How Struggling Businesses Can Keep Their Customersby
While the restrictions put into place to control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic were implemented for a good reason, many businesses have unfortunately suffered from the lack of customers. Bryce Sanders notes that while some industries were affected far more than others, many of your business-owning clients are likely worried right now. Here are 10 suggestions you can make to help them keep their customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns have affected some businesses far more than others. Restaurants are a good example. At one point, they were closed. Then they could reopen, but only for outdoor dining. Then indoor dining was allowed, albeit at a fraction of full capacity. The stand-up bar side of the business became forbidden. Needless to say, business owners have numerous concerns right now, ranging from IRS audits to going out of business entirely. If you own a struggling business, how can you retain your customers?
Start by understanding mutual value. Your loyal clients have many other choices. They consciously choose to do business with you. That’s what they want. You will see loyal customers follow their hairstylist when they move to a different salon. Your client base is a significant asset for your business. If an accountant were to sell their practice to another practitioner, it would be expected the current clients would continue bringing in revenue for the new owner.
Here’s the bottom line. They want to do business with you. You need to show them how.
Let’s assume your business has been closed or is operating at limited capacity.
1. Know Your Customers: You need a database of your clientele. This is easy if you have a frequent shopper program. If not, you should have credit card information on file. You want to know your best customers. You want to know all your customers. Don’t forget past ones as well. If you don’t have their information, getting it is a high-priority project. Credit card slips might only provide names, but you that’s a starting point for gathering the rest of the information. I recently received an e-mail from a luxury travel company we once used. The message started with: “Tell us more about you.”
2. Answer the Phone: Nothing says “out of business” like a disconnected or unanswered phone. Have calls and e-mails rerouted to your home. Answer calls and return phone messages as quickly as possible. The warmth in y our voice should let customers know you consider them valuable. Always be optimistic when they ask you questions about your future.
3. Keep Them Updated: You must communicate. Let them know what is going on. At the very least, they need to know business has only paused. You are not out of business. You can’t assume it’s “one and done.” You need to continually get the word out. It’s been said a person needs to hear a message six or more times before it sinks in. A newsletter is ideal.
4. Communicate on Their Terms: Some people respond to e-mails. Others read newspapers. Almost everyone is on multiple social media platforms. Your business needs to get the word out through multiple channels. Don’t dismiss word of mouth. “Tell your friends” can be a powerful request.
5. Remember Seeing Is Believing: Your physical location needs signage that’s visible from a distance. “We’ll be back” is simple and compelling. If people drive by your location, it’s a way of providing an update. The exterior of your premises needs to look clean, not abandoned.
6. Give Them Something to Buy: Let’s look back to the dark days of the pandemic in early 2020. All restaurants were closed. No one was eating out. You have several communication channels. Give customers the opportunity to buy gift certificates redeemable at a future date. Discount the face value if you need to provide an incentive. Plant nurseries and garden centers do this in the off-season. Costco stores often sell gift certificates to certain restaurants at 80 percent of face value. Copy the idea.
7. Blow the Trumpet for Every Piece of Good News: The pandemic restrictions allowed restaurants to fill takeout orders. Broadcast the news! You are back in limited operation. Don’t assume clients will figure it out.
8. Seize Every Opportunity: Takeout food led to takeout cocktails in Pennsylvania. Next came outdoor dining. This led to indoor dining. Go all in on every bit of movement, even if you don’t see the immediate value. We recently dined in a local restaurant. The view of the open kitchen included a huge stack of pizza boxes. There are no pizzas on the menu? What’s the story? We learned all the local competitors were offering takeout pizzas. Now they do too, although it’s not a menu item. Don’t leave money on the table.
9. Let Them Know When You Plan to Reopen: People want to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Through your communication channels, let customers know when business as usual will resume. They want to know you are going to make it.
10. Sell Inventory: This sounds counterintuitive. If we expect to reopen, why dump assets? The fine dining sector of the hospitality industry was hit hard during the pandemic. Shuttered restaurants found themselves literally sitting on cellars of fine wine, including aged wine and bottles in short supply because of allocations. Collectors will pay to own these treasures. Some started selling parts of their wine inventory to their regular customers. American Airlines found itself with surplus wine they won’t be serving in Business and First Class on long haul flights. They introduced their Flagship Cellars Program, giving their frequent fliers the opportunity to buy fine wine at discounted prices.
Your customer base invested lots of time deciding your business best met their needs. They developed relationships with your business and staff. They want to return. You need to keep them connected.
Bryce Sanders is president of Perceptive Business Solutions Inc. in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He provides high-net-worth client acquisition training for the financial services industry. His book, Captivating the Wealthy Investor, can be found on Amazon.com.