How to Communicate Change to Your Customers
COVID-19 likely changed your operations during your state’s stay-at-home orders. Now, even as you reopen, you’ll continue to make adjustments as you move through different stages of reopening plans.
From adhering to social distancing guidelines to offering new services, it’s important to announce all changes to your customers. Clear communication aids public safety and your long-term sustainability.
So, what’s the best way to inform your customers about the new “normal” at your place of business? By starting here, with this guide. By leveraging this information, you can stay connected to your customers and community.
What to Communicate
Depending on your state’s requirements, there are certain changes you’re legally required to announce through visible signage. Beyond that, it’s important to let customers know about how you’re adapting your physical space, appointment handling, and services to cope with new regulations.
Before you start drafting an email or a social media post announcing changes, do a self-inventory of all the different processes you’ll need to communicate.
Signs That Comply With State Guidelines
For your employees’ and customers’ safety, you’ll need clear signs announcing the following:
- Social distancing guidelines that customers must follow while in your place of business.
- PPE requirements, especially if your business’s guidelines are stricter than your state’s overall policies. For example, in New York, customers are not required to wear masks, but store owners can legally deny entry to individuals who are not wearing them. Make sure your signs clearly state your business’s policy.
- Your store’s cleaning and disinfecting protocol. Also, inform customers about the availability of hand-sanitizer or handwashing products in your place of business.
- Reminders for customers to stay home if they’re sick. And be sure to do the same for your employees as well.
All businesses are required to ensure social distancing and post health and safety requirements. However, your state’s guidelines may require you to take even more extensive safety precautions depending on your industry.
Be sure to post and communicate the specific changes that apply to your industry:
- In some professions, you may be required to ask if your customer is symptomatic. This is likely new territory for you, especially if you’re a hairstylist or an esthetician. Let customers know what to expect when they come in.
- In some states, personal services professionals must operate on an appointment-only basis. If you’re a nail salon owner or another personal services provider, avoid frustrated walk-in customers who could compromise your safety plan.
- Professionals with a high level of physical contact with clients (think: massage therapist) must wear additional PPE gear like visors and hospital gowns. Some customers will be less than enthusiastic about these changes to their self-care experience, so make sure they know what to expect in advance.
Additional Protective Changes
Beyond your state’s requirements, you need to take additional measures to protect your employees and customers. Since these changes are unique and vary from business-to-business, they require an extra level of communication.
Here are just a few of those safety measures to announce to your customers:
- Many businesses are seeking to create no-touch environments. If you’re changing the way customers enter your place of business, sign in for appointments, or browse products, make sure they know in advance.
- Let customers know if you’ve changed your cash policy so they can be sure to bring a card or use Venmo if needed.
New Products and Services
Beyond safety measures, you’re making temporary or permanent changes to your services that promote public safety as well as boost your bottom line.
If any of the following scenarios apply to your business, be sure to inform your customers of the upcoming changes and offerings:
- You have a new eCommerce platform that enables curbside pickup or delivery.
- You’re continuing to offer virtual services.
- You’ve created new product lines, new subscriptions, and other innovative features to meet customers where they are.
You have designed your unique strategy to adapt to COVID-19. Be sure it’s well-advertised, especially as the economy starts to recover and customers are looking for new ways to support local businesses.
How to Communicate These Changes
As you look at the above and brainstorm your list of changes, you may realize the extent of everything that’s shifted—and the difficulty of communicating all that in a single email or blog post!
In addition, there can be tricky socioemotional factors to consider when drafting messages for your email listserv, website, and social media pages.
Some customers may be feeling frustrated with ongoing restrictions, or believe that the crisis is over, or overblown. They may chafe at the idea that they need to wear PPE when visiting your store.
Other customers have suffered personal losses due to COVID-19. They want to make sure their favorite local businesses are doing everything possible to protect the community.
How can you balance these needs and emotional states? It’s all about combining empathy with clear information.
Best Practices for Communicating Changes
A recent article in Forbes recommends the following business strategies:
- Don’t be generic. If your announcement is boring and impersonal, your customers may not read the whole thing, defeating the point of the message.
- Acknowledge the situation head-on without making light of it. Consider writing authentically about what this has been like for you as a business owner. This also allows you to thank your customers for their support thus far.
- Show empathy. The pandemic has impacted your customers, whether through personal loss, financial loss, or simply the experience of isolation and anxiety. While you may be tempted to address these customers where they are, be mindful of your tone and speak authentically.
- Separate marketing from communication about changes. Your first goal is to communicate all changes. Make sure you accomplish this by saving marketing efforts for another email or post.
How can you achieve all of the above in a short, concise email your customers will actually read? Take a look at this sample email announcing a hair salon’s reopening.
Subject: We’re Open! Catch Up On Changes Before Your Appointment
We’ve missed seeing you in the salon, and we want to thank every customer who’s bought a gift certificate, shouted us out on social media, and supported us through this difficult time. Now, we know you’re more than ready for your next haircut!
Our appointment portal is open for booking. Before you come in, please take a few minutes to get acquainted with changes to our services:
Appointments are now required. To maintain safe social distancing, we won’t be taking walk-ins—for now. We’ll let you know as soon as this changes.
Masks are required. But if you’re wondering how we can make sure your hair suits your face if you have to wear a mask? Don’t worry—we’ve been practicing all through quarantine. As an added benefit, we’ll make sure your stylish new “doo” looks great with a mask, too.
Cashless payments. You can prepay and tip while booking your appointment. Otherwise, be sure to bring a card. Stylists also accept Venmo tips, so be sure to bring your phone for a #postpandemic selfie and to show your wonderful stylist a little love.
This should go without saying, but please don’t come in if you’ve had symptoms or potential exposure to coronavirus in the past two weeks.
All ready for your appointment? We can’t wait to see you back at the shop.
As you can see, this email keeps it short and sweet, while bolding the most important changes.
Where to Update Your Customers
What’s the best way to reach your customers?
Everywhere they might look.
For one, you may be required to post signage in and around your place of business. However, it’s just as important to connect with customers online.
- Start by sending out an email to your listserv. However, as you know, not all your customers are subscribers, and even the most carefully crafted email can get lost under the “Marketing” tab.
- You should also update your website and social media channels. Your customers are likely looking for information about when they can come back and start enjoying your goods and services again.
- In addition, reach out to existing customers and meet new ones on Nextdoor.
Nextdoor: Your Neighborhood Hub
As you reopen, it’s important to connect with your existing customers, as well as meet new ones. Right now, people are more aware than ever before that local businesses strengthen their community.
The reality? Everyone misses you.
And, according to research, 98% of Nextdoor users believe small businesses are vital to their neighborhoods, and many are willing to pay more for goods or services from local businesses than large, multinational corporations.
Let your neighborhood know about changes on your free Nextdoor Business Page. All you have to do is:
- Sign up for free
- Customize your page with a description, pictures, and more
- Use free Business Posts to share updates with neighbors about changes
- Run any special promotions using Local Deals
As soon as you have one recommendation from a neighbor, you’ll start showing up in local search results.
As you grow your engagement on Nextdoor, you’ll grow your customer base, too.
Keep Channels Open
As a small business owner, you rely on your local community to support your business. Make it easy for them to understand any and all changes by keeping in touch. You can even consider creating a “Changes” or “COVID information” page on your website. Then, in your promotional and marketing emails, link customers to additional information with ease.
As customers ask questions via email and social media, be sure to update your page with FAQs, or send out additional clarifying information. The better you communicate, the more you’ll inform your customer base. The more you inform them, the more likely they are to pay you a much-needed, much-missed visit.
CBS News. New York executive order allows store owners to deny entry to people without masks. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/store-owners-face-mask-deny-entry-new-york-executive-order/
Forbes. 16 Things To Avoid In Customer Communications During Sensitive Times. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2020/05/14/16-things-to-avoid-in-customer-communications-during-sensitive-times/#541855411219
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