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Learning from the Pandemic

Looking back over this past year, there are some key learnings regarding how the pandemic has impacted customer behaviour. In our last article we spoke about the need to take time out to reflect on an ongoing basis. So, let’s reflect on some of the things we have been observing and the learnings we’ve derived from our observations.


Astron Energy is an important Supply Chain partner for most of our customers. What happens in global and local Supply Chains is therefore very important to us. Commentators have noticed that the most significant change brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic is that Supply Chains are, more so than ever before, seeking out reliability of supply at an affordable cost. In the past, price often trumped all in making decisions. Today, there is a more informed perspective that says that it's worth paying a little more to work with a partner who understands your business, anticipates the future and is able to reliably supply your needs. 

That supplier is investing in the relationship by building in a bit of redundancy or buffer stock, by producing locally and by equipping people to walk the extra kilometre for customers. Any business can trade at the lowest cost but not all can build long-term, reliable and mutually rewarding partnerships.

Astron Energy has been a reliable South African partner for 110 years so we understand the benefit of investing in partnerships for the long haul!


The second most obvious change we have all noticed is the speed with which people and businesses have adapted to remote working, usually from home offices. This is evident in the way our customers have habituated working from home, letting Zoom or MS Teams take up the heavy lifting in meetings. It’s very clear by now that this is not just a stop-gap measure but a new habit that will persist post-pandemic. Whilst it is likely that many of our customers will probably move to a more balanced, hybrid version of working from home AND the office, it’s unlikely that they will travel as much, especially on business, as before. Business travel is likely to take some time to return to pre-COVID-19 levels.


A hard lesson that has also been learnt from the COVID-19 journey is that if any business needs something important done very quickly, it will need to both embrace technology AND collaborate effectively with others. Without that approach, the vaccines would never have been developed as quickly. Collaboration with customers means understanding how we can leverage all of our combined resources, in ways that go beyond simply selling products or services, in order to create innovative solutions to challenges and opportunities that present themselves. Technology enables collaboration by providing visibility into what’s actually happening on the ground through sensors connected by the Internet of Things (IoT) in ways that could never be done before. Sharing this information contributes to building the trust required as the foundation for any partnership or deep relationship. In our industry, as we apply analytics to shared data, we are able to build important intelligence about how to make transportation and energy more efficient, safer and less harmful to our planet.

AdobeStock_295482953The power of technology to change the way we do things will intensify as the IoT, enabled by smart connectivity and intelligent analytics matures. This will require AE, as well as our customers, to rethink how we collaboratively acquire and use data to become both more efficient and effective. This will unlock new sources of shared value benefitting both partners.

Another key shift is that the pandemic has forced businesses to better understand how they can create value and grow. There is no doubt that if you’re a middleman, you’d better rethink how you deliver value going forward. Direct to customer (D2C) business models, enabled by technology, have become more prevalent as businesses look to reduce complexity, costs and improve service. The pandemic has forced everyone to rethink their strategies in a flat marketplace.

When people could not be there face to face because of COVID-19 concerns, technology increasingly stepped in. Even pre-pandemic, the race has been on to automate everything so as to increase the speed by which information flows to those who can make the right decisions. Klockner, a German steel business has automated their sales process through an App that displays an order on the aisles of a warehouse where stock is picked, so that pickers can do what is required instantaneously on order, without delays. 

McKinsey confirms that one of the most significant take-outs of the pandemic is that 75% of buyers and sellers say they prefer digital self-service and remote human interaction over face-to-face interactions.

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This doesn’t mean human interaction is redundant, after all relationships are still mission-critical, but the need to reduce redundant activity and time is at a premium. It means that we all need to critically re-think how we go to market. This is another trend, accelerated by COVID-19, that isn’t going to go away anytime soon.

There is however a side to our society that has been laid bare by COVID-19. The sad reality is that the pandemic has affected consumers and communities differently. Those with the resources have been able to pivot and adapt fast. Those without resources have become increasingly marginalised in a digitally-enabled world. This is not equitable or sustainable. One of our service stations in KZN has set up an internet hotspot under one of our well-lit canopies to enable local school children to access the internet to do their homework. A small act but it makes a large difference in the lives of those children. Business is more than just making money, it’s about making, in small and big ways, a dent in the inequalities in our society to ensure a better future for all.

As President Barack Obama famously said, ‘We did not come to fear the future. We came here to shape it.’ Astron Energy is paying attention to shaping the future. It is challenging orthodoxy and investing in digital enablement to connect people and businesses better. Its constantly looking for ways to contribute in a more meaningful way, to deeper collaborative relationships with customers and communities based on the important principle of creating shared value. 

Isn’t it time for us to have a broader conversation? 

Speak to us, we’d welcome the opportunity to explore ways in which we can pay better attention to what’s happening in your world. 

May we take a first step in shaping a better future with you?