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Time to focus on the things you can control

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Customers social distancing in the queue to enter a Tesco store in New Ross, Co Wexford. The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting businesses around the globe. Photo:PA Wire

Customers social distancing in the queue to enter a Tesco store in New Ross, Co Wexford. The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting businesses around the globe. Photo:PA Wire

Customers social distancing in the queue to enter a Tesco store in New Ross, Co Wexford. The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting businesses around the globe. Photo:PA Wire

Before Hollywood borrowed the phrase for a movie about ballet, the term 'black swan' referred to an unexpected, unprecedented event of significant magnitude. It was popularised by a book of the same name by risk specialist Nassim Taleb.

Writing in advance of the 2008 financial crisis, Taleb argued for the need to develop a 'black swan-robust' society, one which can withstand events that are difficult to predict.

Right now, for businesses, much is difficult to predict. There is, however, much they can control.

For a start, they can nurture their customer base, keeping in close contact with customers throughout this difficult period.

The Covid-19 pandemic is disrupting businesses around the globe. Recognise this is not solely a challenge for your business, but for your customers and your supply partners too.

Stay in touch, communicate regularly with them and empathise with what they too are contending with.

Make an effort to appreciate your customers' individual concerns and commit to working with them over the coming months.

Travel is out right now, so use the digital communication tools at your disposal - from phone and email to video conferencing apps.

What is going on right now can feel overwhelming. It is important to stay focused on what you can influence.

That means working with your customers to plan for the recovery that will take place in the time ahead.

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Help to build mutual confidence. Exporters know how much easier it is to retain a customer than it is to win a new one.

Focus on those customers you already have and aim to build the kind of loyalty now that will pay dividends in the long run.

This global business challenge presents multi-faceted difficulties affecting not just sales but logistics, customs delays and physical road blocks.

Remember that Enterprise Ireland has a global network of overseas offices to help. Our international teams are on the ground in markets around the world, and available to contact at any time. We are there, working remotely, to support Irish businesses in all the markets they sell into.

In fact, thanks to a series of new offices opened in response to Brexit, Enterprise Ireland now has more boots on the ground, in more places, than ever before.

Though it is, of course, very early days, take heart too from the fact that some positive indicators are beginning to emerge.

Normality is returning in China, for example. Factories are reopening. Supply chains there will rebound quickly after a period of severe restrictions.

There is positivity too in the fact that Irish companies are playing their part in the provision of medtech and pharmaceutical products in this challenging time.

This includes companies such as Novaerus, which donated air-purifying equipment to hospitals in Wuhan, as well as work undertaken by Irish innovators to design emergency field respirators and rapid testing kits.

Companies in all sectors can play their part right now by protecting their business. That includes maintaining strong relationships not just with customers but with their teams.

Only a few short weeks ago, the most pressing challenge many employers faced was recruiting and retaining talent. Don't let yours go.

By now, everyone who can do so will be working remotely. That can be isolating. Focus on maintaining employee morale and wellbeing.

The Government is responding actively and has put in place supports for businesses and employees. Its response to this crisis will be ongoing and dynamic, as befits a constantly evolving situation.

Remember too that a black swan event moves on as quickly as it appears. We all need to be ready for that uptick.

When it does recede, this pandemic will have provided many of us with a clearer understanding of our supply chains than ever before, with much greater insight into the provenance of our components and parts.

We will be able to take that learning with us into the future.

That, like all we are currently experiencing, will help us build resilience for the arrival of the next black swan.

  • Tom Cusack is head of international sales and partnering at Enterprise Ireland

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