Did you manage to find any workarounds for the aforementioned processes?
GP: I am convinced that human beings have an incredible ability to quickly adjust to changing environments. For instance, we managed to adjust to remote working immediately. I am referring to our customer service and administration teams in particular who, despite many changes to their work days, have continued to provide a seamless customer experience. In some cases, we managed to keep supporting customers with online sessions and replacing parts swiftly. So teamwork with our IT group has been essential, as well as close communication and coordination with our supply chain and customer service groups.
All this reminds me of another important outcome of the current situation: teamwork and cooperation across functions lead to enhanced results. In addition, Communication, internal and external, are equally critical. For instance, daily online huddles with my direct reports across EMEA have become part of our routine, they may remain in place for a long time. Customers want to be reassured you are there for them, especially now. They will remember that.
Travel restrictions are usually among the first measures in the event of an outbreak. How has MSA Safety adapted to these restrictions?
GP: Well, like everyone else, we have severely curtailed company travel, and have made sure we are aligned with any restrictions imposed by the different countries. Once again, we have adjusted to the new situation quickly: if you know your customers’ needs well, you realize how much you can still do anyway (webinars, online sessions, virtual led training sessions, besides the use of videoconferencing tools).
In terms of aftermarket support, I would continue to say the overall impact of COVID has been and continues to be limited, as our work has continued given MSA’s connection to so many essential businesses. The impact we have seen basically applies to cases where an overnight stay was needed and hotel accommodation was not available, due to the lockdown measures being taken in several countries. With regard to that, every country’s government across EMEA has approached this topic in a slightly different way: we make sure that local regulations are always followed. As we begin moving into PHASE 2 in most EMEA countries, accommodations are becoming more available with may new protocols in place. Nonetheless, our field operations are up and running. The new situation definitely requires even more work and focus for our managers and schedulers, in order to optimize “trips” and ensure that our customers get the support they need, on time, with the right people and parts. Productivity and utilization remain the key aspects of service operations.
Do you think the current pandemic will have any long-lasting effects on business travel?
GP: This is a big topic right now, across many industries and businesses.
First of all, we need to wait and see how PHASE 2 will evolve and, after that, when this virus will be completely defeated. Until then, surely the business travel – as leisure travel – will be kept to a minimum “essential” travel where we balance customer needs with local regulations.
I will always maintain that face to face communication is key to building meaningful, valuable, and long-lasting relationships, especially at the beginning of the “customer journey.” I am convinced that this will not change.
But, once this pandemic is over, I do think that businesses will re-evaluate how travel can be managed differently, based on what we have learned from this situation. This includes making more and better use of online technologies. Travel is a significant element of many business P&Ls. I do believe the pandemic will lead many organizations to take an even closer look at those expenses and see what can be replaced by other ways of interaction. Also, attendance at major trade industry events and gatherings may be looked at as well.
Are there any particular areas that haven’t been impacted as much by the current pandemic, or at least not negatively affected?
GP: Again, aftermarket service in general has seen a limited impact. And with the start of PHASE 2 in the different countries, we already see an immediate, further increase in activities. All our factories throughout the world are open and running. Despite the distance, our people are staying connected with each other and with our customers. Generally speaking, every function has managed to keep providing value to the business and to our customers.
Specifically, the service center keeps operating as normal and offer important support to the whole business. Customer service teams are as close to Customers as they ever been.
It seems that during these times, safety is even more critical…
GP: Absolutely, and thank you for highlighting this point. We are fortunate that our mission to help protect people in the workplace has gone unchanged for 106 years. Safety is even in our name. I believe that in the medium and long term, more businesses and governments will focus on safety more than ever. This period is showing us the importance and criticality of safety in any enterprise, and in so many other aspects of our lives.
We see and hear this every day from our customers: being able to play such a big role in today’s environment and helping people to stay safe is a responsibility of which we are most proud. But with that, a big responsibility comes as well. The aftermarket service teams feel that too and they can play a big role.
Let’s try to end on an optimistic note. Are there any positives we can look forward to after we start regaining some normalcy in our day-to-day?
GP: Absolutely, I see a lot of opportunities in front of us, also in the aftermarket arena. In general, during a crisis, aftermarket shows a natural resilience. To summarize everything said above, I maintain that some very positive changes will emerge from this pandemic, and we will see an acceleration in Digitalization (especially IIoT or Industrial Internet of Things, Predictive Maintenance, Virtual and Augmented Reality), an increased focus on Safety of employees (and people in general), and also on Strategic Partnerships. It is clear how important it is to build strong relationships with partners: nobody goes through such a crisis on their own. We all rely on trusted partners to accomplish our mission and achieve our goals. This crisis presents us all with an opportunity to reflect on this point and help us forge new, meaningful, and stronger relationships.