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This week, President Trump announced guidelines for a phased reopening of the economy. His direction comes against the backdrop of friction with state governors over who has the power to lift restrictions on social and economic activity.
To be sure, the way America begins to re-start its economy depends in large part on the decisions made by our federal, state, and local officials. Businesses are looking to the same leaders who barred them from operating out of a concern for public health to now provide the green light to open their doors.
But as that happens, the power to determine how quickly and strongly our economy bounces back will shift from the political sphere to the private sector.
To get shoppers back in their stores and restaurants, businesses won’t simply be able to turn on the lights and hang an “open” sign in the window. They’ll need to help customers feel safe returning to public spaces. That means some new and very visible changes to how businesses communicate and operate.
Here are a few steps, businesses — large and small — can take to re-instill customer confidence and create our new normal.
For customers to feel safe returning to public spaces, businesses of all sizes—especially small businesses—will need strategic communication plans that address how they are sanitizing their space, how they’re ensuring employee health, and what they expect from customers.
To get shoppers back in their stores and restaurants, businesses won’t simply be able to turn on the lights and hang an “open” sign in the window. They’ll need to help customers feel safe returning to public spaces.
We know coronavirus can live on surfaces anywhere from a few hours to perhaps several days. To help customers get comfortable in their store, businesses will need to show them that they have a robust plan for cleaning and disinfecting public spaces.
How often are they using soap, water or other disinfecting solutions to clean hard surfaces? How often are they laundering or cleaning soft surfaces? What’s their policy for disinfecting if they discover someone in the facility is sick?
Customers don’t need all the details, but they do need to see—in a very literal way—that businesses are on top of different scenarios and that they have a systematic plan to reduce risk.
Using the entranceway or lobby of their store to prominently post a well-designed sign is a good way to help customers get familiar with the businesses cleaning and disinfecting plan. This isn’t the time for markers and poster-board. If the approach to cleaning and sanitizing is professional, then the sign needs to look that way. Spending a few extra bucks on proper signage will return itself many times over in confident customers.
Implement an environment of social distancing
A businesses’ commitment to safety should be evident in how employees interact with customers. Businesses with significant employee/customer interaction should train employees to let customers know up front that they’re practicing social distancing. It could be something as simple as saying, “I’ll keep my distance just to help keep both of us safe, but please know I’m happy to show you around or answer any questions you have.”
In many cases, it will be appropriate for employees to wear a mask to limit the airborne spread of germs. Acknowledging these precautions in a winsome way with customers will “break the ice” and allow everyone to move on to answering questions, shopping, and enjoying themselves.
Set the tone for conduct
As customers return to stores and public venues, they’ll also want to know what part they must play in promoting safety. So, businesses should take away the guesswork and let them know.
Again, signage out front and throughout the facility is key. If the business’ preference or requirement is that customers wear a facial covering, it should let customers know at the door and, when feasible, provide the necessary gear.
Posting reminders about distancing and using floor signage to suggest routes for customers to take through the merchandise are other good ways to bring customers into the safety process. Keeping hand sanitizing stations prominently displayed makes the business' health priorities clear and encourages regular use for workers and customers alike.
It’s unavoidable that certain products or surfaces will be touched by many hands, so businesses should use strategically place signage to encourage patrons to avoid touching their face, use sanitizer and wash their hands with soap and water as soon as they are able.
Yes, workers and businesses are eager to get back to work, just as Americans of all stripes are looking forward to getting back out to the gyms, salons, stores, and their favorite restaurants. But the speed of America’s economic recovery depends in large part on the confidence customers have that the businesses who serve them will take care of their health and safety.
In a moment of uncertainty, our businesses can and must be leaders in helping us discover the right new normal.