You’ve carefully planned out how you’re going to safely re-open your small business — now, how do you get the word out to your customers?

As states across the country enter various stages of reopening, knowing how to keep customers informed about your progress is just as important as the safety protocols you’ve been putting in place. Having a well-thought-out communications plan can help manage customers’ expectations and foster loyalty, which will be key while we’re all still far from business as usual. Here are some tips for how to communicate your small business’ reopening plans.

TAKE NOTE OF WHAT SAFETY MEASURES YOU’RE TAKING

No matter what kind of business you own, every reopening plan should be informed by your state’s recommendations and up-to-date best practices. And for your customers’ peace of mind, it’s important to share those details with them.

Experts recommend using social media to share a series of timely and relevant posts, both before you reopen as well as during your first weeks back in business. Start by sharing how you plan to implement hygiene practices, the use of personal protective equipment, social distancing rules and employee health monitoring. You might also consider sharing information about your staff and operations to let customers know you are open for business and proactively addressing their needs.

If your business includes onsite visits to clients, make sure you’re communicating not only the measures you’re taking, but also what safety protocol you’re expecting from them. “As we prepared to reopen for business in New York City, of course we made sure that our engineers had a healthy supply of masks, gloves and sanitizer — but we knew that wouldn’t be enough,” says Tim Crossley, founder of recording studio design and engineering firm Crossley Acoustics. “We reached out to our customers and let them know that in accordance with the Department of Labor, we would require all sites to have clean bathrooms with soap and running water to keep our engineers safe. So far everyone has complied and has seemed happy to do so. By prioritizing the safety of my team, our clients know we will take care of them too.”

BE CONSISTENT

Effectively reaching your customers means meeting them where they are, which may mean having to communicate across your website, social media, newsletters or text message communications. If you commit to using multiple channels, make sure each one is regularly updated, both in the weeks leading up to your reopening date as well as during your first weeks back in business. If you give customers as much information as possible, rather than one-off updates here and there, it will help you re-engage existing customers as well as gain the trust of new ones.

“Websites are a logical place to house the majority of information regarding the status of your business because of the ability to post as much content as is needed,” says Matthew O’Connell, a marketing consultant based in Brooklyn, New York. “Other channels, like social media or emails, are better suited to draw attention to that message and drive to the fuller experience online. Only share information that is helpful to the customers’ needs, such as adjustments to policies, store hours, product details and philanthropic and/or community efforts.”

If your business uses multiple social media channels, you'll want to share information on the platform where it’s best suited. For example, Twitter can be ideal for reaching customers with timely messages about your business, such as re-opening dates or an easy-to-digest list of new policies. Facebook, on the other hand, might be the place to communicate the steps being taken to protect employees and customers.

ANTICIPATE YOUR CUSTOMERS’ FAQs

Your customers will inevitably have questions, and many of them will overlap. So, do your best to gather answers for them ahead of your reopening, and consider putting together a FAQ document that clearly states your policies. In addition to posting the FAQs on your business’ website and/or social media, sharing the document via email is an opportunity to reach out to customers. Having this document will also give your employees a way to address customer questions and concerns in a single, unified manner.

One question you’re bound to be asked: “What are your hours?” Rather than field endless phone calls, simply update your official business listings on Google Maps, Yelp and Foursquare to reflect the latest hours of operation (while continuing to update them if they change).

THINK ABOUT TONE

As important as it is to openly communicate your rules about hand sanitizer and mask usage, it’s also wise to be transparent about any areas of uncertainty. This might mean acknowledging the universal challenges that COVID-19 has presented and that you may not have all the answers right now. Your messaging should be open and honest and delivered in a polite and helpful tone. This will show that you’re placing your customers’ needs first, rather than prioritizing economic gain.

BE FLEXIBLE

At the end of the day, all the plans in the world will not be enough to anticipate and prepare for every scenario that will arise once you’ve reopened.

“Consider asking your customers for feedback on what information they want from you,” O’Connell says. “In this unprecedented time, solutions are ‘best guesses,’ but if your customers help you define the most relevant information to share, then you are on the journey together. This will only build loyalty and affinity.”

This may mean adjusting your new protocol once you see it out in the world, which is what happened to Iwona Mazor, proprietor of WORKSHÖPPE, a boutique in Brooklyn, New York. “We planned to allow two customers into the store at a time and ask that they wear masks and use our hand sanitizer before exploring the boutique,” she says. “However, it was clear that our customers were still a bit unsure what was OK to do and what was not in terms of touching the jewelry and clothing. Trying on merchandise is part of the experience of shopping at our store, but spraying the beautiful fabrics with sanitizer was not an option. So, any items that are tried on and not purchased are pulled and set aside for three days as a precaution against spreading the virus.”

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