It’s been over a year since the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the novel coronavirus a global pandemic. After months of lockdowns and shutdowns, we might, just might, see the light at the end of the tunnel. The vaccination rollout has picked up steam with close to 100,000,000 people receiving their first vaccination and over 50,000,000 fully vaccinated.
This all sounds promising, and we can all do with some good news after a very difficult year. Many states have also loosened their restrictions, breathing life back to struggling businesses that have been waiting for the day to reopen or expand operations. So with the view that the tide has changed — and in anticipation of a return back to normalcy — business owners will need to begin thinking of ways to reconnect with their customers. Here are three strategies to make your customers feel connected upon reopening your business.
Strategy #1: Effectively Communicate That Your Business Is Reopening
These have been unprecedented times. The pandemic has decimated many industries including travel, entertainment, food and hospitality. Due to closings, lockdowns and steep declines in economic activity, unemployment soared during the pandemic. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the unemployment rate reached as high at 14.8 percent in April 2020. Hopefully that’s old news, as the economy is seeing signs of improvement and optimistic hopes for a turnaround.
The time has come to start making a plan to announce your business reopening. The prospect is exciting, but the task can also be daunting. What’s been the fallout of the pandemic? Have you lost customers? Have they moved on to another business or maybe even lost interest in your company? Now’s the time to find out the state of your market. But how can you proceed without sinking your valuable capital into an advertising and marketing budget? Here are some suggestions to help you get started without breaking the bank.
Update Your Website. Make it clear that you are still in business. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, announce your grand opening date on your website. (If you still don't have a website for your business, build one!) Since COVID-19 is still a concern and may play a factor when it comes to turnout, let your customers know the steps that you are taking to keep them safe. Make sure to also check online for updates on state-by-state reporting guidance and with the CDC for updates and workplace safety best practices.
Use Social Media. Reengage your customer and be on the lookout for new potential clients by using social media to launch your grand opening campaign. Talk about your products, improvements made to your business, COVID precautions being taken or special sales. Consider creating a video or going "live" on your social media platform to communicate your reopening. If you haven't seen your customers in awhile, they may appreciate seeing your face after a long year. This personal connection can help them feel connected and welcomed back.
Invest in Signage. This may fall under the “keeping it simple” category, but investing in signage to place on your storefront will also contribute to your messaging campaign and keep the local community aware of your grand opening plans. One pandemic activity that will hopefully continue in a post-COVID world is people taking walks. Having an eye-catching sign on your business storefront will remind passersby that you will be back in business soon.
Connect with the Community. Are you part of a local small business group? If not, consider joining. Not counting the fact that you can learn from other like-minded business owners, there may be an opportunity to cross-advertise and promote, as well as utilize other shared synergies. Another way to connect with the community is to advertise in the local paper or deliver flyers from house-to-house spreading the good news that your business will be reopening.
Strategy #2: Engage Your Customers and Provide Incentives
Thanks to today’s technologies, staying in touch with others — even during lockdowns and while practicing social distancing — has allowed people to stay connected even during the darkest periods of the pandemic. If you maintained a customer list pre-pandemic with email addresses and phone numbers, now would be the ideal time to utilize it and reach out to former clients and create a plan to reward them for their loyalty and provide incentives for return business. Useful tools that can help engage with your customers can include the following:
Emails (but remember to keep them short and no longer than 125 words in length)
Social media groups like LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter
A rewards or loyalty program is a way in which you can connect with customers and increase interest in your products and services as you're reopening your business. Having customers participate in these programs can allow them to accumulate rewards points for future purchases or participate in targeted sales and discounts. And besides, after the hit the economy took this past year, everybody is interested in ways to save and get more for their money. Plan on having flash sales, targeted promotions and even extended return policies for those who are just venturing out of their lockdown and getting comfortable with entering stores again. And if people are still hesitant to enter your store, offer curbside pickup and delivery options to help cater to their needs.
Strategy #3: Ensure Good Customer Service
If you are lucky enough to plan on reopening, you’ll need to make sure that you meet your customer’s needs and expectations. Your customers, and your reputation, will be the driving force for your future success. So once your message is out that your doors are reopening, have a plan in place when it comes to dealing with your customers and ensuring that their experience with your small business is a pleasant one. Here are some key pieces of advice to make sure that you do not neglect your customers.
Offer Contact Information. Be easy to find. Make sure to have an email address or phone number available where customers can reach out to you for information about your business or product, or to notify you of an issue. There’s nothing more frustrating than trying to find customer service contact information. Remember: Your customers want to be heard.
Be Proactive. Do not ignore calls or emails from customers notifying you of an issue or concern with your business or service. Be responsive. The rule of thumb is to answer within 24 hours. Whether it’s a question about a particular product or a service issue, do your best to answer queries or acknowledge problems and work on a solution. Warning: The use of technology can be a two-way street with customers either writing glowing reviews or bad-mouthing your small business online. Word-of-mouth is still a powerful tool that can either make or break your newly reopened business.
Be Empathetic. It’s been a hard year for everyone and showing patience and understanding can go a long way in building good customer relations. If you are engaged with a customer, make sure that they are the focus of your attention and provide them with an honest response of what you can or cannot do — depending on company policies and procedures — to help resolve their issue. Showing empathy may also help calm down an angry customer and contribute to a more pleasant and constructive engagement. If they are still heated, let them vent. Let your customers know that you understand and work with them on a resolution.
Building trust and confidence with your customers will go a long way as you reopen your business and welcome customers back. Most Americans are ready — if not downright itching — to resume their pre-pandemic life. Use these tips to reconnect with your customers and take the first step toward normalcy and getting back to business.
Peter Mavrikis is an author and editor with over 25 years of experience in publishing. He has worked as the Editorial Director for Barron’s Educational Series, as well as Kaplan Test Prep, where he ran the test prep, foreign language, and study guide divisions. Peter has also written several books on history, exploration, science, and technology.