Customer, colleague, citizen: Uniting the 3 C's

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The outbreak of coronavirus has left families, friends, economies and nations reeling. The ongoing fallout has plunged the stock market into uncertainty, left thousands of workers jobless and pulled the rug out from under even the strongest brands.

Every company, of every size, in every sector, will need to adapt to survive. And for many brands, this will be their first true test of integrity. Doing the right thing in the right way has never mattered more. It’s time to show customers, colleagues and citizens – the three C's – what you’re made of.

Understanding the three C's

At ICF Next, the interdependence of the three C's frames how we see the world, how we approach our work and how we advise our clients.

Customer needs dictate the product or service experience that colleagues create. By delivering that customer experience, colleagues live the brand that society sees. And the brand citizens see, and that customers experience, must do more than ‘sell’. It must have a purpose, too.

In a normal world, these three C's are interconnected and interchangeable – but coronavirus crosses and impacts all three at once. Amid unprecedented uncertainty and adjustment, we’ve never been more aware of what and how we buy as customers – or how we work (and who for) as colleagues.

But it is our role as citizens in society that has been most elevated by this crisis – and it is this fundamental change that businesses must recognise and respond to most urgently.

Fighting the fourth C: coronavirus

This is a defining moment in our history. Brands and business leaders will be judged on their actions, not their words. This is about our ability to think ‘we’ not ‘me’.

Sports Direct rightly came under fire for putting profit over people, with an apparent disregard for customers, colleagues and citizens. Gary Neville, on the other hand, is offering rooms in his Manchester hotel free of charge to key workers while paying his staff in full.

Losing trust with all three is easily done – reputation takes just moments to destroy.

Corporate social responsibility is no longer a nice-to-have. It is essential to our survival in a world where supermarket colleagues are the fourth emergency service and Tesco adverts are educating customers around social distancing.

The future of work and commerce has changed forever

Disruption to global travel will have lasting impact on how – and where – we do business. Flying is a luxury, not a necessity, and in general most people don’t enjoy travelling for business.

Colleague culture will evolve in unforeseen ways having existed, in many cases, entirely in virtual environments. And the current shift to agile working will accelerate even more rapidly.

There will also be justified questions around the carbon agenda and the environmental impact of business. Just look at the canals in Venice or the improved air quality in New York – and most UK cities for that matter.

That's my worry here. We have an amazing ability to pull together in a time of crisis and then just go back to what we did before. There will be false change, for sure, but certain things will simply not be able to go back to the way they were.

Moving forward together

Businesses are a set of relationships and, ultimately, this is about people. The vast majority of us are customers, colleagues or citizens at different times of every single day. We don’t want to be sold to or controlled. We want to be understood.

But without a focus on each individual ‘C’ and an understanding of how their behaviours and actions influence and impact each other, businesses will struggle to adapt and move forward from here.

Customers and colleagues – have always been central to the success of any business. Covid-19 has moved every business and consumer under the umbrella of the third C: citizen.

We are all citizens of the world, and we’re all in this together. This is our greatest generational challenge – as customers and colleagues, but more than ever before as citizens. Act fast and act for the common good, and we’ll all come out stronger on the other side.

James Wilkins, managing partner of ICF Next

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