This lockdown has been tough on all of us – but maybe none more so than the small business owner. Unlike big corporations, small business owners don’t tend to have huge reserves of cash waiting to get them through months with no work. They have employees who rely on them to feed their kids and pay their mortgages, and customers who rely on them for their products or services. And when you can’t leave the house for anything but shopping and exercise, keeping all of those plates spinning can feel impossible.
It can be tempting to go down to the bare minimum, and cut out any activities that aren’t essential – including communicating with your customers. But even though it all seems a bit hectic, and there is a lot of uncertainty flying around, your business still needs to be proactive and communicative during the lockdown. Because what you do now will have an impact on your customer’s behaviour in the future, once the threat of Covid-19 has passed and we can all get back to our normal lives.
Changing Customer Policies
The first, and perhaps most obvious reason you still need to be active during lockdown is to stay in touch with your customers and update them on your operations. With some businesses closing their doors completely, some moving to an online model and others operating at reduced hours or capacity, it can be difficult for customers to figure out what’s going on. The businesses that are most likely to retain customers once the lockdown is lifted are the ones who have let their customers know what is going on, and what they’re doing to adjust to the new normal. Changes to your policies, how you’re handling customer interactions and if any of your services have been affected – all of this needs to be communicated effectively now, and not later. If you can do this, then you are more likely to retain a higher number of customers.
Keeping Customers On Side
All businesses need their customers to thrive. Open and proactive communication is key to keeping your customers on side and loyal to your business during troubled times. When people’s anxiety and stress levels are at an all-time high, customers have much lower tolerances for setbacks, and rather than navigate a bump in the road to continue working with you, they will leave at the first sign of difficulty and find a business with a smooth process instead. You can combat this by being proactive and really going the extra mile to help your customers. Review how your customer journey works and create a modified version for the current circumstances. For example, you might need to move all of your in-person meetings to zoom calls, or switch deliveries to contactless to avoid contamination. Work out where new issues will be, and create solutions to those problems. Adjust the way your business operates to make things as easy for your customers as possible – and then let them know that’s what you’ve done.
Give It Some HEART
HEART is all about making sure your customer relationships outlast coronavirus, and ensure you still have a business to come back to when it’s all over. It includes 5 key strategies that will help you weather the crisis and preserve the bonds you have with your customers. These are:
· Humanise your company. Let consumers know that your company understands the dire circumstances at play, and care about more than just profitability at this time. Empathise with those affected, and spell out the steps you’re taking to help customers.
· Educate about change. Tell them about all the changes to your operations, including new hours, site closures, staff reductions, customer service availability, ordering options and any special offers or free services you’re offering to help them cope with the situation.
· Assure stability. Elaborate on how, despite the upheaval, you will continue to provide the things they have come to know and love – the main reasons they use your business instead of others. Tell them how you’re maintaining your value propositions and ensuring they will get the same great service/products as always.
· Revolutionise your offerings. Move with the times, and make changes. Use this as an opportunity to revolutionise how you do business, offering new products or services that solve a new problem. Companies that take these measures (and let consumers know about them) will inject some hope and happiness into a troubled time, as they see how companies are developing ways to make their lives better.
· Tackle the future. The current situation isn’t great, but it will get better. Establish a timeline for when you’ll be re-evaluating the changes to your operations. While you have to comply with the government limits, go above and beyond when you can, and showcase that wherever possible.
The key in all of these points is that it’s important to signal that your company is taking ownership of the situation as much as possible, rather than letting the situation take ownership of you. With the right customer-centric attitude and an awareness of what people need right now, companies can come out of this crisis having strengthened their relationships with customers.