With continued concerns about COVID-19, many customers now pause before heading into a brick-and-mortar store, asking themselves, “Is this necessary?” and “Is it safe?”
As a result, businesses are understandably worried. A survey by McKinsey found that almost half (47%) of small business owners are extremely concerned about the sustainability of their business due to the pandemic. For most owners (57%), the top concern remains a lack of customers and not knowing when customers will return.
You’ve likely made many changes to your brick-and-mortar location over the past few months to keep both employees and customer safe—social distancing indicators on the floor, hand sanitizing stations, plexiglass shields and more. As concerns about COVID-19 continue, the next step is revamping your marketing and communications plans to bring both past and new customers into your store.
Here are five ways to strategically reimagine both your business model and marketing during the upcoming months:
1. Update Your Google My Business Listing
Many small businesses previously relied heavily on drive-by traffic and word of mouth referrals. With people now being more purposeful about their shopping trips, it’s even more important to show up in as many Google searches with an accurate and professional listing. Customers are also researching safety protocols before deciding which businesses to visit in person.
By using Google My Business, a free set of tools provided by Google, you can increase your visibility online—a must-do marketing strategy for all businesses. These tools let you create a business profile, which includes photos, hours and details, as well as a link to your business website. If you previously set up a profile, be sure to review your listing to update any operational changes you have made due to the pandemic.
New changes to Google My Business for COVID-19 let you add online appointments to your listing as well as new service options, such as curbside available or take-out only. Additionally, you can now add a COVID-19 Update post to your listing to keep customers up-to-date on changes, such as services not currently offered. Google recommends using this post to inform your customers about your safety and hygiene practices to help customers feel comfortable visiting your location.
2. Make Contactless (Or Lower Contact) Service as Easy as Possible
While it’s likely that you already revised your service model over the past few months, businesses should now review their entire customer journey—from pulling up to the store through exiting the store—to look for new ways to make the process easier or involve less physical contact.
It's also a smart idea to create a plan for changing your model to include even less physical contact. That way, you're prepared if your local guidelines change and you're no longer able to have customers in your location in the future. Having this plan in place will allow you to immediately take action instead of figuring it out on the fly.
While many stores have shifted to offering curbside pickup or delivery, look at your registration and payment process. By having customers register online or through a mobile app when possible—as well as utilizing contactless payment methods such as an online wallet—you reduce contact and time in the store, which protects employees and makes customers feel safer at your business.
Keep the lines of communication open with your customers and continually ask for feedback and ideas for improvement. Pay careful attention to other companies, too, to discover new ideas for social distancing operations that you can incorporate.
3. Regularly Re-Evaluate Customers’ Changing Needs
Just like your business has changed dramatically this year, your customers’ needs are constantly evolving. As the seasons and stages of coping with the pandemic change, your customers are apt to need different products or services than they did previously. Think of ways to package products together to make your customers’ lives less stressful, such as dinner kits and craft supplies in custom kits.
Both your staff and your customers are likely to be under extra stress in their lives right now—possibly with health concerns relating to family members or job loss. Train staff on how to professionally handle issues regarding customers not following CDC guidelines. Whenever possible, have management available to intervene with upset customers and social distancing or face mask issues to remove that stress from employees.
4. Increase Social Media Outreach and Presence
Because people are socializing less in person, many are increasingly turning to social media for interaction and information. Keep your social media channels active with regular, informative posts. While the temptation is to show the polished version, people are responding well to businesses and owners showing their human side, too. Feel free to post a short video from your home or mention any of your challenges to show customers that you are going through similar struggles.
Social media is a great platform to show firsthand—through photos and videos—how your business keeps everyone safe. You can show videos of your cleaning protocols to help ease people’s minds. Photos of the layout changes in your store can help customers visually see how social distancing works in your location. Be sure to also share how your business disinfects between customers, such as wiping down carts, keypads or stations.
5. Stay Connected with Customers
Because the cornerstone of small businesses is close relationships with customers, make extra efforts to spend time with your customers. Spend some extra time chatting with them when you can, and genuinely ask how you can help. Make time to reach out by phone to loyal customers you haven’t seen in awhile to check-in. People will remember the personal touch and concern for their well-being.
If you don’t have a customer newsletter, now is a great time to start one that highlights operations changes, safety protocols and new products. Consider sharing tips to help your customers perform services at home that may not be readily available, such as trimming their bangs if your salon is closed or has limited hours. Be sure your newsletter shows empathy and addresses any challenges your business or customers may be facing, instead of having a sales-focused tone. Businesses that typically send out an occasional newsletter should consider keeping to a regular schedule so customers know what to expect.
Look for ways to help your customers connect with each other when possible. If your coffee shop had a poetry reading night, for example, hold an online event and offer coffee kits for people to drink at home during the event. Move your store’s book club online and encourage interaction between guests. Because many people want to learn new skills and ideas during this time, look for ways to share your knowledge and bring in experts through online webinars.
As customer needs and business requirements continue to change, small businesses must continue to pivot to find the best way to communicate and meet their customers' needs. With a creative marketing strategy, your business can emerge from the pandemic with stronger customer relationships and new business moving forward.
To learn how Fifth Third Bank can guide your business through these challenges, visit our COVID Business Support for resources and advice.