If you are a business owner who had to close your doors during Safer-At-Home orders, you’re no doubt excited to get back to business as states begin phased reopenings. As you begin to welcome employees and customers back to your business in the new normal, consider this: every step you take now is an act of public relations.
While the crisis may not have been brand or industry-specific, COVID-19 and its effects were indeed just that: a crisis.
Public relations is defined by the PRSA as, “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” A crisis is any happening, internal or external, that threatens those relationships.
How has COVID-19 threatened your bonds with key audiences? How will it continue to pose a threat? The obstacles you’ll be facing relate to safety, user experience, and competition.
The questions your customers will be asking themselves are:
Is it safe to engage with this business?
Is it still easy for me to engage with this business?
If this business doesn’t make me feel safe or doesn’t offer a great user experience, which of their competitors do?
Your employees will have questions that echo those of your customers’:
Is it safe for me to go to work?
Is it still possible for me to do my work efficiently and effectively?
If my employer doesn’t make me feel safe or makes it hard for me to succeed, is there another employer that could fulfill these needs?
Though, another important question precedes these. It is the first of eight questions detailed by a crisis communications model developed and researched by Lindell and Perry called the Protective Action Decision Model. After receiving a warning, people ask themselves, “Is there a real threat that I need to pay attention to?”
The answer to this question, as Lindell and Perry point out, is greatly affected by the channels they receive the warning from (media, public officials, friends, or family.) It is the critical variable that can change the rest of the process. It is likely that you, your employees, and your customers have a wide range of beliefs about the threat of COVID-19, and therefore may or may not have the motivation to take protective action.
This probably leaves you wondering, “How do I keep everyone happy?” Here are my top three recommendations.
Appeal To The Most Cautious
When I craft communications, it’s so important to make sure it’s easy for every key public to understand and engage. For example, if I were to create a campaign designed to reach both children and adults, I would make sure that the messages were designed in a way that children could understand. Making my message user friendly for someone younger does not alienate adults. Adults are able to understand this message either way. A child might not be able to understand if the written or visual language is difficult for them to comprehend. It allows the message to serve both simultaneously.
I recommend a similar approach to COVID-19. Customers or employees who are feeling less concerned about this health crisis are already going to be satisfied with the minimum requirements being met or simply to be able to engage with your business again.
The relationship between you and your most cautious customers or employees is the one at the most risk. Develop policies and take actions that will make them feel at ease. The trust you build with them during this time will create strong brand loyalty.
Go Beyond The Bare Minimum
Take a look at your state, county, or city’s requirements of your business. Decide how you can go a step further. What will set you apart from other businesses who have also returned?
Extra touches went a long way before this crisis began: reusable bags with purchase, a really clean restroom, a free treat when you walk in, a generous PTO policy. These types of touches will look different now -- and will be touchless, of course!
Some ideas you could consider are free masks for those who do not have them, hand sanitizing stations, or simply a more frequent cleaning schedule. Your customers and employees will notice.
Easy As 1, 2, 3
As we enter the new normal, communication has become more important than ever. Be sure to provide easy to understand instructions and set clear expectations as you reopen your doors. PR is a process of providing knowledge that ultimately creates behaviors. You want to provide your customers with information in a way that makes them say, “That’s easy to do. That’s easy to understand.” That way, they’ll actually follow your prescribed new protocols and processes.
Take a step-by-step approach. 1, 2, 3. A, B, C. Boil your business’ new normal down into easy to follow steps or bullet points. Communicate them early and often through all the channels your customers see, read, and hear.
As a fellow small business owner, I wish you the best of luck as you begin writing this next chapter for your organization. If you’re still worried about your plans for post-quarantine operations and how they’ll affect your relationships, I’m here. Drop me a line.
Be well and take care.