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Updated: May 12, 2020
No matter how trying the COVID-19 outbreak has been, there are ways to capture some semblance of normality – and that’s through communication. More than ever, people are looking for signs of a return to the status quo. That’s true even if it’s just to know that small businesses in the community are still around in some way, shape, or form.
Fortunately, technology has made it possible for communication to transpire in real-time 24/7, even during times of crisis. And while you can’t be there in person for your customers, there are several steps you can take to make it easy for them to contact you and build customer loyalty during COVID-19.
There are numerous reasons why customers might want to be in touch during the lockdown. For instance, they might like to learn how they can continue to support your business throughout the downturn when cash flow is difficult to come by.
Maybe you offer a product or service that they can’t do without — even during the pandemic — and they need to know how to purchase it during these times. Customers might need help with a product or service, or they might want to reach out to see how you’re doing. Whatever the reason, technology is your friend during the lockdown.
Email is a tried-and-true form of communication. Just because there are other, fancier apps available for mobile devices and desktops, that doesn’t mean you have to abandon what works. Nearly three-quarters of consumers still prefer email as the top way to reach them. So, the chances are that they similarly would like to reach out to you in this way.
Even if you plan on using other types of tech to communicate with your customers to maintain customer service, always include email as part of any campaign. In an email, you could also inform customers about the various ways in which they can reach you during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Surely you’ve heard, seen, or participated in live stream events before in which the host can interact with other followers. Live streams have become increasingly popular throughout the pandemic, having attracted industry leaders including, entrepreneur Bobbi Brown.
Live streaming is a surefire way to get your customers’ attention and also an easy way for them to contact you during COVID-19. While live stream events might seem complicated, it’s not too tricky. Facebook Live, for instance, outlines five steps to launching a live stream event from start to finish.
Chances are that you’ve already accumulated a following on social media. So, use the opportunity to promote and broadcast the live stream on those channels and also on your website. Everyone’s doing it, and your followers are likely to feel comfortable participating in one of these.
A piece of advice for small business owners to keep in mind when hosting a live stream or to post on social media: Your customers will likely be looking for a connection. Be transparent with them and keep it relevant to the crisis. Releasing content like this that is relevant and authentic is better than trying to treat any updates as though everything is normal. Keep it real.
Remember Watson, IBM’s supercomputer that wowed the world in 2010 because it could engage in questions and answers in natural language? The next year, that computer even competed on Jeopardy, showcasing to the world just how intelligent a computer could be.
And while you might not want to have a Watson robot hanging around, you could adopt some of the technology. Indeed you’ve come into contact with chatbots before. During times of a business crisis, your company could receive more phone calls than usual. To help ease the burden, you could integrate an artificial intelligence-powered chatbot that can field some of those queries for you.
While bots are not human, they give customers the feel of communicating with another individual on the other end of an instant messaging chat. From a friendly greeting to facilitating payments, a chatbot can handle all fundamental parts of an online chat. According to IBM Watson, “the potential annual savings for every second shaved off the average customer service call is $1 million.”
Having said that, a complicated scenario in which a customer needs a live person at the other end of the phone line may arise. In this case, be sure and make yourself or your staff available by phone. You can accomplish this by either having calls forwarded from your place of business or launching a new line altogether.
For some generations, less is more, and that’s where online scheduling comes in. If you’re able to continue your operations virtually or some other way, you might want to launch a simple form on a landing page in which customers can book their sessions for whatever service you provide. While you’re at it, you might also explore the addition of digital payment options for your online customers. Online options have been proven popular among millennials and Generation Z for services such as locksmiths or repairs.
Of course, all of this communication will be in vain if your business can’t survive the COVID-19-fueled downturn. That’s why fintech companies like Funding Circle are making it easier than ever for you to tap into the capital that you’ll need to be sure you make it to the other side of the crisis. Funding Circle even launched a CARES Act SBA Loan Calculator that will estimate how much money you qualify for as a business owner under the Paycheck Protection Program. If you haven’t done so already, you’ll want to apply for your piece of the PPP pie sooner than later because the SBA-backed funds won’t last forever.
Jessica Holcomb is the Content Marketing Manager at Funding Circle, specializing in small business marketing and social media. She has a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. Prior to Funding Circle, Jessica was a Marketing Manager at a successful social games company and a freelancer for many small businesses in the Bay Area. Her work can be seen in top retail, gaming, and financial small business resource sites.