Business as usual has changed.
Some industries – and brands for that matter – are feeling the effects more than others. Travel, restaurant, and retail companies that rely heavily on in-person traffic are bracing for revenue shortfalls. Meanwhile, the federal government weighs stimulus packages to offer distressed businesses some relief.
In this environment, it’s tough to offer any substantive advice to businesses in survival mode. But history and experience offer three fundamental reminders on how businesses can serve customers and meet expectations in this difficult and unprecedented time.
1. Pivot to digital
Seemingly every day the number of people allowed to congregate in public shrinks in order to shield the public from COVID-19 exposure. States are requiring non-essential businesses to close their doors and advising citizens to shelter in place. “Social distancing” is our new reality, and it’s forcing many retailers to shift (or bolster) their digital strategies.
Our data has shown online is more satisfying than in person interactions in retail, and for at least the next several weeks it’ll be more important than ever for companies to maintain these channels. In the early days of the pandemic, restaurants and even some retailers began enabling customers to order items ahead from their digital apps for parking lot pick up. Others are using push notifications and other online channels to keep customers informed on the availability of products and services.
You’ll have to be nimble, of course, but make sure your customers know that, while they can’t necessarily go about business as usual, you still have the capabilities to offer them the services they’re used to.
2. Communicate frequently
Now more than ever, your employees and customers need to hear from you. They need to know they can reach you with questions and concerns.
Have customer service representatives available (remotely!). While customer support services like live chat, help pages, and cell centers haven’t always lived up to expectations, it’s certainly better to make these resources available rather than leave customers in the dark. If anything, use this as an opportunity to strengthen communications.
Send reassurance emails with key information to put your customers’ minds at ease. For example, make individuals who prefer going to a branch for their banking needs aware of your mobile app’s capabilities. Remind them that they can still access their banking information online and tell them what services are available.
These are unusual times in that many companies, by law, aren’t able to operate as usual. In the end, customers will likely understand this, but that doesn’t mean they won’t have questions. Be proactive and responsive to their concerns to maintain your customer relationships in the long run.
3. Don’t increase prices without increasing value
The coronavirus is negatively impacting the global economy. Businesses are losing money and the situation may get worse before it gets better. Yet, even if you’re among the industries suffering the most, don’t take advantage of the crisis.
This is not the time to raise prices – without offering better quality – just to offset predicted losses. If you must suspend service, ensure you have a plan to make up for this inconvenience, whether you prorate refunds, extend return policies, offer future credit, or waive change fees.
During this difficult time, we need to come together and do what’s best for the collective good. It’s one of the reasons why Amazon has been removing third-party sellers who are charging insane prices for cleaning products during the outbreak.
Adapt, overcome, and survive
The coronavirus outbreak is disrupting our lives in ways we never imagined, and we’ll feel its effects for some time. But we will get through this.
Keep your customers in mind, communicate frequently, and be flexible. If you have the means to do so, don’t be afraid to innovate to meet and help customers where you can.
While business has fundamentally changed in a couple short weeks, these three elements hold true and will help you weather whatever comes next.