The following post is from a guest contributor.
As every news article will tell you, the Coronavirus Pandemic is hardly over in the US. But after six months of being in a permanent state of crisis, individuals, businesses, and the overall economy are craving some semblance of normalcy. This is why many are happy to see their favorite local establishments reopen and some events continue to happen in creative ways. It’s important, however, to reopen safely and intelligently. That’s why we’ve created this list of 6 steps every business should take when reopening to the public.
Rely on Facebook and Google My Business for General Communications
If you haven’t created or updated a Facebook or Google My Business (GMB) profile, or started posting regularly on either – now is the time. These are absolutely critical (and free!) platforms that enable you to communicate real-time status updates with anyone interested in your establishment.
You should update your GMB and Facebook profiles on a weekly (or more frequent, depending on how often things change) basis with your hours and offerings. You can utilize Google Posts to provide important information to anyone interesting in coming to your business. For example, you may want to let people know that a popular product is out of stock and won’t be back for a few weeks. Or your capacity limitations may have caused you to reduce the number of appointment times you have available. For restaurants, it’s also useful to post your menu and specials on Facebook each day so people can view these without needing to handle a menu or speak directly with a host.
Whatever it is, be sure to obsessively update your hours of operation, and product / service statuses on both Facebook and GMB. People are relying on these platforms more than ever to determine which business they should go to, and when they should go. This also is a great way to reduce the amount of time your employees spend on the phone answering questions – Such as what are your hours today? Are you open? Do you have X product in stock? – that could have easily been broadcasted via a virtual profile.
Use Technology to Eliminate Crowding and Provide Virtual Communication with Customers
In the era of forced social distancing, one of the easiest and most effective things businesses can do to eliminate crowding is to implement technologies that enable seamless online communication with customers across channels. Waitlist apps are a great example. Online waitlist platforms allow customers to virtually join a waitlist to enter your establishment, pick up their order, or be provided with a service. Then, your employees can communicate with customers via SMS about their position in line. This enables them to wait away from your establishment, and only return when they’re ready to be serviced.
When choosing a virtual waitlist system, be sure to find one that enables contactless check-in and makes use of virtual waiting rooms where you can update all queueing customers at once with important information (such as whether you’re running out of a product, or your appointments are falling behind).
Businesses can somewhat make up for the lack of customer-employee interaction that’s required by COVID-19’s enhanced safety protocols by implementing these technologies. By removing the element of uncertainty, establishments can provide the best experience possible to their guests while also keeping them engaged.
Allow Customers to Purchase Online
It’s a great time to update your website to ensure customers can purchase your products or services online. You can allow them to pick-up in-store, curbside, or allow for delivery. Online purchasing is a win-win for businesses and customers alike. You can more easily predict and track the number of purchases to expect each day, and customers are able to easily determine whether or not what they want is available at your business without coming into your establishment or calling you, and then choose the method of obtaining what they want that best suits them. It goes without saying that this also eliminates browsing and crowding in your business-front.
Encourage and Support Flexible Scheduling and Sick Days
Let’s be honest, many employees try to “power through” work when they’re sick because they need the money and / or are afraid of repercussions from calling off. One of the best things all businesses can do to eliminate the spread of COVID is to actually encourage and allow employees to take days off when they don’t feel well. How can you do this? By encouraging flex scheduling. Perhaps you could provide an incentive for employees who take extra shifts from other employees who may be sick. You can offer to pay for any out-of-pocket costs associated with your employees who feel sick getting a COVID test, and – obviously – not force them to take PTO to get a test. You can increase the number of sick days you offer employees, and hire more people on an “as-needed” or flex basis to cover shifts.
Although there is always potential for abuse, when it comes to a global pandemic that has no cure in sight, safe is always better than sorry. And your employees need to feel safe and supported when they call off, otherwise they will work through the early signs of illness and potentially create an outbreak with your business as the epicenter.
Implement Enhanced Sanitation Procedures and Mask Requirements
This seems like a “no-brainer,” but sanitation is key when attempting to prevent airborne illness. One of the most important steps in reopening your business is to require everyone – customers and employees alike – to wear face coverings at all times while inside, and sanitize all objects and surfaces early and often throughout the day. It’s also important to have hand sanitizer readily available throughout your business for both customers and employees.
Utilize Outdoor Space as Much as Possible
This is a difficult one as we go into colder months, but it’s important to utilize outdoor space where you can. For retail stores, you could move some of your inventory outside. Restaurants can expand to sidewalks, especially now that many municipalities are blocking off roads and sidewalk space for outdoor dining. Service-based businesses can move their check-in and waiting areas outdoors.
The key to reopening safely and effectively during COVID is to prioritize communication, sanitation, and social distancing. The best ways to do this are to utilize your digital profiles that customers are already familiar with (Facebook, your website, and Google My Business), and implement digital communication and virtual waitlist technologies that enable you to keep customers informed without requiring them to stay on your premises or communicate directly with your staff. By making effective use of virtual platforms, you can somewhat fill the void left by COVID protocols that have limited face-to-face communication and eliminate crowded waiting rooms and retail/service areas.