How can our customers feel safer?

But what can business owners do to make their customers feel safe enough to venture back? What things are you putting in place or considering implementing to help build confidence in the precautions you will be implementing on behalf of your staff and customers?

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As our government outlines the activity that will be allowed and encouraged under Level 2 of the Covid 19 alert system in NZ, which will enable hospitality and retail businesses to open under certain conditions, I started thinking about what will help customers like me feel safe enough to venture back into local cafes, retstaurants and more in the current circumstances.

I know after the Canterbury earthquakes it was many months before I felt safe going into malls, and going to the movie theatres inside those malls. Knowing what we knew about damage done to some of those buildings, pancaking carpark buildings and more instilled a very real sense of caution that gradually eased off over time as it passed without any further major quakes happening.

I sense something similar will happen with Covid 19 — but I guess it will be quicker process in a country like New Zealand, as long as our number of cases stays very low.

But what can business owners do to make their customers feel safe enough to venture back? What things are you putting in place or considering implementing to help build confidence in the precautions you will be implementing on behalf of your staff and customers?

Given that the rules for hospitality are the three S’s —customers must be seated, there must be separation between tables, and one single server should serve your table, the interior and exterior spaces of many establishments will likely look quite different.

Cafes which normally have customers queuing in front of a food cabinet and coffee machine to order their food (sit down or takeaway) will need to have enough staff on duty to take and deliver orders at tables, and find a different way to represent their cabinet food. While their takeaway food might remain similar to Level 3 where people text or phone through an order and pick it up outside the cafe.

Customers are allowed to ‘break their bubbles’ in Level 2, so that means theoretically you can meet up with friends or family for coffee or a meal. But your table needs to be separated from other groups of diners.

It is possible that there are other ways to ‘separate’ tables of diners that might be acceptable, as per the innovative approach Ohio restaurant Twisted Citrus has taken, installing clear plastic shower curtains between tables.

The owner has also introduced disposable paper menus and customers are being encouraged to view the restaurant menu on their phones before ordering.

I’m interested to see what other innovations business owners come up with to make this work for their staff and customers. Obviously they have to keep a register of every customer — which in fact plays nicely into loyalty apps, as long as you have the right permissions set up (and you don’t abuse those). I would also be ensuring you give people an analogue/paper option to sign in if they don’t have or want to use an app for that purpose. (BYO pen of course!)

But from a communications perspective, all the hard work to get set up for Level 2 will be in vain if the customers don’t come and do business with you. In fact, for many businesses, you will be better off staying closed if you can’t communicate with your customers and make them feel safe about coming to you instead of staying home or ordering online.

My suggestions are that you take the time this week (as you make your preparations) to capture exactly what you are doing and share it with your customers through social media and email channels.

  1. Take photos of your team meetings to discuss the approach (socially distancing during your meeting of course)
  2. Let people know what you are doing in terms of masks, hand sanitiser and potentially face shields (I think washable clear plastic shields like these make sense for hospitality over masks, because you can see the face of your server and that helps with clear communication. Masks like these are a good option, but of course there are plenty of suppliers.)
  3. Video how you are re-arranging tables and seating, highlighting the amount of space between tables/chairs
  4. Talk about and demonstrate what the sign in, ordering and payment processes will be for your customers
  5. Let customers know if they are going to have to make bookings instead of just walking in, since there will be a limit to your capacity at any one time
  6. Make sure you have space outside for queuing appropriately or spaced out tables where people can wait for their table inside, or for their takeaways
  7. Use tools like Instagram stories and Facebook lives to go through these things and demonstrate them for customers, and be comfortable with asking any questions they might answer.

Once we are actually in Level 2, make sure you take and share lots of pictures and video of how this is actually working, any stories that might help illustrate how people are feeling etc, and encourage your customers to do the same. The more people see this looks safe and is manageable, the more comfortable we will start to feel about using your services again.

And of course there will be some customers who will not care about any of this and just can’t wait to come back and do business with you. Celebrate those customers, but also make sure they have a clear idea of what the new rules are for your establishment and how they need to modify their behaviour.

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