In recent weeks, multi-site FM’s across the country have been adjusting and adapting to the regulations imposed by each state/county in preparing to reopen their doors to the public while still preserving their brand perception. Online shopping is booming, but brick-and-mortar stores must also be prepared for reopening. However, regulations are constantly changing, making it nearly impossible to know if what is implemented today will be adequate next week. A large part of the country is now partially or fully reopening so discussing what Covid-19-related products are needed to reopen is old news. It would seem, then, that we’ve made it through the thick of the storm, right? Unfortunately, many organizations have just reached the starting line.
The importance now lies in your implementation of new policies to meet regulations. However, it is not enough to just meet these regulations, as you will also need to meet the current consumers’ extremely high expectations. This will be the biggest challenge to maintain or boost your brand perception. Consumers re-entering the physical marketplace are looking for you to guide them through this process; it’s not an overstatement to say “you have one chance to do so.” Customers will think positively of a brand if the brand prepares to keep employees and customers safe and is consistent and clear in their communication.
In order to ensure a positive and effective working environment, employees need to feel that their safety is a priority before you open the doors to new or existing customers. The CDC recommends the following be met before opening:
- Promote healthy hygiene practices.
- Encourage social distancing.
- Train employees on health and safety protocols.
- Intensify cleaning, sanitization, disinfection, and ventilation.
These are the minimum precautions, but we also recommend the following:
- Work with local health officials to adapt to the unique needs of your community.
- Communicate directly with employees to discern their individual concerns and work to meet these concerns. Having an open discussion with employees will make everyone feel heard, and thus more comfortable in reopening.
- Clearly communicate expectations for employees based on new policies and procedures, and quickly update employees to any changes in these policies. Clear expectations will help employees protect their health and that of those around them.
Have conversations with local public health personnel, facilitate discussions with employees to help reinforce your internal cultural values, and highlight your commitment to employee safety. In turn, this will read positively to customers who see that employees are consistently implementing healthy practices in the workplace. However, improper use of PPE or unhealthy practices could alienate customers from your brand—customers want to see that the health and safety of everyone is a top priority.
Creating a safe and convenient shopping experience for your customer is essential to improving your brand’s perception. If a customer is willing to enter your business, they trust that you have their safety in mind. Customers will be looking for you to:
- Provide directional signs to guide their experience.
- Limit the number of customers in the space to maintain social distancing.
- Create simple traffic paths to streamline movement and limit contact.
- Install shields/barriers where social distancing is less attainable, like the cash register.
- Equip employees with relevant information to guide customers in their experience.
Remember, this may be one of the first times your customer has had an in-person consumer experience in several months. They probably feel uncertain and uncomfortable in an environment that is different than the last time they were out. It is vital to the success of your organization that customers trust you and feel connected to your brand. In fact, 83% of customers refuse to do business with brands they do not trust. It has never been more critical to reinforce your brand perception and communicate with your customers how important their safety is to you. You can maintain and grow their trust by guiding them through this new experience.
Overall, communication consistency is paramount to ensure you achieve and maintain a positive brand perception. For example, consider that you are promoting safe practices through mask and glove-wearing requirements in your business. A customer walks in, sees the request to wear a face covering/gloves, but observes that at least one person inside is not adhering to the request. The customer will quickly notice that what you introduced at the door is not being enforced inside. This inconsistency may cause them to question if their safety is truly important to you. It is possible that the customer will lose trust in the brand and choose to shop elsewhere in the future.
Brands can communicate their commitment to the safety of both employees and customers by implementing some of the aforementioned practices. Consistent implementation of these practices will build brand trust for the customer, especially in a time of uncertainty as customers acclimate to new and unfamiliar environments.