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Maintaining customer loyalty and trust during uncertain times

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic has changed the world in recent weeks. The fast-moving virus has caused a majority of communities in the United States to implement physical distancing or “shelter in place” policies that are significantly impacting the economy. Small businesses are especially feeling the brunt of these necessary precautions.

With foot traffic all but eliminated, what can small business owners do to keep their customers loyal, and their businesses afloat, in the face of a global pandemic?

Communicate with your customers

Be proactive and transparent. Let them know that you are taking their health, and your employees’ health, very seriously. Share what you are doing as a member of the community to prioritize your customers. Share that you’ve improved hygiene and cleanliness, are letting your employees work from home, or have taken the step to close your physical space in the name of safety.

Be sure to speak plainly – buzzwords aren’t helpful when people are uneasy. And don’t try to sell anything in these communications. Keep the focus on health and safety. Keep your communications clear, concise, and compassionate. Customer service is more essential now more than ever.

Understand your sheltered customers’ priorities

Depending on your business, your customers will be looking to you for new solutions to solve their new challenges. Are they looking for entertainment? Host an event online. For example, you can have a local musician play a set from your location to broadcast online. Or invite your customers to play a game or participate in a live contest.

Do your customers need help with the new home-schooling requirements? If you offer professional or educational services, make them available online. There are many forums where you can host an online class or perform one-on-one tutoring. Or perhaps you can offer to edit resumes for the recently unemployed.

Do you sell supplies that customers need every day, regardless of a pandemic? Hold an online sale and offer free shipping or curbside pickup – something that you wouldn’t normally offer to show that their needs are top of mind.

Offer your products and services online

With so many people ordered to stay at home, foot traffic is nonexistent. If your customers don’t need to physically be at your location for your services, follow health officials’ advice and close temporarily. Most people are spending their days on the internet, and as a small business, you need to be where the customers are. Leverage social media to reach customers and video conferencing technology like Zoom, Skype or Teams for meetings.

Increase your social media presence

This is especially important if you’ve moved your business online. Make sure you’re engaging your audience on the social channels they’re on: Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Post meaningful content that advertises your online specials or events. Make mention of updated business hours and methods of conducting transactions. You can use free graphic design programs to create artistic graphics when you need variety. Use social media to communicate and connect with your clients, share critical updates in a fast-moving pandemic, and promote your business with little-to-no cost. For businesses that are just beginning to use social media, this article might be helpful.

Promote gift cards

Give them the option to support your business now, even if they can’t use your services immediately. If you don’t already have a gift card program, they are simple to set up. Offer an e-gift card option so you can email them and save on shipping costs. Promote your gift cards on your social media posts and during your online events.

Use discounts to promote long-term loyalty

Does your business have memberships? Perhaps you could offer 10% off a yearly membership price for buying now. If not, find a way to bundle your goods and services into a can’t-miss-deal, like a package mailed monthly that offers a lower price point. If neither of those apply to your business, simply encourage customers to sign up for monthly emails in exchange for discounts.

Give back to the community

Many people want to contribute but are unable to do so under physical distancing orders. Try performing philanthropy through your business. You can tie donations to your sales for a day or week to entice customers to support your business and the community at the same time.

Some common examples include:

  • Donating a portion of your profits to a local shelter
  • Offering free box lunches for families in need
  • Donating non-perishable foods to local food banks
  • Donating face masks to local clinics and hospitals
  • Providing fabric for people to sew masks for healthcare workers
For many customers, this pandemic is eye-opening to which businesses are acting with integrity. If you say you care about the community, this is a great opportunity to follow up your statements with real action.

Give employees flexibility and compassion

Even if your location is staying open, offer the same compassion to your employees that you do to customers. It’s a very stressful time for everyone, and employees who feel valued will spread good word of mouth about your business. Employees that feel unsafe may do the opposite.

Plan for the long term

We don’t know how long this will last, so while temporary measures are important for now, don’t forget to look ahead at the impact this could have on your normal business operations. Maybe you can incorporate some of your innovative ideas into your regular strategies. Work with your suppliers to adjust your ordering and costs. Be open with employees about their options going forward. And of course, remember to stay in touch with health officials to ensure that you are following guidelines.

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on, small businesses owners need to ensure they’re working to retain customer loyalty. It requires some creativity and agility, but these new ideas could truly change the way we think about business and how we conduct business in the future.