential to change successfully at speed:

  • A leadership who is aligned to a vision and able to communicate it clearly and quickly to their teams
  • The ability to algin their Brand experience, customer experience and employee experience on the fly
  • An employee base who feel secure enough to walk into the unknown with their leaders
  • A marketing team who know how to get messages out quickly to their customer base to take them on the journey quickly and efficiently
  • A digital / IT team who are agile enough to bootstrap the new platforms to enable the new vision

These are some of the foundational components of creating a culture that is responsive to change, and the foundational components for any business considering or going through any form of transformation:

  • Vision
  • Leadership alignment
  • Engaged & informed workforce
  • Customer connectivity
  • Digital & IT agility

For those business who flexed quickly not only demonstrated their ability to innovate and change, but they also took advantage of a period of unprecedented customer understanding and empathy to try new things; and this customer empathy meant they were forgiven fast for failures, and commended on their entrepreneurial spirit.  But that customer empathy and understanding will not be around forever, their expectation is that businesses should have had enough time to evolve, time to adjust and time to perfect.  Their general goodwill for struggling businesses that can’t seem to get it right will not hold out for the next 18 months. Eventually as their own pockets feel the pinch they will go to those businesses who have made the effort to not only keep their doors open, but have also protected the customer experience at the same time.

Over the coming months we expect to see a separation between those businesses that make it work, and those that make it work well; those that make it work well will be those that have the ability change bedded into their culture, and flexibility build into their business systems and processes.  My question to you, is which group will you fall into?  Are you ready to flex? Are you ready for the Flex-perience era?


If you want to talk to Kirsty about your flex, please contact her on: Kirsty.robinson@vmly&

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