The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has been massively destructive for many businesses across the country. In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we discussed how you can protect your business and your workers from the devastating impact of the current pandemic. Part 3 will address how to keep your customers properly informed of your services.
Very few companies are operating under the business as usual mantra right now, though many are trying their best. One of the key factors in getting your business through this is your customers.
Figure out the logistics with your suppliers
Here’s the tricky part about communicating your expectations with your customer base: It’s not all about you, and it’s not all about them. Before you start contacting customers about how your level of service is going to be impacted, make sure you reach out to your suppliers first.What are their lead times?
Accurate lead times are always important, but they are especially critical now. In case you aren’t sure, this is the time it takes to create a product and deliver it to a retailer or consumer. In this case, the customer is you – how long before YOU get the supplies you need?
Look, it’s tough out there for everyone, and your supplier may be struggling to source materials, or may be operating with less workers themselves, all which can increase lead time. Knowing if, or when, you will be able to fill orders or provide certain services to your customers is an important thing to know before you communicate with them.What if they can’t meet your demand?
Ok, so the good news is your supplier is still working, but because they are experiencing delays receiving their materials, they won’t be able to accommodate your usual quantity per order.
For some businesses, this may not be the end of the world. Many businesses order slightly more inventory than they need to make sure it’s available in the event of a rise in demand. So while they may not be able to provide you with any excess product, you might still be able to get by with what they can send you.
However, for some businesses, this may mean you need to make some adjustments. In the event a supplier can’t supply you with enough product to scrape by:
- Limit the amount you can sell per customer
- Create a backorder list and follow up often
- Ask about other reliable suppliers
What if there are shipping issues?
If you’ve tried to order anything online since this started, you’ll understand the concern with shipping. What was typically guaranteed two-day shipping can now take weeks to be delivered.
While we understand this isn’t necessarily the case with all corporate deliveries, it is important to be aware of. How can you and your supplier work together to ensure that shipping poses as little issue as possible? It really just comes down to exploring the available options and making sure both parties know who is accountable for costs and damage to the items:
- Look into different shipping methods and companies
- Can delivery or pick up be arranged?
- Can you arrange for a courier?
And lastly:What are they doing to keep their clients (you) safe?
Every business around the world has made some changes to how they operate in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19 between workers and customers. Before you place your supply order, make sure YOU have received communication from your suppliers about how they are working to prevent the spread.
While it is widely believed that the virus is unable to survive the temperature fluctuations associated with shipping, here is a chart published by Business Insider of how long it can live on different surfaces for the curious and the cautious.
Be transparent with your customers
So now that you have a better understanding of your capabilities during this time, it is imperative that you pass that knowledge along to your customers. If you are capable of operating at 100% capacity, perfect! You can assure your customers that they can expect the same great, uninterrupted service you have always provided.
If you can’t, that’s ok too. Take the time to craft your message to customers, and potential customers, carefully. You want to display optimism, but it’s equally important to be realistic about what you can currently offer them. Take the opportunity to let them know you are still available to assist them, when and how they can contact you, and any updates to company visitor policies, such as not accepting visitors in the office or not offering house calls.
Take into account any relevant information communicated to you by your suppliers and/or distributors (such as the postal service or other delivery companies) and pass it along to your customers, if you feel it’s appropriate.
The simple communication to your customers could state things like:
- Who the message is coming from. Attaching a name to this type of communication gives it weight and credibility. Is it coming directly from the President/CEO, the marketing manager, your whole team? Let your customers know that this is more than a forced statement and that there is an actual person behind it prepared to take accountability for it’s contents.
- That you understand what they are going through. Individuals and businesses of all sizes are suffering tremendously due to the pandemic. Acknowledge that your customers may be feeling a frustrated or anxious in these stressful and uncertain times.
- Keep them up to date on your situation. Let them know what your capabilities are right now. Explain whether you are facing any disruptions in obtaining product from suppliers, or expecting delays shipping product to your customers, and how you intend to manage it (backorder lists, free upgraded shipping, etc.)
- That you are there to help them. Stress that you are focused on supporting them and are open to discussing their changing needs as they come up. Provide them with all your contact information and encourage them to reach out to you if they have any questions or concerns.
- And, if you feel it is appropriate to do so, provide them with a link to information or advice that you have found helpful to yourself personally or as a business. This can be government projections or guidelines to help them plan ahead, or it can be tips and tricks on relaxation and mindfulness techniques. Whatever you choose, make sure it is coherent with the message you are trying to convey as a company.
One last (and maybe the most important) note:
Don’t use this as a sales opportunity; this is a relationship opportunity. This is a prime opportunity for you to support your customers and solidify your business relationships. Not every customer may be in a position to pay you top dollar, in fact, it is likely that you will lose some customers who simply can’t afford your services right now. However, by treating them well and being understanding when it counts, you may end up seeing their names come up again when the world becomes more stable.