WASHINGTON, D.C. June 19, 2020 (USChamber.com) — Businesses across the country have begun to reopen in the wake of COVID-19, and customers have been greeted by new in-store policies designed to protect everyone’s health and safety. Mandatory face coverings, limited guest capacity and even temperature checks have become common as owners seek to establish their own version of a new normal.
While much of the American public is taking the pandemic seriously, business owners must ensure every single customer who comes through their doors respects the rules. However, it’s important to enforce any COVID-related policies in a polite and professional way that doesn’t alienate your patrons. “Tensions are high right now as is, [and] customers don’t like to feel embarrassed,” said Max Harland, CEO of Dentaly. “Address any issues … swiftly, but also as privately as possible.” Here are some areas to focus on as you communicate your new in-store policies and encourage customer compliance.
Clear customer communication is absolutely essential in the initial weeks of your reopening, and it’s key to providing the best customer service possible, said Kate Fratalia, director of retail operations at Loggerhead Marinelife Center. “Before publicly reopening … we provided our supporters with an overview of our safety and health protocols via emails, website updates, social media and media pitches,” Fratalia said. “This allowed customers to review protocols before arriving at our store.”
In-store signage and announcements
Not every potential customer will have researched and reviewed your policies before their arrival. Reinforce your message with visible signage outside and throughout the store, and at any checkout stations. Martin Glenday, founder and president of Moxie Media, suggested using large print, graphics and diagrams that are easy to read and understand. He cited the following as examples of effective COVID-19 signage:
— Announcing temperature checkpoints.
— Reminding everyone to remain six feet apart, especially in highly trafficked areas.
— Identifying areas where masks are required.
— Sharing best practices to cover coughs and sneezes.
— Promoting frequent and effective handwashing, especially in/around bathrooms.
— Announcing closures or changes in hours of operation.
“Simple signage that helps direct the flow of traffic in your business is important,” added Harland. “Point people in the direction of where to safely wait [and] how far to stand back from the employee helping them. Keep the messaging simple.” In addition to signage, Jon Harris, CPP, PSP and senior consultant at Guidepost Solutions, suggested making periodic announcements about new policies, if your business has a public address system.
Customers are still adjusting to life in the COVID era and may occasionally forget about policies like mandatory in-store face coverings, said Glenday. Business owners can make life easier by offering complimentary face masks and gloves, so these customers don’t have to be turned away at the door. If you remind a customer of your guidelines and they are still non-compliant, politely explain why these new protocols are in place.
“Reiterate that their purpose is to promote everyone’s safety, and ask that they please abide by company protocols to keep everyone comfortable, healthy and safe,” Glenday said. “To avoid alienating or shaming the customer, attempt to move the conversation away from others.” Above all else, be empathetic and kind when speaking to your customers about compliance issues.
“Acknowledge their concerns or discrepancies, and offer solutions that do not compromise your businesses policies,” said Fratalia. “If a customer does not feel comfortable adhering to the protocols, suggest they purchase your items online or participate in a curbside/contactless pick-up option.”
Everyone on your staff plays a role in customer compliance. Each person should understand the new policies and be comfortable with enforcing the protocols, said Harris. He suggested developing scripts for your staff to leverage in tense situations with customers. “Staff should receive training on verbal de-escalation and expect that contentious encounters will occur,” he added. “Practicing the possible conversations with customers will help your staff’s ability to defuse these types of interactions when they happen.”
No-contact purchase options
A recent Paychex survey found that one-third of business owners are concerned they won’t have sufficient customer demand when they reopen, due to lingering concerns about catching and spreading COVID-19. Providing alternatives to person-to-person interactions may help allay some of these fears and encourage more customers to come back.
“Cashless and self-pay options are highly recommended in this time of uncertainty,” said Janine Williams, owner of Impulsify Inc.and co-owner of Platte Street Mercantile. “People are nervous around other people.” Williams suggested installing multiple kiosks for guests to scan-and-go with minimal interaction to reduce the risk of cross-contamination.
“A cashier’s proximity, perceived hygiene and safety deficiencies, and the touching of [items] and cash all become massive liabilities for retailers,” she told CO—. “Remove them by offering a completely customer-driven experience, and then keep those machines clean for your customers.” As you, your employees and your customers navigate this new business environment together, Fratalia emphasized the importance of gratitude. During your in-store interactions, thank your customers for their compliance with new policies and for their support of your business.