Though social distancing is the new norm these days, with families cooped up at home for the foreseeable future, the mind of a small business owner is undoubtedly racing at 100 mph.
While the nation sits, attempting to mitigate the spreading of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), you’re looking for answers on how to keep your business running, employees safe and customers engaged.
At a time of crisis, communication is imperative. Unfortunately, there is no playbook when it comes to the unique and unprecedented situation we currently find ourselves in.
So, what should integrators who operate walk-in retail or by-appointment showrooms be doing from a communications standpoint while we wait out this global pandemic?
Short answer: There’s a ton you could be doing. But let’s boil it down to four basic tips that can have the most immediate impact for you and your business.
1. Implement Your Internal Communications Plan
There is no better time than now for CE pros who operate showrooms and retail stores to review and implement your crisis communications plan – or develop a plan if one doesn’t exist. The process of actually communicating with employees can involve any combination of the following methods: emails, text messages, flyers or posters in your store/warehouse, an internal website, or a Slack or Microsoft Teams-style message board.
However you’re going to communicate with them, there are a few tips to consider:
- Give them the facts. Share relevant information from the authorities on the crisis at hand. In this instance, with the Coronavirus, share pertinent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and your state and local health departments. Advise and educate them through resources from those outlets on the disease, how it spreads, what symptoms to watch for and more.
- Promote safety. When it comes to this disease, constant reminders about personal hygiene, workplace wellness etiquette and more are critical. Make it clear that employees showing any signs of illness — whether the symptoms are similar to those exhibited by positive COVID-19 patients or not — ought to stay away from the workplace.
- Reiterate company policies. Now is also a good time to remind employees of your policies around sick leave, paid time off, travel, group meetings, health plan coverage and more.
2. Solidify Your External Communications Plan
Equally as important as talking with your employees is deciding how you’re going to communicate with your customers and clients. Some of the same tips apply here, but the messaging itself will include a slightly different approach.
Lean into your marketing capabilities and social media messaging where at all possible to let them know what’s happening.
- Give them the facts. Let customers know you’re still open for business (if that is the case), and the steps you and your employees are taking to ensure the store is clean, deliveries are fulfilled and shoppers can continue to shop. Be upfront and honest with customers – they’ll appreciate it.
- Promote safety. What steps and precautions are you taking to ensure your store remains clean and COVID-19 free? It’s highly encouraged that businesses — and retailers in particular — take extra steps to deep clean their stores, especially areas that are considered high touchpoints. Place additional signage around your store, encouraging customers to only look at product, don’t touch. Use this opportunity to promote handwashing best practices. And maybe even place a few extra hand sanitizing stations around your store.
- Reiterate company policies. Different from your human resources-type policies, let your customers know what steps you’re taking, if any, to make it easier to shop. Do you plan to provide free shipping during this time to accommodate customers who are staying home? Are store hours staying the same? Communicate those things to your customers clearly to avoid confusion if they try to come to your store.
3. Invest in Your Website
It’s 2020, and we’re still out here championing the idea of creating a robust website (or bolstering what you have). It sounds crazy, but it still needs to be talked about because a majority of independent dealers and custom integration firms either don’t have one or haven’t made a serious investment in their web presence.
The situation with COVID-19 is a prime example of why an e-commerce platform — or at the very least a sophisticated web presence — is critical. While customers are social distancing themselves at home, they’re doing so with their smartphones in hand, browsing e-commerce websites and social media. They’re a captive audience, and businesses with a strong web and digital marketing strategy are sure to reap the rewards over these next few weeks.
Even when we’re not facing a global pandemic, nine out of 10 shoppers begin their product searches online. And if you’re not one of the first sources of information, your chances of landing the sale with that shopper are slim to none.
With foot traffic in stores reduced at present, now would be a great time to review your website and consider upgrades and changes to enhance that digital presence.
4. Integrate Online Chat
Retailers and custom integrators looking for a specific tactic to take in enhancing their online presence should consider integrating an online chat service into their website.
First and foremost, chat is a remarkable sales tool. The digital team at Nationwide Marketing Group reports that conversion rates from customers who initiate online chat conversations range from 45% to 75%.
Chat is a great opportunity to connect with your customers and make a strong first impression before they even walk into your store — which is more critical than ever right now.
Plenty of platforms exist, including Comm100, Podium, Tawk.to and Live Chat Inc. But before you sign any contracts, spend some time thinking about how the chat function will integrate into your business strategy:
- Who on your team will answer chats? Access should be limited to top salespeople on your team who have extensive product knowledge, high close rates, and strong grammar and spelling skills.
- What are the goals of the chat? Of course, it’s to connect with customers. But you should also consider how to move the online connection into an in-store experience — offline conversion rates are higher, and the average ticket sale typically ends up higher as well.
- When should you offer chat? At the very least, during normal business hours. If possible, chat should start a few hours before the store opens and last a few hours after it closes. If you’re only open Monday through Friday, chat is a great opportunity to connect with customers while you’re closed over the weekend.
Of course, these are just a handful of strategies and suggestions to get you through a crisis situation. Additional Coronavirus response best practices and strategies are available on the Nationwide Marketing Group website. Our team will regularly update that link with new resources and documents to provide everyone in the independent retail and custom integration industry with the tools they need to continue running their business.
Author Rob Stott is corporate communications manager, Nationwide Marketing Group