Your customers may be on self-quarantine, but that doesn't mean you can't stay connected and continue providing excellent service.
Over the last several weeks, consumers have increasingly panicked about COVID-19. Store shelves are depleted of goods like toilet paper and hand sanitiser. Schools are closing, offices are urging employees to work from home, and small businesses that rely on foot traffic are seeing their in-store sales take a hit.
If you've noticed a drop in patrons, you're not alone. According to the NFIB Research Center, nearly one-quarter of small business owners say the coronavirus outbreak is negatively impacting them in the form of slower sales (42%), supply chain disruptions (39%) and sick employees (4%). However, in our digital world, there are plenty of ways to stay connected to your customers through this pandemic and keep your business going through it.
Here are a few smart strategies for brick-and-mortar businesses looking to keep their audience engaged and in the loop, even if they're self-quarantined or avoiding public places.
Social distancing, while good for public health, is bad for small businesses. Foot traffic has dropped steeply since the coronavirus outbreak as more and more customers stay home and self-quarantine. Many business owners are worried that the impact of COVID-19 will be more profound and more long-lasting than anticipated. As a result, merchants in every industry are looking for ways to keep their customers during the coronavirus lockdown. Here are some tips to keep your employees and customers engaged from a distance.
To limit the coronavirus spread, many companies have gone entirely virtual, and the workforce in some states is required to stay at home, with the caveat of essential businesses and manufacturers exempt from these mandates. Although the world has seen unprecedented changes during the past few weeks, manufacturers and industrial companies need to keep their customers at the centre of their business strategy now more than ever. The world we live in is incredibly digital. So for your customers that still have jobs to be done, here's how you can take advantage of technology and stay connected with them.
Panic is on the rise. The majority of the world has packed themselves indoors, emphasising the importance of distance and isolation. Businesses are facing a unique problem; understanding how to stay sensitive and stay afloat.eCommerce businesses fight the prevailing situation with a slight advantage, especially within the field of software retail, office supplies, health and essential services.
Whether you are a small business or a large entity, you can partially avoid or counteract the effects of the coronavirus outbreak. The depth of mindfulness exercised within your business activities will be the determining factor. With the outbreak of COVID-19, everyone is focused on making sure people around the globe stay safe and healthy. For Facebook and many other companies, this has led to redefining how we communicate in times of crisis – enabling people to collaborate while working remotely, temporarily discouraging people in affected areas from meeting in person, and coordinating timely information and responses to employees around the world, wherever they have to work from.
In the workplace, technology can help minimise disruption to operations by keeping employees – especially those who work remotely or at home – connected, regardless of where they are. In times of uncertainty like these, communication is critical to help businesses safeguard their employees and navigate the unpredictable. As the coronavirus rapidly makes its way across the globe, the whole world is on high alert, scrambling to deal with the pandemic.
Human lives and public safety, of course, are the top concern when it comes to the coronavirus, and businesses and government agencies have responded by encouraging people to avoid crowds–which, by the way, are everywhere. A recent article in the New York Times stated that a critical concern is; as the virus continues to spread throughout Europe and the US, consumers will stay home.
We already see a behavioural shift, with people avoiding not only work, but restaurants, stores, and other public places where they might spend money. With customers staying indoors–and presumably online–digital marketing may well be a brand's best defence against coronavirus.
Let customers know what you're doing to prevent the spread of COVID-19
Send an email to your customers and post signage in your store to assure them that you're doing everything you can to protect their health when they visit your store. Share any increased cleaning, disinfecting and hygiene protocols you're following, and let them know that you are enforcing self-quarantine among any employees who might be experiencing symptoms. If you are altering your hours or closing your store for a deep-clean, you should let your customers know that, too.
The situation is evolving rapidly, and no one is quite sure what news each day will bring. Customers can empathise with merchants facing a crisis, as long as you communicate with them properly. Let your customers know if you're closing your doors, changing your hours and what steps you're taking to keep your employees and work environment safe and clean. If your store is closing, notify your customers on your social media channels, through email and on your website. If your store is staying open, describe the steps you're taking to mitigate risk. Download our customizable flyer that you can fill out and hang for customers to see.
Beyond letting customers know the logistics of your approach, give them away to stay connected. Customers spending more time at home will still need to shop for things. Direct consumers to your e-commerce store, take orders over social media and be prepared for more people to view your website than in previous months.
One of the biggest challenges businesses face during a communicable crisis is retaining customer trust. Keep your customers informed at all times. Let them know how you are restructuring internally in response to the ongoing threat. Inform your customers of all the extra precautions being taken to keep them and yourselves safe.
Give them opportunities to ask questions and verify the efficacy of your newly employed methods, with intent to improve not only your processes but the perception of your company. Businesses having transparent conversations with their customers are more likely to do well and not let their sales figures face a drastic dip.
Stream or video chat your services
Go digital with your services to continue to provide access to your customers who are sitting at home, wishing they could support your business. Tutors, personal trainers and even therapists are making themselves available virtually. Use a free tool like Google Hangouts, Skype or Zoom to offer your services remotely.
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If you're in a service vertical that doesn't lend itself to live videos, consider starting a Vimeo channel that allows customers to pay for videos with commonly requested information. Vimeo uses a paywall to give customers access to your content for a fee. For instance, an accountant can post a video detailing how to start a tax return (using a free tool like Loom to record their screen) and share it to their email list. A salon owner can post a video showing how to do in-home root touch-ups for customers that dye their hair. You may not be able to charge as much as your regular services, but it at least helps with cash flow in the meantime.
Your customers are already on social media, but these days, they are likely checking in much more frequently to get the latest updates on the virus. Whether you're posting about the virus specifically or trying to offer light, positive content to help make people's minds off the panic, it can be helpful to increase your posting frequency to ensure you are showing up in their news feeds.
You're likely already offering phone and email support to your customers, but open up other digital channels to let your customers know you're able to communicate wherever they are. Consider video conference calls instead of a regular phone call. Webex is offering its video conference tools for free to get you and your company through the pandemic. There are other options like FaceTime, Skype, and RingCentral. The idea is to have your customers understand that "face-to-face" feeling without really being there with you. Reaching out to current customers is an essential key to managing and promoting your business during an economic downturn.
At Thomas, we've implemented the ability for suppliers to share videos of factory tours or company overviews since travelling to facilities will be difficult for the near future. In essence, you can even add these to your Thomasnet.com profile. Did you know that 68% of people prefer to learn about a product or service through video? Customers love when the content is customised just for them — 39% of executives are more likely to call you after watching that video.
Social media platforms are a true blessing of the digital age—a system of communication accessible by the masses that solely requires connectivity infrastructure. In a day and age where operating handheld or larger scale electronic devices is a default measure, take the time to develop and cement your brand's social media presence truly.
Millions of prospective customers access information through social media sites and applications. Allow them to understand the care and thought put into developing your brand and maintaining it at a time of uncertainty. Offer a healthy mix of information about the situation, how your company is handling it and interactable distractions in the form of content and information which is relatable or relevant to any section of your target demographic.
Use video to make information and tips more engaging. "Workplace has been a great tool for us to communicate during the outbreak," says Lindsay Devereux, Senior Manager, Communications, Asia at American insurance giant Sun Life. "We're using the mark as important to amplify and track employee engagement with important announcements for people in affected areas. We've also been able to use video to share hygiene tips. We've seen an increase in posts as employees use the workplace to virtually connect and share when it's not possible to be together in person."
Do offer deals, sales and discounts
At a time of quarantine, with everyone indoors, digital products are consumed in high volumes. Online articles, video games, seasons of television shows and software that streamlines the work-from-home process find top users.
As a reseller for similar products via your eCommerce platform, maximise your customer satisfaction through cost-reducing offers. Introduce discounts and sales, offer gift cards, etc. to encourage customers to purchase. Further incentivising buyers through cost reductions can help distinguish you from your competition.
While you may think you should have increased costs due to scarce demand, think again. Incomes are harder to maintain with current circumstances in play, and as a result, there is an excess of free time with a reduction of purchasing power.
Let buyers understand you function on a customer-centric model that understands their needs and tailors business activity to cater to the same. If your business already has an e-commerce component, remind customers that they can still shop for their favourite items on your website. It might even help to offer a coupon or discount to encourage online shopping while your customers are staying home anyway.
If you operate a service-based business like a restaurant or a salon, you may want to consider offering online sales of gift certificates. Encourage your customers to buy a license now, so they can treat themselves and redeem it when the virus outbreak has slowed and their self-quarantine period is over. This can help maintain sales for you while giving your customers something fun and exciting to look forward to.
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Now is a good time to entice long-term purchases with discounts. If it aligns with your business model, encourage customers to lock in a one-year membership now at a cheaper rate. Gyms can offer a discount for groups starting after the virus has passed. If you have a retail store, consider offering free or discounted shipping for online orders. Help other small businesses in your area by providing a 10% discount if a customer brings in a recent receipt from another small merchant (other than your competitors).
Don't be too hard on yourself
As a business owner, the pressure to succeed is constant. Even at a time of widespread global concern, your business is still one of your top priorities. This would be a great time to take a step back from the day to day operations and understand the bigger picture of your operations.
While the change in business routines is unprecedented and can cause inconveniences to all stakeholders involved, prioritising is essential. Understand the value of the service you are trying to retail during a time of crisis. If you feel, personally, this is not a priority to purchase, chances are a lot of the population feels the same. If you are still willing to conduct professional activities at a time when too much income may not be generated, your spirit is admirable.
However, it may be more helpful and beneficial to your company, to allow for a re-evaluation of practices and direction during this time.
Taking the time to make your business better instead of funnelling time and money into the company could help you approach prevailing circumstances with a more practical approach and also allows you to plan for after COVID-19.
Don't spread fear and unverified information
The coronavirus has shaken the world up as it is. Rising statistics from verified government and global organisations have created widespread panic and concern.
This information has been shared rightly so; however, numerous agencies and organisations are circulating incorrect information. This information is ordinarily severe exaggerations or simply untrue. The biggest disservice we can do to the professional integrity of a company is to be an accessory to causing unnecessary chaos and panic.
It is essential to let your customers know you are aware of the prevailing situation. Encourage them to exercise caution and preventative measures. However, sharing visual and incorrect information to your audience is unnecessary and in bad taste.
Direct your clients toward official information centres. Help them understand your professional values and sincerity towards them.
We're all in this together
While maintaining business operations is the key to building livelihoods both personally and professionally, it is essential to note that this is a time of worldwide concern.
Your company and business activities are a source of income not only for yourself but for your employees and their dependents. As we face a global pandemic, trying to minimise the challenges faced by our team and our clients should remain our number one priority.
If your business has handled a time of crisis well, you will be able to kick it into high gear when markets return to their natural state.
Conduct your business activities with caution, care and compassion. However, DO NOT let business activities remain the focal point of your day.
There is no point trying to steer the ship without a healthy entrepreneur at its helm.