Economic reopening amid COVID-19 has been a daunting process. By the end of June, all 50 states had started to resume regular business operations to some degree, but many states had to reverse or pause the reopening process when COVID-19 cases spiked.
State and local governments have struggled to find a balance of restrictions that are relaxed enough to let businesses function, yet are not so relaxed as to lead to a healthcare catastrophe. Businesses are juggling finances, employee needs, and supply chain disruptions, all while trying to adapt to changing government regulations and uncertain customer demand.
Streamline your reopening with these steps:
1. Review your business operations.
Look at all aspects of your business to see what still works and what might need to change.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What staffing levels will you need?
Are supplies available? Has the supply chain been disrupted, and are there alternatives?
Is your product or service still in demand? Should you change your offerings?
What are the relevant industry, state and local regulations? How will you incorporate them into your business model?
What is your financial status? Consider consulting with an advisor to look at your financing options, including banks, government programs and independent sources.
You may want to revise your business plan to incorporate new regulations and new customer preferences, demands, and values.
2. Leverage technology.
Customer behavior changed almost overnight. People embraced online shopping, contactless payment, curbside pickup, online schooling and video conferencing at an unprecedented rate.
The switch to automated systems and remote work was also catalyzed by the pandemic, and at least some of these changes could be here to stay.
Restaurants are using technology to minimize points of contact.
The restaurant industry was one of the hardest-hit when COVID-19 measures forced thousands of businesses to shutter their doors for in-person dining, but many got creative with technology, pivoting to online ordering, takeout, and delivery.
As in-person dining resumes, technology is allowing restaurants to offer nearly contactless dining by minimizing staff interaction with guests, maintaining social distancing and helping prevent the spread of germs through surface contact.
Mobile payment apps, like Apple Pay or Google Pay help staff and customers, avoid contact with high-touch objects like PIN pads, pens or credit cards.
Digital reservation managers keep track of customers so that guests can be notified by text or email when the table is sanitized and ready. This prevents lineups and allows guests to maintain social distancing by waiting offsite for their reservation.
Electronic menus allow customers to browse the menu on their own smartphone, eliminating the need for high-touch or disposable hardcopy menus.
Retailers are changing the shopping game.
There may be no substitute for the tactile experience of picking up a blown glass candleholder or trying on a pair of jeans, but technology is stepping up to get the consumer as close as possible to the experience with the least amount of contact.
Video personal shopping lets businesses livestream a shopping trip through a store so you can get something of the experience of in-person shopping, including asking real-time questions of the sales associate.
Virtual or augmented reality could allow the shopper to see what furnishings would look like in their home, or to virtually try on clothes. Integrated machine learning can offer a customized shopping experience, reduce returns and improve consumer analytics.
An optimized site is essential for retail businesses, as online sales will continue to be a significant portion of retail sales for the foreseeable future. A recent report on website retailers showed that 90% of shoppers will leave a site if it loads too slowly, so an efficient e-commerce platform is a critical component of increasing online sales and retaining customers.
Now maybe the best time to take advantage of customers' willingness to work with new technology to modify your systems and incorporate more online, contact-free, digital options into the workplace.
Companies that are weathering the COVID-19 storm the best already had a start in the digital transformation process. Businesses that are leveraging fourth industrial revolution technology, like AI and machine learning, to better understand and monetize their data are seeing faster abilities to pivot if needed.
3. Keep your customers engaged.
Letting your customers know whether your store is open or closed can go a long way with consumers.
Communicate online through social media, on your website, and on industry platforms to keep customers engaged, promote trust, and increase interest. Use these platforms to communicate info about new products, to update your opening status, to offer specials or post engaging content. Email marketing is a surefire way to connect with customers, especially because this is the traffic you own.
Facebook ads, Google ads, SEO – all of these channels are dependent on platforms that are out of your control. Your goal should be to increase your email list and drill down on messaging and content to deliver high-value messages that drive engagement.
A COVID-19 FAQ on your website can assuage fears and prepare customers for what to expect from your business in terms of sanitization protocols, physical distancing, capacity restrictions, mask guidelines, and purchasing and payment options.
4. Know the COVID-19 regulations.
According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, July 2020 Coronavirus Impact Poll, 86% of small businesses were at least partially open at the end of July. As higher-risk businesses like bars, restaurants, theaters and personal services reopen, they have contended with numerous recommendations and regulations from the Centers for Disease Control, their specific industry, and state and local governments.
The United States Chamber of Commerce has produced a playbook for reopening and a list of resources by sector that address reopening during COVID-19. Several industry associations, including the National Restaurant Association, the National Retail Federation and the American Industrial Hygiene Association have also produced reopening guidelines to help businesses transition into the COVID-19 economy.
Consulting legal counsel is also something to consider to ensure that you've met all your obligations before fully reopening.
5. Involve employees in the reopening process.
Your employees have hands-on knowledge and experience with your systems that can be a valuable resource when it comes to laying out a reopening strategy. Staff will be responsible for executing the new strategy and ensuring that procedures are followed, and that a new system will function. They will also be explaining and largely enforcing any new protective measures with customers, so having them involved and on board from the start can contribute immensely to the success of a strong reopening.
Being honest about risks and expectations. Giving your staff the opportunity to voice health concerns and to contribute solutions for mitigating risk in the workplace will increase their buy-in and commitment. Creating a COVID-19 response plan for staff and a procedure so that each employee understands exactly what to do should they contract or become exposed to COVID-19 can not only increase confidence in the workplace but can also keep it healthy.
6. Prepare the workplace for reopening.
As offices reopen and retailers, entertainment venues, and dining establishments prepare to welcome back both staff and customers, workplaces will have to take some or all of the following into consideration:
Physical distancing guidelines
Increased hand-washing and use of hand sanitizer
Extensive cleaning of dining spaces, bathrooms, and changing rooms between customers
Employee training for changes in job duties, increased cleaning, mask requirements, etc.
Managing the number of employees and customers on the premises at a time
Whether you change your offerings, open partially, redesign the workplace, move some services online, or do none of the above, having a clear understanding of where you stand, including with regard to COVID-19 regulations, will put you in a better position to make informed decisions and succeed throughout and beyond the current pandemic.