It seems fair to say that we can now start using the term ‘recession’ openly, without being called pessimists. The question is: what are you going to do about it?

To find out, you only need to figure out whether you are going to be an ostrich, or an owl.

You’ve probably already guessed where I’m going with this one…

OSTRICHES. When in a state of mortal fear ostriches bury their heads in the sand. Or so we’re told. Unsurprisingly, this is a myth. The reason why ostriches don’t actually bury their heads in the sand is because no species could survive by being that stupid. But mainly, and for the purposes of this post, they’re known for burying their heads in the sand. It will always be so.

So while ostriches don’t actually do this, it turns out that humans do. Any number of bankers, shareholders and home owners across the world are doing this right now.

In the internet sector we’ve seen lots of head-burying in the past. Some examples? The music business in the first half of this decade. The advertising industry at large. Those swinish dotcom crash deniers, back in the day. The online retail refuseniks. The cursed newspapers.

The reason for this dumb behaviour is linked to the fact that we humans are programmed to loathe change. Change amounts to fear of the unknown.  Change means having to learn new skills. Boring! Why can’t things stay the same? Well, change happens for a reason. Adapt and move on (or wither and die).

Change is opportunity, and there’s no better opportunity to shake up your business than a recession. Heads up!

OWLS. Oh to be an owl. Owls are associated with wisdom. They are far-sighted and have amazing listening skills. They can look over their own shoulders. They are incredibly stealthy and are very precise in their work. Owls are also good at regurgitation. Oh to be an owl…

How to be an owl, in seven steps

Be wise. Put all that knowledge you have accumulated over the years to good use. Be prudent, be sensible. Stop hosing money against the wall by acquiring low-value customers. Measure and compare customer acquisition channels to invest wisely in the future. Reduce customer and employee churn at all costs, by making your customers happier.

Be far-sighted. Plan ahead, and keep an eye on what’s happening around you. Take a widescreen approach to your business by joining up departments and data. Improve visibility on customer behaviour for your employees, especially if you’re living in a multichannel world. And be sure to tweak your ROI methodology to reflect customer lifetime value, if you don’t already. Keep in mind that the next decade will be all about customer retention, rather than customer acquisition.

Listen. If you engage with your customers properly they will tell you if there are problems with your company, products or services. Fix those problems, and fast. Communicate with customers to let them know you are listening. And thank them, for their incessant whinging, especially if it leads to improvements. Listen to your staff too. Employee retention is important, and nobody likes to work in an environment where complaining customers are the norm.

Look over your shoulder.
Get used to the idea that your competitors will also be working harder to improve their offerings, and to make their operations more efficient. They’ll be watching you. Keep an eye on competitor developments, but don’t give them too much attention. Just be the best, and let them worry about you.

Be stealthy. Watch what your customers are doing. Notice their behaviour patterns by properly tracking both offsite and onsite activity, right through to the checkout (if you have one). Make sense of it all and then improve that journey by smoothing over any bumps. Don’t work harder, just work smarter, and focus on the quality of customer, rather than the quantity.

Be precise. Remember that good ideas are one thing, but execution is everything. Attention to detail matters, across all areas of business. Personalise the customer experience, by making sense of data, trends, and behavioural habits. Optimise the user experience. Be brilliant when it comes to post-sale communications. Delight your customers by making them feel special. And be sure to manage expectations, from start to finish.

Regurgitate. What makes a ‘bad customer’? That’s for you to decide, but it might be one who buys low-value products and never generates any profit. It might be one who demands excessive amounts of expensive customer service. These customers suck, and you’d be crazy if you didn’t want rid of them. Don’t be afraid to dump them, if you want to run an efficient operation. Let your competitors service them. You should focus on servicing the good customers, not the bad ones. Spit out the bad ones once you have digested what little nourishment they provide. Move on.

Good luck!

Further Reading
Romanticising recession
cScape’s Richard Sedley on digital and the economy