The new normals in a world where Covid-19 unfortunately is becoming a part of our life will bring about many changes in the way businesses will be conducted, and more importantly the way we live our life.
The nation-wide lockdown is slowly being lifted across orange and green zones and life is slowly crawling back to a new-normalcy. Businesses and brands are now are making their way back into the business; planning their communication plans for a new world post the covid-19 lockdown.
In this story of Medianews4u’s new brand series, Back to Business, we spoke to Sohinder Gill, CEO, Hero Electric.
How are you coping with the impact of Covid-19 on Hero Electric? How effectively have you used the lockdown period?
Well I think, none of us in our lifetime have faced this crisis like COVID and there is no precedence or a rule book to solve the havoc it has created in our lives – whether it is business or personal. So, a lot depends on what comes upfront on your mind to handle a situation that has so suddenly sprung up. It means lot of experiments; it means a lot of hits and trials till you hit the right spot. But most important, it means that you can’t waste time in keeping on trying and trying. You have to soon hit the solution that means agility, speed of response become so important. So, we have been trying to exactly follow this process, doing some quick experiments, seeing which one works most with a baseline and the baseline being communication. We have been communicating very effectively, and continuously to all our customers – internal or external customers, network, stakeholders to share our views with them and understand the real problem that they are facing – whether it is in business or their personal life. We are trying to keep ourselves and our employees engaged through weekly video calls with industry leaders who talk about what lies ahead, future and share interesting anecdotes, how they are spending their time in this period. Personally, I interact with all the employees frequently over video calls and discuss important things and issues – if any – and what can be done to help them out. We also engage in interesting games and activities to keep the minds healthy and break the monotony.
As far as effect on brand or organization is concerned, I think it is difficult to fathom what will be the real impact in times to come. It started with the firefighting on how to get the business back on keel and to a certain extent we have been successful in doing that. In the last few months we have heavily invested in re-skilling and up-skilling of our employees and reinforced the functional teams. The shared synergy between departments is a delight to see and had strengthened cohesiveness in the organisation.
The quest for a solution to a particular crisis helps invent new business opportunities and sometimes leads to a revision of existing business models … What sort of innovation has or will the Covid-19 pandemic bring to your brand/industry/category?
We have tried to build agility and quick response into the fabric of our organisation. Since there is no precedence of any successful model in the EV industry in India, we’ve had to chart out our own path based on our conviction and collective wisdom and that has paid handsome rewards, I must admit.
This agility has come handy in the Covid times as the team worked tirelessly to innovate new ways of doing business. Some of the things that we have been trying have got great success, some have not really worked. The sum total is that we are fast recovering from the dip in the business. Online sales, digital marketing, virtual customer connect are some of the ideas we have implemented in the last three months and perhaps will stay with us forever because these are newer ways of doing business and some of them are very refreshing, very important for the future of the business which is likely to be more and more digital. Some others that we have learnt will be modulated, some of them will become part and parcel of the organization whereas in some ways we will go back to our old business as usual, the way we were doing business before the COVID.
We’ve done numerous first of their kind innovations in the past and continue to do so. Some of the unique innovations that we are currently offering to our customers:
- A three day trial and test promotion – this is a first of its kind test of our vehicles by our customers where they can return the vehicle back within 3 days of purchase should they not enjoy the experience for any reason.
- Home delivery of vehicles – due to the lockdown, we have been promoting safe health and safety for our customers and have not only been delivering vehicles to them at home but in a lot of cases been servicing their vehicles for them at their homes as well.
- Portable batteries – our entire range has portable batteries which could be taken up to your apartment or office to charge from a wall outlet the way you would charge your mobile phone, thereby making it extremely easy and convenient for our customers.
- Charging infrastructure – we’re in the process of creating a highly dense charging infrastructure for our customers to do away with ‘range anxiety’ issues. We have already installed ~650 such stations and are targeting around 6,000 to be installed this year.
- Customer and potential customer interactions – we’re using technology to interact directly with our customers to understand better how they use our electric vehicles and also to answer any questions that potential customers or fence sitters may have relating to electric vehicles. So, we have our senior cross-functional teams getting into extensive and interactive webinars with potential customers and existing customers to directly address any issues that they may have or any questions they may have regarding electric mobility and our vehicles. This is a first of its kind interaction with customers and we’ve had hundreds of customers log into each webinar and are very excited to be talking directly to the senior members of our team and having them address their issues!
- PGO’s – We’ve been training the roadside mechanics extensively to be able to ‘fix’ any minor problems that come up in the vehicles like tyre punctures etc., where you don’t necessarily need to go our dealership and could be handled at one of our Preferred Garage Owners outlet.
While some parts of the country have become Covid-19 free, cities like Mumbai and Delhi are still in a lockdown situation. How are you planning to resume business across cities that are not in the Red?
There are many cities not in the red but doesn’t mean that the customer over there or the people over there have started coming back to their old habits of buying what they really needed. They’re extra cautious, they want to conserve cash, they don’t want to go out beyond their very essential jobs and works so therefore even in the places where the red zones are not there, the customer behavior is very different from what it used to be. Which means that we also have to reach out and do things that we have never done before so as to fill the gap between the new perceived needs of the customer and company’s capability of bringing our business closer to the customers. Social distancing is one of the very important aspect of our explaining to the customer – how he can be safe, how he can be secure and how he can in very little money able to commute today during this COVID period or thereafter.
We are cognizant of the situation and are working 24/7 to keep track of what is happening. For us, every city holds equal importance and we are trying, in accordance with the safety protocols, to re-open our dealerships. The dealers have strict instructions when it comes to sanitization of vehicles, showroom, and their health.
What will be your communication strategy post the opening of the lockdown? Understandably bringing customers back to you would be difficult… What will be the objective of the communication/marketing strategy?
Well, we always used to give very factual communication but increasingly so, we are proactively informing the positives and negatives of E mobility. We want our customers to make a concerted well informed decision. We have trained our dealers also to be very genuine and transparent with the customer. We don’t want to create an artificial demand and create a customer base that is half-satisfied after buying the vehicle and therefore all our attempts have been on improving our communication across the board at all levels to speak with one voice very factually, very correctly what customer is demanding to know and sometimes we brutally honest.
What are some of the post-lockdown business strategies that you will use to bring the business back on track or at least get it in the right direction and also create demand for yourself?
We will increasingly focus on affordability as now is not the time for premium, luxury, high-end products. We have rejigged our product development plan so as to offer more and more “value for money” products. Our bikes are the “best in class” in the “total cost of ownership” and a best-fit mobility solution for a customer who wants a home-to-home, convenient, comfortable, safe commuting solution. Someone who buys a Hero e bike is assured of the lowest running cost and years to trouble-free operation and that will remain the center point of our strategy.