Projects big and small took a back seat to COVID-19 for the bulk of 2020. Construction companies felt the greatest impact, as they scrambled to reschedule work and soothe customers who quickly felt tired of the global pandemic delaying their building and renovation plans. To some extent, the engineering and manufacturing sectors also felt the pinch of the pandemic as postponements became inevitable.
As things begin to shift back to some semblance of normalcy, the challenges facing the construction, engineering, and manufacturing industries are hardly over. If anything, it has shifted course to include new potholes in the roadway to returning to business as usual.
Obstacle #1: Supply chain disruptions
One of the biggest challenges will be overcoming supply chain disruptions. There are several reasons why supply chain disruptions occur. The most common include:
- Natural disasters
- Price fluctuations
- Product problems
- Transportation failures and delays
Pandemics are one of the most disruptive events to the supply chain because they can cripple the global economy. We saw evidence of this during the COVID-19 pandemic when the global supply chain experienced unprecedented interruptions. Lockdown restrictions in Australia and across the globe all but brought the world economy – and the global supply chain – to a standstill. Severe operational and financial consequences occurred, leaving industrial sector businesses struggling to obtain the materials needed to fulfil their contracts.
Even as economies rebound and lockdowns are relaxed across the globe, the supply chain is slow to recover. Sixty-eight per cent of organisations said the pandemic forced them to adapt their business models. Two-thirds acknowledged their supply chain strategies will require a significant adjustment to rebound.
Obstacle #2: Scheduling and resourcing
Some companies are fortunate enough to have the supplies they need to begin scheduling jobs. That does not mean they are good to go to get started processing work orders. There is another issue that can grind things to a halt: scheduling and resourcing.
Construction supplies are not the only component of the process that may be tight throughout 2021. Access to internal and external resources like employees and contractors poses a real conundrum for some companies. There is a real shortage of skilled labour to help fill customer orders and meet deadlines for projects. Without adequate manpower, it matters little whether your organisation has the supplies it needs to complete the work.
Even when adequate staffing levels are available, division operators must adhere to strict guidelines about social distancing whilst on work sites. The physical distancing provisions alone can result in a reduced number of labourers permitted on site, which can significantly slow down progress and delay the completion of work.
The COVID-19 safety guidelines have a trickle-down effect on other aspects of the business. Limiting the number of workers on-site requires concise scheduling of the workflow of contractors and the delivery of any materials needed. Staggering shifts is another real possibility that can complicate matters.
Obstacle #3: Customer engagement
Between supply chain disruptions and manpower shortages, companies in the industrial sector have had to get creative with scheduling. Construction in Australia was not halted or limited during the COVID-19 lockdowns since it was viewed as an essential service. However, things still got backed up a bit due to the supply chain disruptions and labour shortages.
Construction, engineering, and manufacturing companies are working diligently to complete projects that were placed on hold whilst scheduling new requests. In some worst-case scenarios, projects have been completely cancelled. Some customers are more reasonable about these kinds of complications than others. Figuring out the best way to communicate and engage clients who are affected by delays and cancellations is just one more obstacle this industry faces as it works hard to bounce back from a challenging year of conducting business.
Sound strategies for soothing impatient customers
If your business is facing this trifecta of challenges, all is not lost. There are effective ways to soothe impatient customers to keep them from deferring or outright cancelling contracts with your organisation. Opening the lines of communication with customers is one of the best ways to tackle this sensitive issue. Here are some other tools for calming them whilst you convince them to stick with you.
- Do not delay notification. This is non-negotiable. As soon as you know there is an issue – supply chain disruption or labour shortage – that will affect the original timeline for your project, communicate it immediately. Be sure to clearly convey the reason for the delay. Keeping customers in the know is the best way to help them feel engaged and valued, even when you must deliver bad news.
- Do not point fingers. Sure, there is a legitimate reason why the project is delayed. Whilst you owe your customer an explanation, you should not point fingers and try to place blame on someone else’s shoulders. Projects post-covid are held up by things that are out of your control. Playing the blame game will do nothing to encourage your customers to stick with you. If anything, it may be the deciding factor in their cancelling of a contract with you.
- Bring a solution to the table. Just as communicating the reason for a delay and not pointing fingers is important, so is having a solution at the ready when you deliver the unfortunate news. This can help restore your customer’s confidence in your ability to do the work for which you were hired. It shows you are not just there to make excuses for the delays but are prepared to act to help salvage the relationship with the customer and deliver on the work promised.
A final word on the customer pipeline
There is little argument that 2020 was a challenging year for many industries. As we move forward and regain our footing, it is up to you to help your customers remain optimistic and confident in your abilities to schedule and finish projects. Continuing to nurture impatient customers is the best way to keep them engaged and committed to their projects for 2021 and beyond.