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One thing is for certain – we are all affected by COVID-19, every business as well as every individual.
As people return to work, queuing at retail will become an increasingly difficult burden to manage; whilst changes in working practices are already becoming challenging in the business-to-business environment.
From everything we hear this isn’t going away soon so what can businesses do to make the very best of the situation; where making the best means attracting customers and making a profit?
It is certain that there will be those businesses that ‘muddle through’ and those that are spectacularly good at winning more than their fair share of available spend. What does it take to be one of the latter businesses?
Put simply, in a world where the conveniences of old are compromised, and every action, whether that’s buying something from a shop or dealing with a supplier, is that little bit more difficult, I’d say the ‘winners’ will be those businesses that make themselves easy and pleasant to deal with.
To be a great business during these times, and at any other time, the key is to focus on how your customers or clients feel about you.
Take queuing for example. Queuing is rarely fun so if I’m going to have to queue I’m ether going to be looking for where the queues are shortest (trading need against convenience) or where the queuing is just that bit more pleasant.
As a retailer, what can you do to diminish the queue line quickly? Your in-store distancing and flow policy might work but is it as effective and efficient as it could be? Is it truly intuitive? Does it provide efficient solutions at bottlenecks? Is your signage simple and clear rather than just ‘there’? What’s it like queuing outside – is the queue under cover (if not, a stock of free-to-use umbrellas can be a great customer care initiative), is there anything to distract the people queuing such as soothing music, posters and anecdotes to read (changed regularly), information about key products in store?
It’s all about the implicit bargain. If I’m going to buy a magazine I want to know I’ll receive at least the return I paid for. It’s the same with queuing – if I’m going to queue, what’s going to make it worth my while: great service, attention to detail, entertainment/distraction, being made to feel special?
The story is much the same in a business-to-business environment. Assuming that the products and/or services I’m buying are broadly equal then the company that’s going to get my vote is the one that’s easy and pleasant to deal with. That often means the company whose systems are aligned to their customers rather than those where customers are expected to adapt.
Which services can be automated so I don’t have to go through a lengthy process every time I make contact? Which steps can be removed entirely or completed post-contact? How can contact be made as easy and flexible as possible by offering a range of options?
The same is broadly true for service providers generally – especially those offering services remotely. Telephone-calling essential service providers has become an increasing chore, as a vastly increased home-working, or homebound, audience has more time to use the phone. If I need to contact you that’s all I want – not to hear the collected works of Beethoven played through a sound system that makes a phonogram sound sophisticated. Can you offer me options? ‘Live chats’ for example. And while I’m on the subject I hate call-back options: if there’s one thing I can guarantee it’s that I’ll miss the call-back because I have a life and I’ll be getting on with it at the time the call arrives. Speed of response is important – it’s really not about you, the business, it’s about me the customer. If I’ve made contact it’s because I need something, probably fairly immediately, so the contact mechanism shouldn’t be burdensome it should be convenient. When it is that says great things about your business.
So where does that leave us? As far as I can see, nothing has really changed. If you want your customers to deal with you, make them want to deal with you. Put yourself in their shoes and you won’t go far wrong, socially distanced though you may be.