Businesses can also communicate their seriousness in dealing with the pandemic by increasing the regularity with which they clean their premises. In the days before the pandemic hit, cleaning and dusting for many businesses was done just once, probably in the morning. Cleaning was done first thing in the morning before work started. There was only one hotel I personally know of where every few hours a cleaner came to mop the reception area. However, things have changed. To prove that the business is serious about combating the virus, cleaning must be done with more regularity. It is also possible to get all employees to wash their hands at regular intervals during the day, as is being practiced by some eateries. If this can be done in the full view of customers, all the better. It sends the right message.
It also helps if every few hours, a cleaner comes around with a disinfectant to spray on surfaces such as door handles. It has been observed that places such door handles, balustrades, etc. can become a haven for the virus since there are places in a building where there is a lot of human contact. There is a company that has even taken the issue of the door handle to another level. It has redesigned its doors to be opened without using the hand to touch the door handle. The doors have been redesigned to be opened with the elbow.
Curtailing working hours is also a good way to indicate the seriousness with which a business is treating the virus. By cutting down on the amount of time employees spend with each other and with customers within the same space, businesses hope they will curb the spread of the virus. Closely related to this practice is the arrangement where staff are rotated. On a weekly basis, employees come to work in turns. In spite of the challenges associated with these measures, businesses have to still go by them, all in the hope of playing their part in protecting their customers.
There are even some businesses such as supermarkets which have resorted to reserving special shopping hours for their vulnerable customers. It has been proven that individuals with underlying health problems tend to be those that are worse affected by this virus. Therefore, it makes sense if these individuals are given special protection. Such a move does not only serve to protect these customers; it also impresses other customers, who come to realise that the business is really interested in protecting and serving its customers. Some businesses have even gone ahead to waive some charges for vulnerable customers during this pandemic.
Technology can also be used to communicate safety and protection to customers. There are some establishments that have decided not to take payments via physical cash. Although it has been said by some central banks around the world that the risk of contracting the virus via the handling of physical money is low, there are many businesses that have indicated their preference for other forms of payment during this pandemic. Mobile money and wire transfers have become the payment mode of choice for many businesses. For hotels, restaurants and other such businesses, check-ins and subsequent payments can be made without human contact.
There are companies that have totally changed the way they do business during this pandemic. Some have totally stopped taking orders in-person or over the counter. The entire ordering is now online. Delivery of ordered items is usually done via commercial motorcycle riders. With this arrangement, the business totally cuts out any physical interaction with its customers. Inconveniencing as this might be, these businesses have come to the realisation that it is all for the better. This is just what businesses have to do to protect its customers.
Another cleaver use of technology is in designing apps that uses colour codes to communicate with customers regarding how busy the business might be at any point in time. Colour RED could be any indication that the supermarket or restaurant is busiest while GREEN might mean the place is not all that busy. In this same vein, there are some other organisations that allow customers to book preferable timeslots ahead of time. The organisation can therefore use the booked time slots to arrange for when its customers can come in, thereby ensuring that it is able to manage and reduce human-to-human contact on its premises.
Beyond the tangible means of communicating to customers, businesses can adopt a much more direct approach—communicating to customers during the in-store interaction. Depending on the size of the premises, businesses can use PA systems, loudspeakers or other simpler means to constantly remind customers of the need to keep social distancing and other protocols. Regularly sending these reminders to customers is a good way to tell customers that the business cares about their health. In line with this, customer-facing employees must also be trained to communicate with customers using the kind of language that sets customers mind at rest. Whatever measures the business has been putting in place to ensure the safety of everyone must be on the lips of the front line employees.
It is important to realise that when it comes to the measures that businesses are taking to keep their customers safe, different industries and organisations must look at their unique situations and act accordingly. For example, some airlines have stopped passengers from bringing their luggage on board their flights. Some educational institutions have moved teaching online. Every business must look at its operations, especially in the areas where the business interacts with its customers. Customer touchpoints must be properly audited and measures put in place to ensure that touchpoints do not become “super-spreader” points.
Customer touchpoints also provides the business with an opportunity to indicate to customers the measures taken to protect customers. The company’s website, branded vehicles, paraphernalia, front office, etc. must became points through which communications is sent to customers about the protective measures being undertaken by the business. These messages must be sent in addition to the advertising of the organisation’s goods and services.
The implementation of these measures is sure to inconvenience some, if not all, of a business’ customers. But in this pandemic, every reasonable customer knows that the business is doing these things to protect and to serve. There are businesses that might take things to an extreme. But who can blame them? In this pandemic, it pays to err on the side of caution. But by and large, customers are more accommodating during this pandemic.
In times past, businesses got by just by the sheer strength of their offerings and their reputations. Times have changed. The coronavirus does not discriminate on where it would attack. Businesses with the cleanest premises are being attacked as well as businesses with not so clean surroundings. A little lapse on the part of any business and the virus will strike. Customers know this and therefore are extra cautious when visiting any business.
As stated earlier, in this pandemic, the business that can prove that it is a safer option can actually use that as a competitive advantage. We are being reminded on a daily basis that life is such a precious gift. While we struggle to survive this pandemic, the niceties of life can take a back seat. Therefore, if a customer has to choose between being protected and safe against being comfortable or having a great time, the choice would not be too difficult to make.
It is important, in times like this, for businesses not to lose sight of the fact that there is a real sense of dread among customers. In the beginning, the fatality statistics seemed like just numbers. However, over the period, things started getting scarily close for many customers as the statistics slowly became people they knew.
As things stand now, customers are scared—and they have every right to—and businesses must acknowledge this fact. No customer wants to put himself or herself at risk by visiting a business’ premises. It is equally important for businesses to understand that scared customers are not good for business. It is only after coming to terms with this reality that businesses can begin to communicate to customers the steps that have been taken to keep them safe.
Every business owner, manager, supervisor, etc. must not lose sight of the fact that protecting customers is not only a good thing to do; it is also good business. Sure, implementing these measures might hit at the business’ bottom-line. But in the end, it would be all worth it. If any of these measures save a single life, it would have been money well spent.
When it is all said and done, customers will not forget the business that had the health and safety of its customers at the top of their agenda during this pandemic. In much the same way, woe betides any business to which a customer can trace that he or she contracted the virus via an interaction with that business. Until such a time when we see this deadly virus retreat far, far out of our collective view, every business must be in business to protect and to serve.