‘COVID-19 has left an enormous impact on how we consume, learn, work, socialise, and even communicate.’
In our exclusive series of Business Leaders’ Perspectives, Mohsin Hani al Bahrani, Director, Automotive Division, Mohsin Haider Darwish, shares the company’s long and short term plans to maintain trust and buying trends of consumers. Excerpts:
What is your brief assessment of the position of your company in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during the peak season of Ramadan when business in Oman faced a challenge like never before?
Like all other sectors, the automotive industry has also faced its share of challenges, during these unprecedented times, as most of our sales are expected during Ramadan. Given the situation, our priority, from the onset, has been the safety of our staff and customers. In keeping with this, we have developed an e-commerce site to reach out to our customers and make buying easier.
What plans/strategies did you adopt to maintain your operations during the lockdown period over the past 2-3 months? How beneficial did this prove to be?
Moving online is the only solution, given the current situation and also for the future. We launched our e-commerce website in April and our customers have been able to book their vehicles, as well as buy them online. Not only this, they can also book test drives and service appointments through online channels. This timely initiative has helped us in achieving our sales numbers while adhering to all the requisites laid down by physical distancing norms.
Looking ahead, what are your immediate and short-term plans that you believe will help the company recalibrate and move forward with renewed purpose?
The impact of COVID-19 will continue for months, even after the pandemic is under control, and therefore, moving towards more cost-effective business operations is the only solution, besides making a move towards digitalisation.
What immediate changes are required in your workplaces, with regard to physical infrastructure, employee welfare, work culture and business promotion, in view of new guidelines related to COVID-19 (social distancing, hygiene/sanitation, health and fitness)?
Our showrooms are now open and operating under strict Supreme Committee guidelines. Aside from adhering to the directives issued by the Supreme Committee to combat COVID-19, we are implementing a number of steps to ensure that our employees and our customers are safe. Our facilities and offices are regularly sanitised, and we also have a strict plan in place regarding physical distancing and other safety measures.
What do you see as the most feasible solutions for mitigating losses experienced due to the lockdown (cost-cutting measures, downsizing staff, enhancing performance, increasing work hours, any other). Do you consider these as short-term or long term measures?
The most feasible solution is to invest in technology. The intent to purchase is still there, so giving our customers the luxury of buying from the comfort and safety of their own homes is key. Considering the impact of COVID-19 on the economy and the business sector, I would say these are long term measures.
What are your primary concerns regarding building/maintaining your company image, post-COVID-19, as well as improving performance to regain connections and trust with your consumers/clients?
From the onset of the pandemic, we have stayed connected with our customers. We have kept our customers informed about the developments on the pandemic and how our company is taking measures to ensure that our facilities are sanitised and ready to welcome them. Customers are able to book and buy their vehicles through our digital channels. While delivering and receiving vehicles, they are sanitised and all regular touch points are cleaned at regular intervals. These measures have helped to build trust among our customers.
Did you have the option of working from home for your staff during the lockdown and to what extent was it helpful? Will you continue to offer that option as part of your new strategy?
Yes, we had an option for our staff to work from home and it was beneficial. We are developing a strategy to make it more efficient, by keeping in view the interest of our customers and employees.
What lessons were learnt from this crisis that would help redefine your corporate goals as well as helping your company experience sustained growth in the years ahead?
Serving customers though digital means is the way forward; we are focusing on enhancing our digital platforms and have realised that being connected to customers, even through tough times, is critical. We have also learnt to be prepared for any eventuality, through the course of the pandemic and have understood the importance of staying responsive to changes and situations.
What additional challenges do you anticipate in 2020/2021 and would you now place greater emphasis on risk management so that you are not caught off guard again?
Like all other industries, risk management plays a vital role in the automotive industry, as well. Therefore we have and continue to keep risk management at the core of all our business activities and initiatives. All our recent investments have been planned, studied, and made in keeping with this.
In your opinion, how important it is for staff to undergo training to realign themselves with the company’s policies/new strategies as well as to immerse themselves in a new work culture that the pandemic has dictated?
The need for further training and development, given these unprecedented times, is but obvious. At MHD, we believe our employees are one of our most important assets, and their skills and know-how should continue to be honed, even in the light of the COVID-19 situation. Our people are also the driving force behind our success and, hence, we intend to remain steadfast in incorporating the necessary training to help them advance their capabilities, so that they can continue to do their jobs to the best of their abilities.
How long do you envisage it will be, if at all, that your particular sector is performing at pre-COVID-19 levels?
It is too early to assess the damage caused by this global pandemic; there are signs that it will permanently change the way business, in particular, and society, at large, functions. From its impact on the global economy to our daily lives, COVID-19 will leave an enormous impact on how we consume, learn, work, socialise and even, communicate.
Are there examples of new thinking in other sectors that yours could adopt to good effect?
Yes, definitely, especially when it comes to ‘going digital’, customers are gravitating more towards digital experiences and digital products. As technology and digital services continue to ingrain themselves into more aspects of our lives, new technology has given way to new services; for example, in the banking and financial sector. Whether it is services such as
e-wallets or merely banking online, the digital transformation of the financial industry is ongoing, and this new means of thinking, is something we could all adopt to good effect.
What is the No 1 positive aspect you would take from the last three months?
The pandemic has resulted in what is effectively the largest ‘work from home’ experiment ever conducted in human history, the effects of which may even last post the pandemic. We’re seeing the effect on the internet, in terms of traffic patterns that are shifting. People are accessing more educational resources online for their kids, finding unconventional ways to connect with co-workers, friends, and family, and employers are being more flexible in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic, cloud-based technology. I believe, we might see these shifts last well beyond the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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