I am always fascinated by edge conditions and the change they drive. Some people use the word “margin” because it’s at the margin that things change. A situation or condition exists more or less in equilibrium with the rest of its environment until in one way or another the stresses of the situation become so great that change happens.
We have lots of metaphors, like “tipping point,” “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and many others that describe such situations.
Right now, we live in one or more edge conditions — personal, business and economic — and much blurring. Certainly, the pressures of trying to contain the coronavirus are stressing all of us, and in a broader sense I wonder if capitalism is in an edge condition.
Certainly, many younger people seem to have embraced political messages that at least question capitalism’s viability because of its fixation on growth. How we respond as a civilization will have much impact on how people view our dominant economic model.
Kindler, Gentler Capitalism
I am not one of those alarmists who arrive on the scene pointing out the one thing, or small handful of things, that will need to change overnight. I recently wrote that the most logical consequences will be the most affordable ones.
So, for instance, don’t look for massive changes in our transportation infrastructure or office layouts; those cost fortunes to change. At the same time, watch for improvements in virus screening and vaccine development to prevent a reprise of the pandemic we are living through.
In line with this, perhaps a kinder and gentler form of capitalism is in the offing. Companies are beginning to circle back to their customers to offer products to help customers weather the viral storm, either free or at greatly reduced prices. My interest at the moment is watching how Zoho, a CRM supplier, is dealing with the crisis.
Easing the Transition
A couple of weeks ago, Zoho launched Remotely, a virtual productivity platform comprising 11 collaboration applications. It is providing the solution to all size businesses for free. It’s doing that to help ease the transition to remote work for companies in any location around the world.
In just two weeks, more than 5,000 new companies are running on the platform, and that number is increasing every day. For instance, Zoho is witnessing 500 percent growth in use of its collaboration apps and 1,000 percent growth in daily new users of Zoho Meeting.
Today, Zoho went further when CEO Sridhar Vembu announced the small business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program (ESAP) to assist Zoho’s small business customers. Like Remotely, it’s free for a limited time.
In discussions with Zoho executives, I was surprised the first time one of them told me that the company didn’t care if it left money on the table and that the most important thing it could do was to make a happy customer. That’s in line with a famous maxim from the late business guru Peter Drucker: “The purpose of business is to create and keep a customer.” I suppose happy goes without saying.
Salvation and Loyalty
Now as a practical matter, it’s doubtful that all 50 million Zoho customers will line up for the free service. There will be enough paying businesses to support keeping the lights on and the disk drives spinning for the cloud software provider. So Zoho might not lose money on this, though it certainly will forgo revenue — but in the service of keeping its global business customers afloat. It’s a noble endeavor, and that’s precisely what’s most interesting.
In times of crisis, often the official channels become clogged and quit working. That’s when the small and indirect channels can spring into action and make a substantial difference.
Governments around the world are trying to formulate rescue packages for their whole economies to help them weather the storm. These are big picture things, though, and they’ll likely miss the detailed needs of companies, such as paying for subscription services.
So good on Zoho for thinking of this and for reaching out. The company is leaving money on the table intentionally, because it knows that a dead customer pays nothing and a saved customer might end up being extremely loyal.