COVID–19 is forcing companies to adapt quickly to change. Some are redesigning their products or services and others are even creating new ones in response to the changing demands of customers, staff, suppliers and stakeholders. With millions of people self–isolating and forced into their own period of disruption, some organisations have sadly shut–down or suspended their activities. Others have been fortunate enough to keep things ticking over amid the uncertainty, while others still have been able to make good out of the current circumstances through innovation and flexibility.
We’re also seeing organisations develop new, or adapt existing products and services for the benefit of those in need at this time. From manufacturing organisations now producing personal protective equipment, to cosmetics and alcohol companies producing hand sanitisers, to gyms, sports clubs and hotels giving up their space to NHS workers, we are seeing positive and innovative use of time and resources across the globe from all sectors.
Innovation from our clients
In this article, we tell the stories of three of our clients who have inspired us by using innovation to adapt during this unprecedented time. These short case studies demonstrate the benefits of user–centred design across several sectors and industries:
- Denis Wilson of Glenavy
- Learning Pool
- Belfast City Council
Denis Wilson of Glenavy – From downing tools, to upping online sales
Denis Wilson Of Glenavy is a long–established importer, distributor and retailer of hand tools, power tools, garden machinery, workwear, PPE and engineering supplies. With a successful retail and wholesale business operating from its store and warehouse in Glenavy, Co. Antrim, they made the move to online sales in 2018 to support the core business and enable growth. This new venture was led by Ecommerce experts Groundswell, with Fathom working in partnership to provide user experience research and design for their online store at dwtoolshop.com.
Prior to the Covid–19 pandemic, sales from the physical store and warehouse remained the core revenue generator for the business, with online providing a valuable support mechanism. The split between revenue typically sat at around 75% vs 25% in favour of sales revenue through the physical store.
When the pandemic hit, like so many businesses employers had to protect both employees and customers; the store was forced to close. Denis Wilson placed most of its staff on furlough, keeping the web team working from home to support online sales and a much–reduced warehouse team to support online dispatch.
The Covid–19 response
What surprised them initially in the first couple of weeks after lockdown was the natural and dramatic uplift in website traffic and sales, without additional marketing, SEO or advertising spend. To take advantage of this increased demand and to leverage the opportunity to serve a larger online market – and potentially keep the business operating and jobs secure – Denis Wilson invested in a number of initiatives:
- Some more warehouse and customer support staff were taken off Furlough, and brought back to the warehouse to aid customer service and speed and efficiency of online sale picking, packing and distribution
- A search module with self–learning capabilities called ‘Klevu’, designed to work exclusively with Magento, was installed in order to drive higher conversions and to improve product findability
- A collection service for key products was developed to support essential local services across healthcare and food production
- Dedicated design, development and paid media resources with agency support were put into landing page and home page optimisation every 2–3 weeks
- A contactless ‘click/call and collect’ service was launched for more local customers to get the products they needed.
Retrieved from DWToolshop.com
The forced change to priorities in response to customer needs and new buying habits led to these changes being made to help retain customers and acquire new ones, while at the same time ensuring that they protected staff across the business.
Results and the future
The revenue figures across the business are now at a level comparable to before the pandemic, with a four–fold increase in web–traffic and the improvements in UX driving online conversion rate up by over 20%. The focus on online has come clearly into view as a bigger priority for the immediate, medium–term and long–term health of the business.
Darren Wilson, General Manager commented on learning from the recent changes to how they are running their business:
“We have clearly seen the value in optimising online channels to help us stay competitive during this time – protecting jobs and serving the growing needs of our customers. Yes, online traffic has naturally increased, but we should have been doing what we are doing all along since launching last year and relentlessly optimising the online shopping experience, instead of seeing it as a support to our main physical store.”
Learning Pool – Reacting to the remote–working revolution
Learning Pool, founded in 2006, is an award–winning UK–based e–learning company who creates content and LMS technology solutions that engage and empower modern learners across the world.
When the Covid–19 outbreak reached pandemic levels, organisations began to invest their money differently, and a number of industries saw significant upturn in demand. E–Learning was one such industry, with an increase in spending of 23%* largely due to continued training and development needs in the absence of physically facilitated courses.
Data collected from 2,168 respondents from 09.04.20–10.04.20 by email survey to TrustRadius database of software buyers and users. Retrieved from Trust Radius
Offering free Coronavirus e–learning content
To help their customers support their staff, Learning Pool has launched the Coronavirus Course Essentials library to address the impact of the current pandemic and to help organisations maintain team and individual performance. In essence, to continue to deliver results through digital learning. The content, sourced from global authorities, is available for free for up to 90 days so that businesses can share only accurate information relating to the virus and minimise the negative impact of misinformation.
Coronavirus Course Essentials library. Retrieved from Learning Pool.
e–learning to support remote working
Learning Pool has been refreshing their catalogues, creating e–learning modules for specific areas of need including ‘agile working’ and ‘home working’. Learning Pool clients can use the resources within these modules to help ensure their staff are equipped for home working as best they can. The content ranges from ways to ensure employees have the appropriate equipment and technology in place to help with collaboration, to encouraging staff to take regularly scheduled breaks to protect their physical and mental wellbeing.
In relation to this, they have created a number of free modules including a Mental Health Awareness module for those struggling with isolation during the Government–enforced lockdown period. Learning pool has told us that over 380 people have viewed the MHA module during the last seven weeks.
Instructor–led training to online learning
Many organisations have contacted Learning Pool, wondering how to transform their instructor–led training to a virtual experience. Learning Pool has been able to create and provide free content, including Open Learning Experience (OLX) ‘Rapidly put your learning online‘, which covers preparation and planning, social learning and content curation, live online learning, making good video content and more. Experts from across the learning industry and beyond have collaborated to produce this new resource. This initiative has had an impressive 562 enrolments since launching at the start of April.
‘Learning Pool Live’ goes virtual
Learning Pool Live is a series of events that are held throughout the year giving customers the chance to hear from industry pioneers and hundreds of peers for a day of innovation, idea sharing and the latest in learning strategies. The virtual event was a huge success; typically Learning Pool would have expected around 130 registrations at a bricks–and–mortar event, while the online one has seen 348 registrations.
Caring for staff means caring for customers
A core value of Learning Pool is ‘doing the right thing’, and in response to the Covid–19 pandemic, they have implemented a number of new measures to help keep their colleagues and customers safe.
To aid morale and team cohesion, many departments have scheduled virtual mid–morning ‘coffee breaks’ or team drinks after work and they have a weekly quiz prepared by their Learning Consultants team.
As a reward for all staff who have been working tremendously hard since lockdown began, 15.05.2020 was named ‘Learning Pool Day’ where CEO Paul McElvaney gave this day off to all staff to help them relax, unwind and spend time with their families.
Since mid–March, the majority of their workforce (across seven offices in both the UK and US) have been working remotely and the teams are still functioning well, with staff surveys indicating high levels of morale and support are being maintained.
Support staff have responded to more than 13,000 queries and tickets in the last seven weeks and are thrilled that there has been no drop in their 98% customer satisfaction rate.
Belfast City Council – ‘Xpanding’ business innovation with COVID Connect
Over the past year, Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Team has been working with Belfast company Xpand, who are developing an SME engagement and market analysis platform as part of an R&D project funded by €1m from the European Institute of Technology and Innovation (EIT).
When the COVID–19 outbreak was reaching pandemic proportions, the collaborative Xpand and Belfast City Council teams used design–thinking to research, adapt and test the software. They launched a BETA version of the platform in April, with additional functionality added over the following weeks.
How it connects with its users
The website has four main sections with the following features and content:
Support offered: A list of organisations and the support they are offering is accessible to all, for example, products, services and expertise. This includes pro–bono and discounted support.
Support required: A list of organisations (public, voluntary and community sectors) and the support they require to tackle their specific COVID–19 challenges.
What’s happening right now: A list of initiatives and projects already taking place in Northern Ireland to showcase innovation, identify replicable ideas and reduce duplication.
Resources: Signposting to useful information including COVID–19 funding opportunities and online events, as well as resources for data–driven projects.
Belfast City Council’s City Innovation Team has launched this initiative, working with Xpand. Retrieved from Covid Connect NI.
Once registered on the website, an organisation can submit offers and requests, edit their listings, and connect with other organisations offering or needing support. To help speed up the registration process, the platform uses data from Companies House to autocomplete fields, such as address and business sector. Through testing this was deemed an extremely useful feature to speed up submissions and improve form completion rates.
The City Innovation Team reviews any submissions to ensure that they meet the criteria, and around 60 listings have been submitted to the website so far. The team is also working in close communication with business owners and stakeholders to define their challenges and understand how digital solutions can help.
Councillor and community comments
Belfast Lord Mayor, Councillor Daniel Baker spoke about the real need for innovation at this time:
“The idea came about because we were receiving fantastic offers of help from our innovator community and lots of calls for help from those delivering key services during this crisis. Organisations are feeling the strain at the moment and, for some problems, digital can provide them with a solution.”
NICVA chief executive Seamus McAleavey was keen to highlight the needs of NI’s voluntary sector:
“It’s a challenging time for the voluntary and community sector who are in many ways at the forefront of the response to the Covid crisis. As organisations work through the process of adapting how they operate, this kind of specialist support from experts is a timely initiative.”
A spirit of innovation in the face of adversity
These examples from only three of our clients are among countless examples of innovative, creative and inspiring changes that this pandemic has forced or encouraged from organisations in many different sectors, in the UK and Ireland and across the globe.
There is no denying that COVID–19 has had a catastrophic effect on so many organisations, staff and industries and the economy as a whole. We should though, when we see it, take time to celebrate creativity, collaboration and innovative change which helps organisations survive, or thrive. Let’s hope that as we come through this crisis that the spirt of adaptability and support continues through this current wave of change, and that the ‘new normal’ for organisations is more prosperous for it.
Cover image: Ulltang, N. (Photographer). Close Up of Blue Paint [digital image]. Retrieved from Pexels / Modified from original.