If there’s one thing anyone can say for certain during these trying times, it’s this: the world has changed. Adapting to social distancing measures means businesses need to innovate—and while the pandemic may be temporary, some suggest there might be more permanent changes to business trends as a result, including a shift towards ecommerce.
Right now, people are looking for online services, struggling with money, scaling back to essentials, and feeling isolated and lost. Your customers have different needs than before, and meeting those needs can make a huge difference in both your customers’ lives and your bottom line. So how do you retain customers during a pandemic? Below are 7 ways you can help keep your customers coming back, even in difficult times:
1. Offer online services
You may already have a website, social media, and online marketing strategy—but what if your services require in-person interaction? Finding creative ways to offer online services is a key strategy for many businesses that formerly offered in-store and in-office services. Restaurants are offering more ways to order delivery online. Therapists, teachers, and other professionals are turning to conferencing solutions to continue seeing clients remotely. Platforms like zoom have become wildly popular as user-friendly conferencing solutions, and software like vcita makes it even easier to connect, with zoom integration features that enable you to embed video conferencing links in your scheduling software and email campaigns.
Even if you’re in a profession that traditionally needs to see clients in person, such as a hairdresser or masseuse, you can offer video training sessions or consultations. You can also offer content behind a paywall with vimeo. Consider hosting free online events and webinars, which can give you a platform to talk about any industry related products you’re able to sell online. If nothing else, they’re a great way to help people stay connected to your brand and to each other.
2. Keep communicating
Focus on communicating online as much as you can—email drip campaigns, social media, and website updates are all great ways to help your customers get the information they need. Make sure your customers know about any changes, including changes in hours, products, services, or business operations due to COVID-19. This is especially true if you have a storefront or you’re offering additional services, since your customers might otherwise just assume you’re closed. If you have a product with a supply chain that has been affected by the virus, make sure you keep your customers up to date about what you have in stock or what alternatives you can offer.
It’s also important to let your customers know about any safety precautions you’re taking, particularly if you’re shipping food or products. If you have staff, let your customers know about how you’re supporting their safety, too. People like to know that the companies they purchase from are socially responsible, especially during times of crisis. Take a cue from larger companies and have a communication strategy that’s both informed and informative, with a finger on the pulse of current events.
3. Be extra careful about marketing messages
While you don’t have to fill your marketing messages with pandemic-inspired offers, a complete lack of acknowledgement of what’s happening globally can make you come across as tone deaf. For example, summer is usually vacation season, but it’s looking less likely that people will be travelling extensively. If you were planning to launch a tourism-based marketing campaign this summer, it’s time to rethink that strategy.
It’s also important to avoid using current conditions as a marketing hook. Let your customers know about practical things you’re offering that can help, but make sure you’re not doing it in a way that sounds opportunistic. If you’re feeling any uncertainty about your marketing messages, take some extra time to reflect on them or consult with someone else before putting them out there. It can be tempting to use all the marketing tricks in the book when you’re feeling panicked, but people might be put off by overly aggressive marketing strategies, especially now.
4. Help your community
Show your true colours by offering what community support you can, whether it’s a special service for seniors, a donation to a timely charity, or a free upgrade for the duration of the crisis. You can also show support for your smaller community of employees and customers with extra sanitation measures, additional paid time off, or easier ways to connect with customer support online.
While you don’t want to overdo expressions of empathy, small gestures towards your community will help your customers understand that you’re not prioritizing profits over people. People will remember what businesses contributed to the common good during this difficult time; your socially conscious customers will be more loyal to you if they can see you’re trying to help. Partnering with other businesses in your community can also give you new distribution channels and marketing opportunities—sometimes, community service is a win-win.
5. Be flexible with payments and pricing
Giving people ways to pay online is an absolute must if you don’t have them already. Remember that if you didn’t offer online payments before, some of your customers may not be used to doing it. Make sure it’s as easy as possible, and that you have customer support available for anyone who needs help.
With layoffs happening left and right, some of your customers might have a tough time paying for your services. Being a bit more flexible with your pricing might help you retain customers you’d otherwise lose. How you change your pricing strategy is up to you, but keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need to offer discounts. It’s a common strategy, but it’s important to weigh the benefits of immediate sales with the risk that the discount will become a permanent lower rate.
There are a few different options if you don’t want to risk undermining the value of your product or services with discounts. If you’re offering a service like personal training, for example, you could consider introducing a shorter session as an option. That way you’re still charging the same amount for your time, and the session is only cheaper by virtue of being a more bite-sized version of a full workout. If you have a subscription-based model, offering payment plans or the ability to place their subscription on hold can help people that are struggling, while upholding your pricing structure.
6. Ask for more feedback
Many businesses are employing creative new strategies to serve their customers better, from online request forms to new automation options. In order to find out how you can best serve your customers, ask for their feedback as much as you can. If you can find out how their needs and values are changing, you’ll be able to pivot accordingly and offer services that they’ll actually benefit from.
Once you make the switch to offering online services, asking for feedback is easy—you can embed links to feedback forms in email drip campaigns, automated reminders, and thank-you emails. Instead of asking for a simple rating, try asking your customers if there’s anything new they’d like to see from you going forward, especially while social distancing measures are in place. It’s possible that one of your customers will have a great suggestion for a tweak to your existing service, or a new service that other customers will appreciate too.
7. Embrace agility
Your ability to implement new feedback is, however, only as good as your ability to stay agile. Agility is the hallmark of successful business leadership, and it’s more important now than ever. It’s easy to dig your heels in on a particular course of action once you’ve made a plan, but if there’s any lesson to be learned from current events, it’s that plans change.
Embracing change and agility has already allowed many businesses to create new partnerships, produce needed goods, and keep moving forward. This is an especially important concept to keep in mind if you’re moving towards online services for the first time. It might take some finesse to get your in-person services to translate online, so if it seems awkward at first, don’t give up! Try a few different approaches and see what suits you. A little willingness to experiment can go a long way towards establishing a new equilibrium.
Find the right path for your business
Even if you’re seeing a drop in sales at the moment, take a deep breath and try to remember that it’s happening to most businesses. You’ll find your way through it as long as you make the right moves under the current circumstances.
Finding ways to connect with and serve your customers, patients, or students online should be a first priority during times when people can no longer connect in person. The path of each business will vary depending on their business model, but in times of uncertainty, retaining good customers should be priority #1.
And remember: necessity is the mother of invention. Times may be stressful, but finding new ways to serve your customers can be a unique opportunity to expand your horizons, both now and in the future.