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Can your business predict pent-up demand after COVID-19?

Updated: Jan 13, 2021

Short answer: no! Of course, we ought to try…

The COVID-19 crisis has unleashed a whole host of legitimate fears beyond the scope of health and safety. It’s called a crisis for a reason, and the growing list of negative impacts is pretty overwhelming. If your business has been affected by mandated closings or just the pervasive shift to subdued spending, you’re probably already wondering, “What the heck kind of storm is coming our way once this mess is over?”

The haircuts, guys. The haircuts alone! Unless we’re trying, as a society, to bring back the glorious mullets of the 80s power balladeers, our hair salons better gear up to handle some serious pent-up demand. And, you should probably think in that direction, too. Typically, tech geeks like us would say that big data is the answer. Unfortunately, it’s not so easy right now. While data and other tech solutions have been helping a ton to flatten the curve and contain the virus, it’s not as clear cut when it comes to your business.

Why can’t data tell the whole story?

It’s frustrating, we know. But data analysis engines are only as good as the information you put into them – including benchmarking and historical data. The last time we faced a global pandemic of similar proportions, it was 1918, and it’s safe to say the world and all of its business endeavors have changed since then. A lot. There have been more recent events, like wars and natural disasters, that have derailed the economy, but there’s no real direct comparison to make predictive analytics useful here.

So, just keeping it real, there really isn’t an airtight, data-verified answer when it comes to your business’s post-crisis demand. However, you can still use the information you have to make more informed predictions.

Consider your possible outcomes.

Before you start digging through your data, take a moment to think through the scenarios your business could potentially face in a few months’ time, including:

Pent-up demand

Do you have a product or service that people need on a predictable basis? Maybe something that’s required (or at least heavily encouraged?) annually by a regulatory body? For example, one of our favorite clients is an oil testing laboratory that runs fluid tests required by insurance companies. Currently, the lab’s orders are significantly delayed. But when the concerns subside, the lab should expect a flood of orders when facilities all over the country need to get their equipment tested fast. The lab should prepare now for how to fulfill a year’s worth of work in a few months.

Takeaway: Consider ways you can revamp your internal processes to prepare for a temporary surge of orders.

Lost demand

Maybe you have a business that provides a monthly service or you consult with clients on a retainer. Have any of your customers suspended service for now? This is murky territory for a business like yours because you run the danger that, when life as we knew it waaaay back in early March resumes, people will realize they didn’t really need your service after all. During this two-month window without you, your customer may end up thinking, “Man, we really don’t use that consulting firm as much as we thought we did, and it actually backs up our team with extra work anyway, and Jerry in Accounting provides half of the analysis already for no extra cost.” Thanks for nothing, Jerry.

Takeaway: Err on the side of caution and assume, from a financial perspective, that any paused customers are lost. Start marketing hard to new audiences now.

Business as usual

Let’s jump back to the hair salon example for this one. Say you are a salon owner and you’ve been mandated to close your doors for a couple months. Once your business reopens, you know you’re going to see an initial spike in appointments as everyone clamors to get their hair cut and their roots touched up. However after that initial push when you are killing yourself working crazy hours to de-mullet everyone, you know exactly what type of intervals to expect because most people need your services every 4-8 weeks (depending on style).

Takeaway: How can you use online scheduling now to get your customers pre-booked for later? And, think through how you can help stagger those intervals so you don’t have every customer on the same rotation.

Flash in the pan

Some businesses are actually picking up during the COVID-19 crisis. Delivery services, digital workflow solutions, video conferencing apps, virtual education resources, etc. – there are products and services in significantly higher demand right now. Some of those – like rubber gloves, face masks and hand sanitizer – should accept that this is their time to shine and take this moment for what it is. However, for businesses that provide digital solutions not previously leveraged on such a wide scale, there is real opportunity to prove your worth now and permanently expand your customer base.

Takeaway: Brainstorm ways to keep your new customers happy. Can you offer subscription discounts? Disperse educational content about the long-term benefits of your service?

3 questions to help determine your case

How can you tell if your business will get flooded with orders post-crisis … or lose out completely? Which of the above categories fits you best? Here are some key questions to ask:

  1. Do we contribute to regulatory or safety environments? If your service is mandated by an industry or governing body, or related directly to safety or insurance, prepare now for pent-up demand.

  2. What’s my order frequency? Annual services and products are less likely to get canceled, and interval-based services will likely need to be adjusted but will still have demand.

  3. Where does my business fall on the need continuum? Be honest – are you a “need to have” or a “must have?” Can people survive without you, even if less conveniently? Is there opportunity for you to shift customers’ perception of their need?

Of course, the key question for businesses during this time is, can this ongoing discussion become a roadmap for innovation and direction? Maybe your next big market is right around the corner and being forced to assess your offering and your audience’s needs will help you come through this crisis even stronger. Take care and know that we are happy to help you sift through your data any time.

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