Many businesses have had to shut down during COVID-19, adversely affecting their customer relationships. A poll from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and MetLife shows that 86 percent of small businesses in the country have partially or fully reopened as of July 2020, but 70 percent are still wary of the financial impact of the prolonged closures.
Although restrictions have eased and vaccines are available, many people are still wary of going out and shopping for things in person. Rebuilding customer loyalty and trust should be on every small business owner's priority list. If you are raring to get people back into your store, here are things that could help.
Providing special incentives is all the more critical now. If your business offered gifts and discounts during the shutdown, you need to increase your efforts to drive business. Note, though, that you should also make customers feel safe browsing in your physical location.
The economic impact of COVID-19 does not only affect businesses. It has also hurt consumers. People are reluctant to spend what little money they have, so make it worth their while. Sales, freebies, and loyalty or reward points programs will help bring people to your store.
Businesses that invested in social media, email marketing, and SEO during the pandemic should not stop now. Keep working on your online marketing efforts—should your plans get delayed, or if your city needs to implement targeted lockdowns, you will have channels for rapidly disseminating updates to your customers. You could also explain new in-store protocols through social media, a blog post, or an email newsletter. When you reach out to customers in this way, it shows them you care for their health and safety.
Keeping customers updated about your store's pandemic journey is also a good idea. If customers can match faces to the services they get from your company, they are less likely to perceive you as impersonal. Telling your story and speaking with them honestly will build empathy. People appreciate it when others confide in them about struggles—it is not a sign of weakness when you show them how COVID-19 has affected your business. Those who had been with you from the start would certainly welcome updates.
Note, though, that communicating with customers should always have one goal: making them feel comfortable purchasing or subscribing to you. Assess the pandemic story you're telling them—if it shows your struggle but highlights how you've overcome it, go ahead. Everyone likes a redemption story. However, if it only puts you down and makes people feel bad for you, throw caution to the wind. Some people feel embarrassed reading about misfortunes, and they might have mixed emotions about your brand as a result.
Customer relationships get stronger because of trust. When you lead with building trust, you put others' needs ahead of yours. A company with a loyal base need not change much. Their customers already like them for who they are, so they only need to stay on-brand and nurture their leads.
Speaking with customers, engaging with them on social media, and listening to what they think about your brand will help you figure out if you're still sending the right message about your business. When you put other people first, you tend to attract more customers. People appreciate it when you pay attention to them, and if you show that you're willing to listen, they will be happy to tell you more about what makes them happy.
Businesses that have thrived despite the pandemic are the ones that pivoted to accommodate their customers' priorities. For instance, this list from Forbes magazine shows how fashion brands adapted, switching from selling formal dresses, luxury bags, and streetwear to protective face masks. Pivoting to customer needs or existing demand is still relevant, even now that many businesses have reopened. If you want to draw people back in, you have to understand their changing needs.
For instance, if you are a local restaurant, surviving and growing might mean prioritizing online checkout, delivery, and pickup options. You might also discover that your customers now prefer to have healthy dishes, so testing a few options and featuring them on a rotating basis could be something to explore. Business leaders who listen to former or dormant customers are the ones who get ahead. When you are re-engaging someone, you cannot be a passive recipient of knowledge. You need to work on getting to know your customers again actively.
Helping the community your business is in will allow you to re-engage with many of your old customers naturally. COVID-19 has had profound effects on the economy, and if you are in a position to help, you should still keep doing that even after things have opened up. Community outreach during quarantine was prevalent—fashion brands manufactured masks, perfume companies produced hand sanitizer or rubbing alcohol, and restaurants offered food to severely affected communities.
However, just because there are vaccines now doesn't mean people will suddenly stop needing help. The transition into the post-pandemic period is difficult, especially for those who completely lost their livelihood when COVID-19 hit. Some people will still need food, essential supplies, and services, and if your business is in a position to help, you should. If your business has little to do with medicine, food, or essential supplies, you can organize charity events, make donations, or team up with businesses that can provide relief.
Re-engaging in this way, though indirect, allows you to show others that you are genuinely concerned for the wellbeing of your community. More than being nice for your brand, helping by giving back to the community shows your business' support and commitment to your locale.
It is hard work getting your business back on track after a shutdown. If you stayed connected with customers through social media or online offerings during the pandemic, you have a foot in the door. However, getting them back in your physical locations might still prove challenging. Staying committed to your customers means knowing them well enough to give them the support they need at this time.
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