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Laundry B2B Relationship Building, Maintenance Post-COVID-19 (Part 1)

How B2B relationships have changed, importance of keeping up

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — Across every industry, the days of in-person wheeling and dealing are going out of style. The pandemic has thrown their inefficiencies and excesses into focus, and cracks in the old way are becoming more visible.

Even an industry as storied and traditional as laundry cannot ignore a changing business climate, altered customer expectations, and tech-enabled, game-changing efficiencies.

The good news is that maintaining and cultivating B2B relationships during and post-COVID-19 does not require an overhaul of operations, reinvention of a workforce or abandoning important traditions.

More than anything, it requires an open mind.

In this article, we’ll explore how the pandemic has affected the linen and uniform laundry industry’s operations and what should be done to make the most of these changes.

HOW HAS THE PANDEMIC CHANGED THINGS?

For our industry, the heightened aversion to normal interactions caused by the pandemic has been disruptive, to say the least. In-person meetings have become taboo, servicing clients has become more strenuous and less personal, and entertaining a walk-in salesperson is a great risk.

To veterans of the industry, that means less convincing power, diminished job satisfaction and lost opportunities.

Many are dealing with these changes by playing along and hoping the return to normal is just around the corner. Between the vaccine, herd immunity and two years of this strange reality, something is bound to give in to the comfortable normal we remember.

• Where the numbers are pointing

Unfortunately, prospects and clients don’t want to go back. A study conducted by business management service McKinsey & Company found that between 70-80% of B2B decision-makers prefer remote communication and digital self-service to in-person alternatives. The main reasons for the preference being ease of scheduling, savings on travel expenses and safety.

Compounding these preferences is the fact that they’re strengthening.

In April of 2020, the number of decision-makers who believed digital measures were “much less” and “somewhat less” effective than traditional means hovered around 45%. By August 2020 that number dropped to 26%. Those who believed the digital measures to be “somewhat more” and “much more” effective increased from 30% to 46% in the same time period.

• What service changes do they want?

Decision-makers in businesses of all industries are looking for specific things in the post-pandemic environment. Here are some of the items on their service wish-list:

Digital Self-Service—Clients increasingly don’t want to jump on the phone every time a service change is needed. If they’re in need of 50 fewer towels and four more mats next delivery, they want to sign in, press some buttons and be on to the next task.

Quick Responses—Both prospects and clients want to feel valued and their time is appreciated. Quick responses to service changes, estimate requests or complaints are the best way to demonstrate that.

For prospects, the first company to respond to their service requests will get special consideration as a quick response here likely means a quick response during service.

For clients, quick responses to queries or complaints help cement their service provider as one truly looking out for them.

Transparency—Whether it’s billing practices or the facility itself, prospects and clients want to know what’s really going on. Having clear-cut, non-surprising billing throughout service, as well as walk-through videos showing off machinery and facility processes, goes a long way toward building trust.

Adaptability—In a business environment like the one COVID-19 forced upon us, prospects and clients experienced an unprecedented need to adapt to shifting demands and regulations. They want a service provider capable of the same.

Reliability in a Storm—Between supply-chain strains and shortages they’re dealing with themselves, the one place customers and prospects want stability is their service provider. One that continues service as expected, no matter the climate, will garner high praise and continued service.

WHY KEEPING UP IS IMPORTANT

Linen and uniform laundry is a special industry with unique factors not present in other industries. We provide vital materials and services for the day-to-day operations of nearly every kind of business.

Additionally, the services we provide are fundamentally simple but complicated by volume and regulation. Lastly, many of our industry peers are legacy owners who have been doing things the same way their parents and grandparents did, save technological advancements.

This is all to say that laundry service does not play on the same field as other industries, whose products or services are regularly subject to budgetary cutbacks, extensive competition and transient relevance.

The question is, why should we abide by these cumbersome COVID-19 business model modifications? Can we not relax in the warm waters of necessity and tradition while the world works through this phase?

We can, but for how long?

• More than COVID-19 to consider

Though COVID-19 has certainly been the main driver of challenges to traditional business models the past two years, other challenges are on the horizon. The biggest of them all is retirement.

In eight years, every single baby boomer will be 65 or older. As decision-maker retirements take hold, younger, tech-enabled professionals will take their places. They will likely not possess the same operational inclinations their predecessors did. They might even require the factors listed above when considering a potential service partner.

Check back next Tuesday for the conclusion on how to keep up with client/prospect preferences, benefits from changes.