1. Stay informed and up to date
First things first: know your stuff. Familiarize yourself with the county, state, national, and industry-specific safety guidelines from reputable resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Coronavirus.gov.
That way, you can be sure you’re ready to address customer questions and quickly pivot when regulations change.
2. Remake your space
This June, Software Advice surveyed over 550 individuals across the U.S. to understand how their priorities and preferences have shifted due to COVID-19 (you can find our methodology here).
That survey revealed that 46% percent of respondents think retailers need to alter their space to encourage social distancing, and 49% feel retailers should insert a plexiglass divider at customer service points.
Going the extra mile to ensure your physical space is ready for reopening will help your customers feel more comfortable and willing to visit your shop.
If your storefront/retail space is large enough for customers and employees to practice social distancing, clearly mark spots for customers to stand, and designate specific areas for different types of transactions.
If your space isn’t cut out for social distancing, curbside pickup and delivery service may be the safest and best option for your business. Online ordering software and VoIP phone systems can help ease the transition from in-person to contactless service, as well as provide a smooth customer experience.
Every kind of business should limit capacity, but it’s especially important for establishments that host customers for extended amounts of time (such as restaurants and bars). If your business falls into this category, make sure that tables and seating areas are at least six feet apart and consider a reservation system to help limit capacity and prevent long wait times.
3. Keep it clean
The health of your customers and employees is in your hands. Make sure you’re sanitizing regularly with a disinfectant or soap-and-water solution. You should also provide hand sanitizer, and require workers and customers to wear face coverings and regularly wash their hands.
The majority of respondents in our June survey feel these measures are important; 65% believe hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes should be widely available in-store, and 58% would prefer that all employees and customers be required to wear face masks.
Have high cleaning standards:
For more information and specific guidance on cleaning and disinfecting your space, visit the CDC’s “Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses, Schools, and Homes.”
4. Listen to your employees
Reuben Yonatan, founder, and CEO of GetVoIP told us the key to a successful reopening of his New York office:
Listening to your employees’ concerns and ideas are pivotal to reopening success. Set up weekly or biweekly meetings to check in with your employees and brainstorm solutions to any problems they’re experiencing. Now is also a great time to invest in team communication software, so your team can stay connected with ease.
5. Know your business needs
Before reopening, ask yourself: What is absolutely essential for your business to operate? How many employees do you need? Do you have enough cash to cover payroll, rent, and other expenses?
Answering these questions will help you assess what your first steps should be. Maybe you need to bring back furloughed employees, adopt cost-cutting initiatives, or even apply for a grant.
6. Know your customers’ needs
We asked Brian Mac Mahon (CEO and founder of Expert DOJO) what he thought small business owners should focus on when it comes to reopening. He told us: “I would advise business owners to think about the problems their customers are facing during the pandemic and how they can solve these problems for them. Then, think of ways to streamline these solutions as much as possible, because the world is shifting to digital and their business should not be left behind.”
What your customers need now is different from what they needed pre-pandemic, and identifying their new needs is the first step to fulfilling them.
Our survey found that 70% of consumers are more likely to shop at a retailer that asks for their input on how to keep customers safe.
One way to figure out what your customers want is to ask them. Conduct a survey via social media or collect feedback with customer experience software.
7. Update your products or services
We asked Sean Nguyen, director of Internet Advisor, what advice he’d give to small business owners.
Narrow down your product or service list to those with the highest demand, and keep listening to your customers so that you can identify opportunities to fill gaps and improve your offerings.
8. Make the most out of digital tools
In a different Software Advice survey conducted in April, we polled over 500 small businesses and found that 33% needed new software for at least some parts of their business due to the pandemic.
Many of those purchases were necessary to continue business as usual, or as close to usual as possible (think video conferencing software, online ordering systems, and e-commerce software to serve customers remotely).
If purchasing new software isn’t financially viable for your business, you still have options. Open source or freemium versions are available for many solutions and offer key functionality without breaking the bank.
You can also get creative and use your current digital tools in new ways. For example, email marketing software can be used to communicate operation changes to your customer base, and most inventory management systems can create QR codes that deliver information (like product availability or a service list) without physical contact.
9. Prioritize customer service
Great customer service can’t be overvalued during this time of uncertainty. Many consumers are still apprehensive about visiting retail stores in person and are relying on businesses to be transparent about the measures they’re taking to ensure a low-risk experience.
In addition to those concerns, almost every business has made changes to their operations due to the pandemic, which in turn has caused more calls from customers with questions.
Create a communication plan that includes processes for proactively updating customers, answering their questions, and addressing their feedback. Customer service software can streamline many of these tasks and lead to a better customer experience overall.
10. Stay flexible
If there’s one thing to keep in mind as a small business owner looking to reopen, it’s this: stay flexible. Pandemic or otherwise, there’s no way of knowing what the next year will hold. Willingness to adapt and adjust to whatever comes your way is the best strategy for creating a sustainable business plan.
Despite the obvious pain that COVID-19 has caused, some positive and unique experiences have emerged as well.
Rather than rushing to reopen and return to “normal,” use this time to rethink your business plan, take care of your employees, and serve your customers better. Don’t worry; we’ve got resources to help you do just that.