by Jake Link, Contributor at Business 2 Community
Many businesses and nonprofit organizations have been shut down or operating at limited capacity for months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Understandably, a lot of business owners are eager to start up again and resume serving their customers more fully.
As we look ahead to imagine what our post-coronavirus world might look like, it’s important to remember that, even as the COVID-19 situation begins to show improvements, we are still very much in the midst of it.
Business owners must keep that in mind as they plan to resume some of their normal operations. In fact, “normal” might look very different for a while, as we all work together to take precautions to overcome this pandemic and keep ourselves and those around us safe.
What’s more, is that while this pandemic affects all of us — all across the globe — the specifics of the situation vary based on location. While some areas are moving towards widespread reopenings, other areas are still on full lockdown and will remain so for at least another couple of months. That’s why it’s absolutely critical to review guidelines specific to your state before considering your next steps. Once you know what is permitted in your area, you’ll also want to consult the CDC’s guidance for safely reopening your business.
Remember — ”reopening” could look like a lot of things, ranging from a long term pivot to relying primarily on social distancing, to fully reopening a brick and mortar location to the public, with added safety precautions. Know that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, and you’ll need to form a plan based on your unique situation. That said — you’re not alone.
Use this guide to help plan your reopening marketing strategy
In this article, I’ll walk you through some of the things you’ll need to consider when planning your “reopening” after coronavirus — whatever that may look like — from a marketing perspective. We’ll cover:
- Should you reopen?
- Planning your marketing and communications around reopening
- Knowing your customers and communicating sensitively
- Checklist for preparing to reopen
- Announcing your reopening
- Updating your website and online presence
- Creating an announcement email
- Sharing social media announcements and responding to comments
- Checklist for announcing your reopening
- Surveying customers and improving your customer experience
- Keeping up proactive customer communications
- Checklist for proactive customer communication
Phase 1: Planning your reopening or post-coronavirus marketing
Once you’ve determined if now is the time to move towards reopening, you can begin planning how you’re going to communicate that with your customers.
Know your customers
Marketing is all about knowing your customers, so keep them front-of-mind as you plan your reopening strategy. Many people are reluctant to ease up on social distancing practices adopted during COVID-19. Others are cautious but eager to get back out into the world and patronize your business. You’ll need to empathetically address customers from all perspectives to maximize business as you move towards reopening.
Remember — people may be easily overwhelmed right now and are much more likely to engage with businesses they feel confident in. Do your best to eliminate uncertainty around the customer experience by sharing detailed information and responding quickly to any questions or concerns.
Don’t assume that just because it is legal to reopen your business in your area that customers will automatically have enough confidence and security to do business with you. You’ll need to share exactly how they can safely do business with you and demonstrate to them that you’ve done your due diligence when it comes to their safety.
You’ll also need to accept that some people won’t be ready to ease their social distancing practices just yet. Be ready to serve them as well. Continue making online purchasing, curbside pickup, delivery, and other social distancing options available.
Know your new normal and prepare to communicate it
What do customers need to know before they even visit your business? Detail, step-by-step, what your new in-person customer experience looks like. Think about these questions:
- Is there a limit to how many people can be in your location at one time?
- Do people need to book appointments? Or, has the booking process changed?
- Have your hours changed?
- Has your product/service availability changed?
- Are you offering contactless payment options? If so, how can customers make sure they’re set up to take advantage of that?
- If you still have options available for those practicing social distancing, make those clearly available as well.
- What is your business doing to keep your physical locations clean and sanitary?
- What precautions are staff taking to ensure a safe environment for your customers? Will they be wearing masks or standing at a distance? How will interactions be different?
Take all of these questions and concerns and address them before people ask. Have your answers ready-to-go in a document that you can continue to reference and copy/paste from as you craft your emails, website updates, social media announcements, and responses to customer inquiries.
Finally, share those answers with everyone in your company who is customer-facing. This will be key in creating a consistent and clear experience for your customers, even in a time of great uncertainty.
Checklist: Preparing to reopen
- Make a list of all the questions you’ll need to answer for customers. Use our list above as inspiration, but also include concerns specific to your business and any frequently asked questions you’ve gotten from customers during this pandemic.
- Type up ready-to-share answers to all of those questions
- Make sure that all customer-facing staff members have read up on your answers and reopening policies.
Phase 2: Reopening in a new normal
Now that you’re prepared to reopen, it’s time to get ready to announce your reopening. The work you’ve done to answer the questions above will help you greatly in this exercise, as you’ll want to reference that information as you update your online presence and prepare to make your big reopening announcement.
Update your website
Before you make any big announcements, you’ll want to update your website with all of the information you’ve compiled about your new normal procedures. When you do announce, your customers will have a lot of questions and they’ll appreciate you directing them to your website, which will already be populated with lots of helpful information.
Use these tips to ensure your website is helpful for potential customers assessing if they’re ready to do business with you as coronavirus restrictions are eased:
- Put the most important information right on the homepage of your website. This should include:
- Reopening date
- Updated hours
- Contact information
- A link to more information about your reopening and updated customer experience
- Add a page on your site specifically for information on your reopening. Separate it into sections to make it easier for customers to navigate. Some of the sections you’ll want to think about adding are:
- Safety precautions
- Customer experience
- Social distancing options
- Frequently asked questions
On your page about reopening procedures, walk users through the entire customer experience step-by-step. Show them you’ve thought this all out and are ready to serve them, safely. If you are asking customers to bring their own protective equipment, such as face masks, be sure to convey this upfront so there are no surprises when someone comes to patronize your business.
And if you can include photos, that’s even better! Your customers will appreciate that you’ve done what you can to eliminate any confusion in your new experience.
Update your online presence
Now that your website is updated, make sure that the rest of your online presence is updated with matching information. Go ahead and update your:
- Google My Business profile
- Social media profiles
- Any other listings you might have on sites like Yelp
Announce your reopening with an email
Once your website and the rest of your online presence are updated with your reopening information, you’re ready to announce the reopening to your customers!
We recommend that your reopening announcement email focus on three things:
- Announcing your reopening
- Expressing gratitude to your customers for patronizing your business, especially in a time of uncertainty
- Ensuring customers that you’re taking all precautions to keep them safe, directing them to your website for detailed information.
Since you’ll be directing customers to your website for all the details, you don’t need to include all of your reopening precautions and procedures in the email itself. But you will want to include absolute essentials, just in case a customer is excited and comes straight to your location without visiting your website first. For example, do customers need a mask to enter your establishment? Think about including that right in the email, alongside your updated hours.
And in your email, be sure to highlight any social distancing options like curbside pickup that will still be available for those who would prefer that.
Announce your reopening on social media
Your social media announcements should focus on the same priority messages as your email, but should be more direct, to-the-point, and put a greater emphasis on directing people to your website.
Be prepared for people to engage with you in the comments and to ask questions. Answer their questions quickly and concisely. If their questions aren’t already answered in your reopening planning document, add those questions in so you can reference your answers later. You might want to also consider adding those questions to the reopening page on your website, in case others have the same questions.
Checklist: Announcing your reopening
- Update your website
- Update the rest of your online presence (social media profiles, Google My Business, Yelp, and any other sites that have your business information)
- Send a reopening announcement email
- Post a reopening announcement on social media and monitor your posts for customer questions
Phase 3: Listen, adapt, and grow
This is an unprecedented situation and we’re all going to be figuring it out as it unfolds — together. As you continue to operate your business under these new circumstances, listen to feedback from your customers and your staff, and use that to make your business stronger.
And as you continue to adapt and make changes, keep your customers informed. They’ll appreciate the updates and your commitment to serving them as best as you can, even in the midst of these new challenges.
Survey your customers and use their feedback
Ask customers about their experience — in person and/or through an email survey.
Use negative feedback to adjust and improve your customer experience. Share positive feedback (with permission) as social proof that your new customer experience is enjoyable and safe.
Keep up a proactive communication strategy
Operations and day-to-day business are likely to shift and change as you adjust to the new normal. Don’t be afraid to overcommunicate with your customers during this time. Every time a protocol changes — whether it’s how you clean your store or how customers engage with your products and staff — be sure to keep your customers in the loop and updated.
This communication will help you avoid customer complaints and make sure that those visiting your location know what to expect. Share pictures of your location to help communicate the changes you’ve made and how your business is thriving with the new norm.
Checklist: Proactive customer communication after reopening
- Collect feedback from customers and staff
- Use that feedback to improve your customer experience
- Communicate those updates back to your customers and invite them to do business with you again and continue providing feedback on their experience
How has your business adapted and evolved as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19)?
As we navigate this situation, it’s important for the small business community to support each other and learn and grow together.