The Covid-19 crisis has shut down many companies around the world permanently and temporarily. Over the next months, many small businesses will be reopening to a totally different market climate. How a small business chooses to reopen will greatly matter to their brand image, their employee and customer's safety and the future of the company.
Although essential businesses have remained open, they have been required to do business very differently to protect their employees, vendors, and customers.
As we seek to reopen our business, we have examples of how essential businesses have been effective at communicating a paradigm shift in how they deliver their products and services to guide us.
Before you create your communication plans, please keep in mind that people are experiencing and responding to this crisis in unique ways. Others may be experiencing this very differently than you are. Your guiding factors in how to respond and communicate should not only be based on your perspective but also the perceptions of your employees and customers, your company values, and what government leaders are requiring and/or advising for businesses (see current orders at the end of this article).
For the majority of business owners, the financial pressure to return to work is greater than the fear of a virus. If you fall into this category, make sure you also plan well and take every precaution to provide for the safety of your employees, vendors and customers/clients. Returning to work without taking the proper safely precautions, could end up having worse financial implications for your business than waiting it out for a little more time. Only you can judge this properly.
For other businesses owners, they are petrified about the thoughts of returning to work and do not know when or how they will reopen their business. This is not a good place to start. Now, is the time to get a plan in place, so when the time is right to open you are confident to move forward. Seek out a business consultant to help you create a reopening plan if you are struggling in this area. My business coach is Mike Kozlik of Advantage Resources. I highly recommend his services.
If your employees are not ready or unable to return to work, how will you run your business?
An important part of your communication plan should be defining how you keep your employees safe on the job and also make them feel safe. Part of getting your employees back to work is assuring them that you have provided a safe work environment for them and that you’re going above the minimum standards for their protection.
Now, is the time to assess and shore up vendors to see where they are in the process. Evaluate your pipeline to make sure you have access to the resources you need to open and sustain your business. Look to fill in the gaps with other vendors or seek to bring services in house.
This is hard to gauge, because everyone is having different experiences and coming from different places.
For someone who has directly been affected by the Covid-19 virus, they will be coming from a different place than someone who has not be directly affected by the illness itself.
The last thing you want you or your business to be seen as is not caring for your employees and customers’ safety. The need to get back to business at the cost of others health could backfire on your business. This is why a strategic communication plan to reopen is so important to your branding and your businesses future.
A Covid-19 re-open communication plan needs to address two areas in particular:
Working in curriculum publishing for 8 years and having 1000’s of teachers across the US depending on our curriculum in churches every Wednesday night, how we communicated in our publication was of utmost importance.
It was drilled into our head by upper management to make sure we put everything the teacher would need to know and do into the curriculum.
Our goal was to resource the teachers well. But more importantly, if we did not communicate the activities in detail and correctly, our teachers would be frustrated and they would be emailing and calling us and our customer service department frantically wanting clarification on Wednesday or letting us know how we had messed up on Thursday.
Getting the message right the first time, saves everyone involved lots of frustration and rework.
The key objective: Clarifying what customers need to know about how you are doing business differently, business-wise and safety-wise.
Outline your plan. Create an outline with the information and examples below which pertains to your business, the requirements from your state, county, and city officials and other safety requirements that you want to include.
Write your messaging. From your outline, craft the messaging that you will use across all your marketing platforms. What tone and words will you use to communicate to stay on brand and reflect your business values? Make it simple for your customers and employees to understand and follow. Once you get the core messaging, use the same verbiage consistently across all your marketing platforms.
Communicate your message. Create the signage or multimedia to guide customers at your physical location. Update your online social media platforms, website home page, and Google My Business page using the same verbiage to communicate your plan and expectations for customers. If possible, plan to have a greeter or be there yourself, as the business owner, welcoming customers at the door and offer them personal guidance on the new procedures.
Stay up to date. Keep your messaging consistent across all marketing channels. Make a list of the places you need to update your content. Make sure you update all channels as procedures and expectations change. Date the updates, so customers can see when they were posted.
Retail establishments practices that we are seeing in essential businesses include:
Service establishments practices that we are seeing in essential businesses:
Publix has a greeter outside the front door standing beside a sign that states how many people can be in the building at a time. The greeter is counting people as they enter and exit the store.
In the shopping cart area, another worker disinfecting the cart handles and lets guests know that the handles have been sanitized.
Inside the store there are arrows on the floor that give directions on entering and exiting aisles.
At the checkout, there are signs on the floor showing customers the 6 feet of distance that should be given.
Over the intercom every 5 minutes or so, an announcement is made to encourage customers to comply to procedures for their safety.
On the Publix website homepage they have videos to explain the changes. Their CEO took to YouTube at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak to personally communicate what they were doing to keep food on the shelves and customers and employees safe (see second video below).
I'm personally very grateful to Publix for creating a safe environment for their employees, since my 17 year-old nephew is going to work everyday to stock groceries at Publix.
Please, share in the comments what you found most helpful about this article or any questions or insights you have.
Latest orders from Alabama State Officials Effective as of Tuesday, April 28-