How to keep your customers engaged during the coronavirus outbreak
  • Category:
    Disaster Preparedness
  • Published:
    April 17, 2020

How to Keep Your Customers Engaged During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Across the United States, nonessential businesses have been asked to shut down their regular business operations to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus. The impact has been staggering to both small-business owners and their employees.

As small businesses scramble to adapt their business models to the new reality, among their biggest challenges is figuring out how to retain customers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Below you’ll find some ideas for staying connected with patrons and learning how to communicate with customers online during the coronavirus crisis.

9 tips for staying connected with customers during the coronavirus shutdown

How small businesses can keep connected with customers during COVID-19

As Americans are asked to stay at home and self-isolate, staying connected with customers has never been more crucial. Small businesses need to embrace the importance of digital marketing, not simply to inform patrons that you’re still open and about new hours of operation, but also to let customers know how you continue to provide value even during the current COVID-19 outbreak.

1. Announce what you’re doing to ensure employee safety and prevent the spread of the new coronavirus

Before anything else, it’s best to let customers know whether your business is still operating, what your new hours may be and what you’re doing to keep employees and the public safe during the coronavirus outbreak. Possible action taken could include new cleaning protocols, installing plastic shields at registers, or curbside pickup.

If you have an email list to work from, sending out an official announcement to everyone can be effective. You may also want to post a similar message on any social media platforms your business uses, or even put a sign up on your door.

Don’t assume that patrons know you’re still open for business. Communicating the basics of your operation during the current crisis is the first order of business in how to retain customers during the COVID-19 pandemic. After that, it’s letting the public know that they can reasonably expect to avoid infection if they patronize your establishment.

2. Harness social media during social distancing

As businesses try to figure out how to keep customers engaged during the coronavirus crisis, many are turning to social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms can be invaluable tools for staying connected with consumers who are social distancing.

Every industry is finding ways to get creative with how they communicate with customers online and entice them to buy goods and services:

  • Restaurants can post takeout and delivery specials, inform customers how their food is being kept safe and promote gift card sales. Restaurateurs can also engage their fans with behind-the-scenes videos, cooking tutorials or even just opening up about how the current crisis has affected them and their staff.
  • Retail stores can direct shoppers to online offerings, especially those that might be desirable while self-isolating, like cleaning supplies. If new options for delivery and curbside pickup are newly available, post that as well.
  • Personal care services (like barbers, nail salons, pet grooming, among others) face a monumental challenge in figuring out how to retain customers during the COVID-19 outbreak. Unable to open their doors in many states, small-business owners can post gift card offerings for future services or merchandise that’s available online. They may also post about how staff is holding up or even offer creative content such as throwback posts of favorite styles.
  • Cleaning services could post about specific services, such as disinfecting kitchens and bathrooms, as well as new protocols like wearing gloves and masks.
  • Accountants may want to post about updated deadlines for tax filing, suggestions for individuals and small businesses during the crisis and helpful tips and insights about the new small-business loans made available after emergency relief legislation was passed in response to the recent coronavirus pandemic.
  • Law firms may want to remind their particular practice clientele of their rights in the rapidly changing post-COVID-19 landscape. Offering a few valuable tips for free can remind potential clients of their need for expert legal advice in these uncertain times.
  • Cultural institutions (like theaters, museums, performance venues, etc.) are hurting from social distancing, but many are keeping patrons engaged with posts of online performances, virtual tours and offerings from their education departments.

3. Be honest and transparent in your communication

We’re all going through this together. It’s affected every aspect of society. Leveling with your customers about what the coronavirus crisis means for your small business isn’t just acceptable — it’s advisable. Chances are they’re also facing some sobering challenges, and they’ll appreciate your candor.

Giving your customers the unvarnished truth about what this all means for your business will come across as authentic and may remind patrons of why they appreciate you to begin with.

4. Bring your services online

There has never been a better time to embrace the importance of digital marketing than during the COVID-19 outbreak. Restaurants can make use of online ordering and delivery. Retailers can shift offerings exclusively online and offer deals on shipping. Music educators and tutors can give lessons via teleconferencing apps. Lawyers and other professionals can offer virtual consultations and lean on chatbots, and medical clinics can make use of telemedicine.

In this time of social distancing, you’ll want to give consumers as many options as possible that limit contact with others. Now could be the time your small business undergoes a digital transformation.

5. Promote online deals

One strategy for how to keep customers engaged during the coronavirus shutdown is to offer a variety of deals online to entice them to buy now. Over the next few months, many consumers may not be inclined to spend. Still, as small businesses struggle, you’ll want to remain competitive and connect with as many potential customers as you can.

You may want to offer coupons for steep discounts. Several retailers are offering free shipping as an incentive. And many businesses are extending the window of time that purchasers have to return items.

6. Encourage gift card sales

You could also generate sales while your small business is shuttered by promoting gift cards. Existing patrons who are looking for ways to support their local small businesses may appreciate the opportunity to help. Framing the promotion as a light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel gift card — where the purchaser can enjoy the service or goods as a treat once the current health crisis has passed — also adds an element of goodwill and hope that your customers may relate to right now.

7. Cut operating costs in ways that don’t hurt customer experience

As you pore over your books, looking for places to cut, make sure to also think about how to retain customers as well. You don’t want cuts to negatively affect the customer experience if you can help it. If you’ve shuttered your brick-and-mortar location, an easy way to reduce energy costs is to unplug all electric equipment. If your small business has been deemed essential by the state, there are also many cost-cutting ideas you could employ, including switching lighting over to LED or CFL bulbs.

As supply chains run into problems, restaurants may want to limit menus to the most popular dishes (with ingredients that are easily procurable). Small businesses can rely more on the free advertising of social media posts. You could look for and cancel any unused subscriptions for software and services that don’t affect the customer experience. And you may even be able to exchange services with other local small businesses in lieu of payment.

8. Ramp up your customer service efforts

As you necessarily pull back in some areas during the coronavirus shutdown, your small business should actually work harder at staying connected with customers. Let your patrons know that you’ll be responsive to their needs, whether it’s by phone, email or on social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If your business relies on consultations, acquire a video conferencing app and alert customers of that option.

Small businesses have no greater resource than return customers, so any efforts to retain them during the shutdown is time well spent.

9. Give back to your customers and community

Everyone has been affected by the new coronavirus crisis, and many of us are struggling. Small businesses have a special connection to their communities, and aside from learning how your company and staff are holding up, customers would likely also be interested in knowing how you’re helping.

It doesn’t have to be an expensive gesture; no one expects you to risk the survival of your small business. But there are many small, inexpensive ways to give back, from working with organizations like City Harvest to get unused food to the hungry, to donating personal protective equipment (PPE) that your business may not need right now. Or you could even offer free services to workers who are newly unemployed.

Your current customer base may not be able to spend as much right now, but the current downturn won’t last forever. Giving back and sharing your efforts via social media will build valuable goodwill, and your customers will remember when more normal spending resumes.

Thinking outside the box in the face of COVID-19

Any comment about the challenges facing small businesses during the coronavirus shutdown will be an understatement. Just staying in business will be difficult for many. Yet figuring out how to keep customers engaged during the COVID-19 pandemic may be next on your list of priorities. It will require determination and creativity, and may demand operational changes, but staying connected with patrons can be accomplished — and without great expense.

It can be hard in this difficult time to think beyond the immediate, but you’ll need a plan for when the crisis has passed. Protecting and cultivating your customer base is about investing in your small business’s future. When the pandemic is behind us, you’ll want your small business to be in a position to thrive.

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