As businesses across the country prepare to reopen their doors, one of the most important questions they’re asking themselves is how to effectively communicate their plans to customers. Business owners must not only update their audience on hours and product/service availability, but also explain any new health and safety protocols that are in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
Getting customer communications right is critical to your business's success in a post-pandemic world, as consumers are looking for businesses that make them feel safe and secure. According to Dr. Jason Brinton, founder of Brinton Vision, businesses must address any sources of fear and uncertainty if they hope to bring customers back in the door.
"Customers need to be confident that the businesses they patronize have created a protected environment to which they can safely return," said Dr. Brinton, who recently reopened his St. Louis, Mo.-based practice. "Businesses need to both say and demonstrate this … in a way that provides them with confidence in the business's safety programs."
If you're preparing a communication strategy for announcing your reopening, follow these tips to help you spread the word and inspire confidence among your customers.
Craft a unified message for multiple channels
In its guide to pandemic response planning, EY noted that effective, consistent communications during a crisis will help you maintain customer trust, restore employee morale and confidence, and retain market stability. For both B2B and B2C businesses, consistent messaging across all channels is key, said EY.
Communications experts agree that any message you send right now should be timely, relevant, empathetic and considerate of your customers' current needs and problems. Before you make any announcements, meet with your staff to ensure everyone understands the message you're sending to customers.
Once you have your core messaging in place, you can create copy and creative assets for the following platforms:
Website. Update your home page so your reopening plans and protocols are front and center when your customers search for you. If your site uses live chat, you may want to set an automated message to pop up recapping the most pertinent information.
Social media channels. Create a series of posts for every platform your business uses and consistently push them out leading up to your reopening, as well as during your first few weeks back in business. Frequent updates about your staff and operations will show your staff you are open for business and actively addressing their needs.
Email newsletter. Craft an email to go out to your entire subscriber base and get the information they need directly to their inbox.
Text message/SMS. If your business uses SMS marketing, stay in touch with your customers via text message to let them know about your reopening plans.
Customer service. Whether they support your customers by phone, email, live chat or in person, make sure everyone on staff knows how to address customer concerns. Your customer support communication strategy may also include self-service options like a Frequently Asked Questions page on your website.
Use regular transactional touchpoints as an opportunity to reiterate your message
Every business has some kind of transactional communication with its customers and clients, whether it's a receipt, an appointment reminder or an invoice. You can use these touchpoints to remind customers of your new protocols. For example, when Brinton Vision schedules new patients by phone, the staff brings up the office's safety measures, which are then reviewed in an email confirming the patient’s appointment, said Dr. Brinton.
Practice what you preach
If you're putting protocols in place for your customers' safety, be sure that everyone involved with your business is enforcing them consistently. Good business hygiene practices are always important, said Dr. Brinton, but they're especially so in the wake of a global health crisis.
"If a customer sees fingerprints on a glass wall or mirror or if a trash can is overflowing, they will make the assumption that the rest of your business’s hygiene program is commensurately lacking in intentionality," he added.
To that end, you should take every opportunity to make your practices visible and obvious to customers, especially if you have close physical contact with them.
"Staff are taught that if they don't wash their hands in front of the patient, they haven't washed their hands," Dr. Brinton told CO—. "We verbalize what we are doing: 'Before taking this picture of your eyes, I’m going to clean my hands with hand sanitizer.'"
Be prepared to provide updates and answer any questions
Your reopening plans may evolve from your original plan, and that's OK – with so much uncertainty, it's difficult to predict how things will change. However, it's important to be transparent and timely about communicating these updates to your customers without overpromising anything.
"The most important role any company can play is to be a reliable resource for customers at all times," said Tim O'Brien, principal at O'Brien Communications. "It's important to cite those areas of uncertainty that may prohibit the company from providing any hard and fast promises or guarantees."
Most importantly, be prepared to answer common questions from your customers and enable your staff to be as helpful as possible. Salesforce advised providing clear scripts to your customer service agents and sales teams to arm them with a "reopen-the-workplace" knowledge base, so your customers can get the information they need to make decisions.