Will the coronavirus pandemic change how retailers and consultants work together?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/Anchiy
Mar 17, 2020
Ken Morris

Retailers and their consulting partners must adapt to the coronavirus. Probably the biggest change in their business model is the travel ban. How do retailers, software vendors and their consulting partners do their work when they are barred from travel, not just internationally but domestically as well?

Large consulting firms like Wipro, Cognizant, Accenture and CapGemini traditionally staff projects with consultants from overseas and all over the United States for projects based here. Is it possible to consult effectively using only local people? Do we leverage telecommuting in a more effective manner? Is there a real substitute for human interaction?

Telecommuting has saved countless travel hours and is the norm for many organizations for some days of the week. However, there is sometimes something “lost in translation” when you try to communicate from afar. During the system development life cycle, there are times when personal interaction is optimal. That human interaction is necessary to avoid miscommunication that inevitably results in wasted time and effort.

One solution to the travel ban may be to staff projects with local experts. But in a time when projects require increasingly specific technical expertise, it seems difficult to find local resources. Arguably though, savvy consultants have been able to finesse information and see the “big picture.” The learning curve may be longer and these consultants may be more expensive, but the end result of being able to access local consultants in the community is invaluable.

Being an optimist by nature, I believe that businesses in general and retailers specifically benefit by localizing their workforce. This new model will keep money in the local community and will alleviate the stress and discontent consultants and their families feel with constant travel. The primary reason consultants leave their field is the unrelenting travel. The pressure to nurture a work/home balance creates an uncomfortable dilemma. Ultimately, this virus like many past catastrophes, has the potential to change the way we work forever.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What do you see as the biggest challenges facing retailers and their technology suppliers and consultants as a result of the coronavirus outbreak? What workarounds will be most effective in limiting the disruptions that result from the realities of working in the current environment?

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Braintrust
"I think we will come out of this crisis with whole new insights about and appreciation of remote coaching and learning. Because we have to."
"Interesting times, interesting questions. Post-Coronavirus life will bring exciting new opportunities to reframe how retailers and consultants work together."
"We have no choice but to do our work virtually. It takes getting used to but the work can get done if you enable your team to take responsibility and use their best judgment."

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15 Comments on "Will the coronavirus pandemic change how retailers and consultants work together?"


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Zel Bianco
BrainTrust

We have no choice but to do our work virtually. It takes getting used to but the work can get done if you enable your team to take responsibility and use their best judgment. With the tools we have at our disposal, there is really no excuse not to continue the work that needs to get done. I would argue that if we don’t continue to press on, safely, I might add, we will be in even worse shape once the worst of the coronavirus is over.

We have found that working remotely has forced us to be more focused and more committed to being clear with our communications with our clients and with each other.

Rob Gallo
BrainTrust

I wouldn’t say it’s business as usual at Impact 21, as many clients have closed their offices. However, aside from attention being dramatically (and appropriately) shifted to dealing with coronavirus contingencies, we are able to continue all existing project work through a combination of video conferencing, SharePoint and other productivity tools. Frankly, the current working environment is not too different from our projects with international clients (high use of video conferencing, productivity tools) where travel budgets can take up an unnecessarily large portion of a project.

Mark Ryski
BrainTrust

My company is a service provider to retailers and one of the most important things we can do is to be extra mindful about where and how we can support them. Every retailer is dealing with their very own version of an existential crisis, and so it’s important to be aware of the level of distraction and challenges the client is facing. The key to the entire process is communications.

There are a number of things service providers should do including: monitoring their retail clients’ websites for media posts or updates, making sure their own company’s policies are clearly communicated to clients, and finally, making sure their clients know how to contact their organization given that we are all – service providers and clients – dealing with similar issues.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

Conference calls and webinars are pretty much the norm when working with consultants. There are very few times we need actual meetings – initial meetings and milestone meetings are examples. I believe that if most are not managing a lot of these things remotely already, it will become a standard after this pandemic.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

Right now it’s about virtual communications, coupled with local consultants when virtual won’t do. It will be harder for tech suppliers but there are talented people in every city.

My company has conducted virtual consultations, presented keynotes and seminars, and even full-on store makeovers for years without leaving our office. It will take a different mindset for big consulting firms to adapt, but it’s where we are right now. As they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

This is tilt of the earth’s axis stuff. Paradigm shift doesn’t cover it. I think we will come out of this crisis with whole new insights about and appreciation of remote coaching and learning. Because we have to. Because the momentum of old habits, both good and bad, has been blown asunder. New efficiencies in time and cost will emerge. Any clinging to the old mindset of “but we’ve always done it this way” will not serve individuals or businesses well. The proverbial meteor has hit and I personally don’t want to be in dinosaur mode.

Zach Zalowitz
BrainTrust

I think the challenge of context and understanding tone sometimes get lost over the phone, which in my experience makes highly collaborative meetings hard to do remote. To resolve this, we’ve been working with our client base to do video meetings instead of just calls, which has been a great workaround we’ve seen immediate responses to. I also think with such a large Millennial consulting base at some of these companies, the work-from-home relationship to clients is simply an adjustment more than a large shift. I don’t agree that you need localization any more than you did before the virus, and that miscommunications can be resolved by face-to-face interactions (sometimes verbally it’s easier to miscommunicate than digitally).

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
6 months 7 days ago

There are phases of the relationship where interaction is recommended, but seldom mandatory. Hardware installation, training on the kiosks, equipment, etc., have to be done in person. Such projects or specific phases will slow down. Software-centric process improvement projects and analytics projects can be done fully virtual — since the consultants and users will be in the office setting. It really depends on project type and how well the business already encourages remote working.

For businesses that traditionally discouraged remote working it would be harder to adapt as the issues are both cultural and about getting technology in place.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

The key is to make sure the retailer and its consulting partners have the technology to effectively work remote to collaborate and move forward. The tools are all available and most businesses today already do some remote work efforts. It can get tricky if you need to upgrade your technology, be it a personal laptop or in the office to enhance your network capabilities. This is not a good time to determine that your office remote network can’t support the cause.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

I certainly hope that one positive outcome from this crisis is that we all learn how much can be done remotely – and effectively – and that we change our travel-crazed habits. As we expand our expertise on video conferencing, collaboration and teleconferencing tools, perhaps we can reduce the number of airplane trips that we all take that are so costly to both the bottom line and the planet.

Kathleen Fischer
BrainTrust

There are going to be many changes to how we do business in the coming months and years and the expanded use of telecommuting and videoconferencing will certainly be one of those. While there is no substitution for face-to-face discussions, we can use technology to decrease the amount of travel needed and the wear and tear on consultants.

Ken Lonyai
BrainTrust

Echoing what others have said, it’s not the end of consulting, just a deeper commitment to using remote technology to get the job done. Even with video, some nuances of person-to-person communications are lost, but it’s a minor issue that both sides will get beyond readily.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Interesting times, interesting questions. Post-Coronavirus life will bring exciting new opportunities to reframe how retailers and consultants work together. Why do retailers and tech companies outsource consultants in the first place? For talent and vision outside their internal organizational frameworks. What is the new horizon? AI.

Slogging through generic, catch-all consulting assignments, requiring hours of exploration, communications and discussion, will be discarded in favor of formalizing consultants into specialized talent pools of vision, execution and/or process skillsets. The future is here. AI thought leadership businesses and consultants in dozens of consumer-based industries are reinventing how human talent and digital capabilities are leveraged into precision-based execution of specific business outcomes. Freeing up space for the truly important role of human communication, that of camaraderie, innovation and the joy of accomplishment.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Short answer … yes of course it will. Once remoting is tried out, some percentage of people (not all) will like it. If you buy the argument that experience = value, then some of our most experienced consultants will be older, and the reluctance to travel when a video conference is “almost but not quite as good” will stick longer after this is all over. It’s a further experiment in the world of social interaction with physical isolation.

Craig Sundstrom
Guest

To be quite candid, I think the biggest challenge might be the biggest of all … survival. At least for small consultancies and retailers; admittedly the latter probably isn’t the biggest customer base for consulting, and the former hopefully are used to lean periods as a routine and have set aside funds.

Assuming a business survives — which hopefully isn’t an “if” as much as just not 100% — the question really becomes, should a once-in-a-century event change what would normally be best practice? I won’t say no, but it should be considered carefully.

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Braintrust
"I think we will come out of this crisis with whole new insights about and appreciation of remote coaching and learning. Because we have to."
"Interesting times, interesting questions. Post-Coronavirus life will bring exciting new opportunities to reframe how retailers and consultants work together."
"We have no choice but to do our work virtually. It takes getting used to but the work can get done if you enable your team to take responsibility and use their best judgment."

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