05 Nov How to Reassure Your Customers That It’s Safe to Return to Your Business
Has your business reopened after shutdown due to COVID-19? Congratulations! However, traffic and sales most likely aren’t yet back to their pre-pandemic level. As many owners of retail stores, restaurants and bars have seen, not all customers feel ready to return. Also, businesses that provide services at customers’ homes may be experiencing a drop because some people hesitate to allow members of your team into their “bubble.”
Reassuring your customers that it’s safe to return to your business (or for you to return to their home) requires a communications strategy. Using social media, email and other types of digital marketing can effectively – and economically – reach your existing customers, and even connect with potential new customers.
Why It’s Important to Communicate with Your Customers
People are receiving mixed, conflicting messages about safely resuming their normal activities. State guidelines may conflict with local guidelines, and recommendations from health organizations can also change. You need to tell your customers the steps that your business is taking to provide a safe environment.
Rose Souders, CEO and founder of Potluck Consulting, summed up the situation as follows:
“It’s only natural for a concerned citizen that’s been holed up for months to feel nervous about going to get a beer from an outdoor bar or shopping in person instead of online. Not everyone is following the recommended (or even required) health and safety protocols, so it’s incredibly important as a business that you reassure customers during COVID-19 and showcase how you’re taking safety seriously. If you’re not communicating with your customers, then you’re leaving it up to them to fill in the blank. It’s an uncomfortable guessing game.”
Make Your Message Clear
You may be surprised by the number of businesses – including restaurants – that don’t specify the measures they’re taking to disinfect common areas, food prep areas, restrooms, check-out lines, etc. Or the measures that employees are taking, such as wearing face masks and/or gloves, social distancing, etc. You may run one of these businesses, and be surprised that customers expect this kind of detailed information.
Actually, we don’t blame you. If your business is well-established and you have a regular client base, you may assume that your regulars already know your standards. But nowadays, all bets are off. Explaining how you’re looking out for them will go a long way in keeping your loyal customers just that!
Avoid vague statements, such as “We wipe down our surfaces on a regular basis.” This raises such questions as “With what?” “How often – after each customer contact?” “Who cleans the surfaces, and is there consistent training on the types of products used and how surfaces are cleaned?” It makes a big difference if an employee takes a few indifferent swipes at a countertop or table with a cloth after a squirt or two of a disinfectant spray, or follows a protocol to ensure the areas are sanitized. If you don’t spell it out, customers might imagine the very minimal is being done, and stay away.
This is especially important for businesses that provide services at customers’ homes. People may be wary of allowing strangers into their home, not knowing where they’ve been, so to speak. Communicate to your customers and target audience the steps you’re taking to ensure their health and safety.
Speaking of spelling out your protocol, words matter. While cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing are often used interchangeably, each has a specific meaning. Novant Health infection preventionist Amy Braden provides the following definitions:
- Cleaning is the physical process of removing dirt, germs, viruses and bacteria, typically using soap and water. While it doesn’t necessarily kill germs, by removing them from surfaces and objects – including hands – you lower the risk of spreading infection.
- Disinfecting uses chemicals to kill germs. While it doesn’t necessarily clean dirty surfaces or remove germs, it kills germs and can lower the risk of spreading infection.
- Sanitizing is removing and lowering numbers of germs to a safe level, as judged by public health standards.
Other information to convey includes face mask/social distancing requirements, business hours and capacity. Many businesses now operate at reduced hours, and/or limit capacity to a certain percentage of customers – either by official order or through the owner’s sense of caution. For restaurants, this could necessitate requiring reservations for indoor dining, although reservations may not have been required pre-pandemic.
Also be sure to communicate if your payment method has changed. You don’t want to surprise customers used to paying by check or cash to suddenly find out that all transactions are now only by credit/debit card and/or electronic. No one likes being put in an inconvenient or embarrassing situation, which is an excellent way to lose a customer.
By doing so, not only will such information help your customers prepare for their shopping trip if you run a retail store, it will also make them feel more comfortable. Nowadays, unfortunately, setting out to shop has become an expedition. Avoiding misunderstandings and confusion among your customers is essential to a successful reopening.
How to Get the Word Out About Your Business
Obviously, this is a great deal of information to put in front of your customers. The challenge is in how to get the message across in a way that people will pay attention to and act upon by having the confidence to again walk through your door – or at least order curbside pickup, should they still be hesitant. Folded into this challenge is creating a consistent message for your multiple social media and marketing channels. Let’s take first things first.
Start with your website – Your safety program should be conspicuously placed on your site’s home page – either as a pop-up notice or a pop-up notice with a link to a landing page explaining your protocols in detail. Your subsequent social media posts can then reference or link to this page. Also include such information as hours and capacity, if applicable. Even if your hours haven’t changed, stating that fact up front gives your customers one less question to ask.
Writing for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Lightning Media Partners CEO Nicole Fallon recommends setting an automated message recapping the most pertinent information if your site uses live chat. Providing such touchpoints throughout your website is helpful for larger businesses without being overbearing.
Not every establishment requires a lengthy explanation. A small independent retail store will need to list far less information than a medical practice. Research your competitors’ websites (which you should be doing anyway) to see their approach.
Make creative use of social media channels – Fallon also recommends creating a series of posts for every social media platform your businesses uses and push them out leading up to your reopening, as well as during your first few weeks back in business. “Frequent updates about your staff and operations will show your customers you are open for business and actively addressing their needs.”
Considering the ongoing nature of COVID-19, our humble blog recommends incorporating such messages regularly in your social media posts for the present time. Depending upon the frequency of your postings, once weekly may be enough to remind people of your hours, social distancing requirements, sanitation protocols, etc. However, avoid taking a nagging tone. Phrase messaging to convey that your business is working to ensure the health and safety of its valued customers and the greater community.
Use video to show your customers your business with protocols in place – Our blog post – “The Secret to Getting Seen on Social Media” – covers the numerous opportunities for incorporating video into your social media posts and website. Potluck Consulting’s Souders provides the following tips for social media video, which has the advantage of showing people what you’re doing to keep them safe instead of just telling them!
- Use live video to provide transparency and build trust. Souders recommends doing a weekly Facebook or Instagram Live that gives people an unedited look at your business. “For example, you could show the bar making cocktails, but the background view is your outdoor tables being cleaned, customers properly using masks, tables spaced out, etc.”
- Record and edit a video that sums up the safety protocols and experience that customers can expect. “… rather than just a photo of a spray bottle or hand sanitizer bottle on a counter, take the time to brush up or learn video editing skills and record a montage of your safety protocols and what someone can expect when visiting. Publish it to your social media accounts and embed it on your website.”
Create a pinned post on your Facebook Business page that lists what a customer can expect – “This is a really good way to make sure your protocols are front and center on Facebook. I recommend adding a note about when the post was last updated in the text so that people know the information is still relevant.”
Don’t Forget Email!
In addition to sending your subscribers an email announcing your reopening, safety protocols, hours and payment method (if changed), incorporate reminders in consequent communications. A newsletter is an ideal way to communicate such information, and allows you to highlight some aspect of your business that involves your protocols. For example, feature your team and write about their training in sanitizing the premises. Calling them the “Clean Team” may seem cheesy, but it will stay with your subscribers!
Time to Get Back to Business! Good Luck to All!
While the slogan, “We’re all in this together,” may now seem cliché, our business community is still working to make the best of a challenging situation by operating as safely as possible. Communicating with your customers and being transparent in your safety protocols and any temporary or permanent changes from pre-pandemic days will help give you – and your customers – the confidence you need to come back stronger.
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