So it’s been more than six months since businesses were shut down and then slowly started back up again. Of those businesses that have survived through the devastating economic impacts of coronavirus, many are getting as close to normal as they can, opening up their doors, inviting employees back into the office, and returning to business as (kind of) usual.
If you’re a small business owner, what are you doing to ensure everyone’s getting back to work safely, happily and productively?
Consider this: 70 percent of employees in the United States have school-aged children at home; Parents with small children comprise about one-third of the country’s workforce and any economic recovery will depend on their reentry into the labor force.
What’s going to happen if their kids are in virtual school all day? How can you as a small business owner support your employees throughout this challenge?
For working parents, the uncertainty that surrounds child care and virtual instruction for school-aged children is indeed unprecedented, with many consequences on family life, education, and earnings. Even now that some child care centers and schools are fully reopening, many parents aren’t confident in the safety of those environments. They may opt to keep their kids home anyway. Others would like to see their kids go back to school but can’t because their schools are offering only remote learning.
What’s a parent to do? What’s a small business owner and employer of those parents to do? What about your customers: how will you win them back??
Do Your Research: Employees
If your bottom line is suffering (and whose isn’t?) due to all the lack of productivity and uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 over the last several months, you may find yourself facing the need to lay off people or make cuts. But you have to be careful on how you go about this.
To avoid litigation, you must be aware of your employees’ situations before making employment decisions. Document everything. Avoiding COVID-19 lawsuits and reputational damage as your employees return to work can take up a lot of your time now. Be aware of the potential legal risks and how to protect yourself against long-term damage to your reputation.
Keep in mind, states and local governments are taking on a bigger role in protecting employees from COVID-19 with new rules while acting on their behalf. For example, state government agencies may collaborate with worker organizations and publicize enforcement actions to “name and shame” employers who haven’t been adequately protecting their workers from the coronavirus.
There are also increased whistleblower protections for employees who decide to report unsafe conditions due to poor coronavirus protections. You could also face COVID-19-related public nuisance lawsuits.
The best way to avoid both legal and reputational risks related to the pandemic is to fully understand and implement employee and customer protection best practices. This will also keep your staff productive and focused as they navigate all these new challenges. Keep in mind, they’re deciding to return to work while the coronavirus crisis continues to impact their personal lives with closed schools and daycares, as well as big dips in household income, points out HR Morning.
Do Your Research: Customers
Next, think about your customers: what will help them feel safe when interacting with your business? How can you entice customers back? Don’t underestimate the power of deals and offers.
As many businesses reopen around the country while concerns about coronavirus persist, there are several things you should be doing to prepare for returning customers.
Establish Plans and Contingencies
One of the most important things you can do is to create plans and contingencies for whatever situation may arise. You will have to be able to answer questions like:
- How can you serve customers in a safe manner while you maintain social distance?
- How will you remain in compliance with all new regulations and protocols?
- Do you have a plan for closing and cleaning if employees or customers test positive for COVID-19?
- Will you require all employees and customers to wear masks? What happens when someone refuses to comply with those directives?
- How can you convey messaging clearly to your customers?
Communicate Reopening Across Channels
It may seem obvious, but you have to actually let your customers know you are back in business. Once you’ve got reopening plans in place, advise what your operating hours and policies are, and advertise them via email, social media, and your website. Don’t forget to change your official business listings on Google Maps, Yelp and Foursquare, too. Google and Yelp have added COVID-19-specific features to help you communicate your new policies.
Flexibility is key to designing your new customer experience while rebuilding your relationships with them. Let’s say you had put a curbside pickup option in place but customers are no longer choosing it as an option. You may want to put that idea on the back burner and try something else, like implementing hand sanitizer stations inside your location.
Always remember that your customers’ expectations, needs and priorities have likely changed since they last visited you. There may be other ways to meet your customers where they are at the moment, mentally, emotionally and physically.
Set the Right Tone
No matter what way you communicate with customers, it’s important to set a kind and understanding tone. Be polite and helpful with your customers, which will go a long way to help rebuild loyalty. Send them offers, deals, incentives – anything to get them to trust you again and help them save money, something that may be lacking with their own layoffs.
Switch Things Up
Lastly, it’s important to know how to pivot your business if these impacts continue into 2021. Check out my recent blog “How to Pivot Your Small Business Strategy During COVID-19.”
Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation today. Remember, we’re STILL all in this together!