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At some point, when safe, businesses will reopen and economic activity will resume and some sense of normality may return.  One question on all our minds is: will it be a return to the “old normal”; or, will there be a “new normal” that all businesses have to adjust to.  There are two factors at play in determining what that return to normality may look like.  The first factor is what the government will allow, and what the new rules will be, and the second factor is how people will actually behave.  For our view on what we think the government easing of lockdown will look like read our blog here:

How we think people’s behaviours may change is a topic we will come to in some of our future articles.  For today we want to focus on one of the things businesses and business owners should be doing right now to prepare for when economic activity does return.

Under normal circumstances businesses are in constant communication and contact with their existing and potential clients and customers, whether it’s customers coming onto your premises, talking to them on the phone, taking orders, communicating via email or traffic through your website.  With lockdown in effect and many businesses unable to provide their normal products or services, much of that day to day communication with clients and customers has disappeared overnight along with the regular communication with partners, suppliers and other people and groups who in the natural course of things support the success of your business.

In these circumstances we feel it is more important than ever for businesses to find ways to maintain client and customer contact and communication.  For economic life to return to normal businesses need their customers to return, so at a minimum keeping customers up to date with what’s happening with your business should be a priority.

For businesses currently unable to open or offer their normal products or services, keeping in touch with your clients also means thinking beyond your existing marketing, sales and booking/order taking strategy.

Here is our advice to our clients:

  • Prioritise keeping your loyal customers loyal
  • Maintain existing and build new connections with your local community and with your core markets
  • Understand the issues, problems and concerns your clients and customers are facing and think about how you can help and support them
  • Focus on building goodwill that will hopefully be repaid at a later date rather than trying to squeeze revenue out of already stretched customers
  • Communicate and with other businesses, suppliers and partners to pool and coordinate skills, expertise and efforts
  • Share your own skills and knowledge and reach out for advice and support

How to achieve this:

Keep your existing communication channels up to date

  • Think about how under normal circumstances your customers communicate with you and find out about your products and services and consider how you can keep those channels open
  • Make sure the latest information about your business is available on your website
  • If your physical premises are closed, consider things such as posting information in the windows or on the doors of your premises and give contact details or how customers can keep up to date
  • If you traditionally advertise through a certain medium consider using the same advertising medium to provide updates
  • Make sure out of office or other automated email replies are up to date and informative, likewise voicemail messages
  • Regularly reach out directly to key clients through email or phone to let them know what’s going on
  • Consider creating regular email updates

Remain responsive

  • Have a plan to ensure that you can continue to respond quickly to customer enquiries and questions
  • Be supportive of your customers and their issues even if the issues are outside of your normal concerns
  • Go that little bit extra in trying to solve customer problems even if there is no immediate profit incentive

Create new content

  • You may not be able to provide your products or services directly, but create new content based around the unique skills, knowledge and experience that you have and that people still need
  • For example if you run a plumbing business, create content about how people can resolve minor plumbing issues during lockdown, if you run a car repair business, give tips on how people can diagnose what’s wrong with their car

Build on the personal connections you have with your customers and community

  • Reach out to customers on a more personal level
  • Move away from just “marketing” your business or services and communicate about circumstances, issues and advice that will resonate with your customers
  • Building or maintaining a personal connection with customers will create loyalty and shared empathy that will be invaluable in encouraging customers to return to your business once they can
  • Consider your role and position within the communities in which you operate and think how you can generate broader community loyalty to support your business

Embrace technology

  • The current crisis has forced all of us to adapt and embrace new technologies to communicate so make sure your business is keeping pace with changes in the ways people are now using technology in their everyday lives
  • Record video and webinar updates to add your voice and face to words
  • Customers may not visit your website every day, but they probably visit social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube every day and use platforms such as WhatsApp constantly.  Review and update your presence across social media and create business accounts if you don’t already have them.
  • As above, create content that your customers will find interesting or useful

The aim of every individual and business at the moment should be to help and support people and connect with the people who need you and will support you.  For businesses that also means generating empathy and goodwill, and not just looking “sell”.  When normality returns businesses will want and need their existing customers to walk back through the door, pick up the phone or place their orders, and those customers are more likely to be motivated and willing to do that if they feel a personal connection and investment your business.  In addition, those businesses who throughout the lockdown continue to show their commitment and passion for what they do, to their communities, who share their knowledge, skills and advice, who are seen to be contributing and giving freely to supporting their customers, and who are “doing what they can” are more likely to be the businesses that people want to give their custom to when lockdown ends.

Businesses with all staff on furlough

A note to clients where all staff and directors are on furlough under the Job Retention Scheme (CJRS).  Direct marketing and sales generating activity while on furlough is likely to contravene HMRC rules on claiming under the CJRS.  Based on the HMRC advice for Directors: “[Directors] should not do work of a kind they would carry out in normal circumstances to generate commercial revenue or provide services to or on behalf of their company”.  This advice should be considered in relation to the above.  However, limited non-specific marketing and non-revenue generating activities such as emails to clients updating them of the current position of the business, updating information on websites, posting general comments, giving “free” advice to customers on your website or social media or undertaking new non revenue generating activities we feel would be unlikely to contravene the broader spirit of the CJRS objective, which is to ensure businesses can quickly return to normal activities once permitted to do so.