Great salespeople know about customer management. They have the skill to deal with customers upset with service, quality or price. An email from the Smithsonian Curiosity Council, presented the graphic associated with this blog post. It illustrates results from a survey of members when asked what they would most likely do once the stay-at-home order is lifted. The larger and bolder words indicate the most responses.
While this blog usually focusses on face-to-face professional sales, I realized that helping customers regain their business is important. So we need to use our sales skills to help our customers reopen. The quicker our customers open for business, the sooner they resume purchasing.
In a recent discussion with the staff of our local Small Business Development Center the question came up of how to treat customers who object to the rules allowing businesses to open. So let’s think about the sales skill of customer management which great salespeople do well. Since this is a skill widely needed by all who interact with shoppers and diners we can help our customers with their customer management.
What Is Customer Management?
Every customer has an expectation of the outcome of an interaction. During the COVID-19 pandemic, regulations have contributed to changes in customer expectations. We no longer expect to enjoy a meal at our favorite restaurant. Our hair is not as well cared for because salons and barber shops are closed. We call ahead to order groceries for curbside pickup. And we wear face masks when venturing into public spaces. These are the new expectations we have. Customer management is the skill to provide the customer’s expected experience and to deal with customers who feel their expectations have not been met.
Customer Expectations In Time Of Change
Look again at the graphic with this blog post. Your customers are anxious to return to “normal.” We want to go to restaurants, the gym, travel, and visit family and friends. We want it to be just like pre-pandemic times. That won’t happen in the short term and maybe never. So how do we change expectations? The same as great salespeople have always done: good communication. We tell customers about the “new normal.” We empathize with them. And we want to protect them while enjoying the dining or shopping experience.
Locally in Harrisonburg, VA where I live the COVID-19 Business Assistance Taskforce surveyed customers to find out what they expect from business as it reopens. You can find the survey here. I believe the results would be similar where you are. Use the data from the survey to understand what customer expectations are when your business reopens.
Appeal To Their Cooperative Spirit
A lot of what we read and hear these days is in the theme of “we are all in this together.” And “let’s work together to stop the pandemic.” Great salespeople can use these sentiments to change customer expectations. They will make sure all the customer communication explains how they are safely doing business. How they are passionate about protecting the health of the customers and the employees while providing a unique shopping or dining experience. We are anxious to get out of the home and experience shopping, dining and socializing. But none of us wants to get sick. So businesses will put in place protective measures: social distancing, face masks, limiting number of customers and increase sanitation and cleaning for example.
How To Explain The Changes
Advertising and social media: The message is you are happy to be open again. Welcome your customers back. Explain what you are doing to keep them safe.
At your store or restaurant: Good signage. Have hand sanitizer and masks available (if appropriate). Mark aisles to control traffic flow. Use disposables wherever possible.
Your Salespeople, Servers and Staff: Train them well. Insure they treat customers respectfully. And they are aware of the rules and the reasons behind them. Be a good coach and supervise their customer communication.
We are used to seeing experience controlling rules:
- “No shoes.” “No shirt.” “No service.” Now we add “No mask.” to the list.
- Or the welcoming sign now says: “WE MASK” and below the reasons why.
- “We Card” for alcohol and tobacco is a common sign. So other rules added for compliance can be explained.
- By Appointment Only. Or Reservations Only. This controls the occupancy of the retail establishment. But more than that it is a benefit to the customer which saves them time as well as protecting their health. Plus the business owner doesn’t have to worry about people gathering outside waiting to enter.
Your best customers will appreciate the steps you take to keep them safe as long as you communicate well.
A Thought About Pricing
The new rules will limit the number of customers you can serve over a given time. In a restaurant with only half the available seating permitted you can expect half the revenue which may not be enough to maintain the business. So you can cut the dining time in half and hustle them out the door. But that doesn’t make for happy customers. Or you can stay open twice as long but that affects your operating costs, too.
So why not raise prices? Or add a “pandemic surcharge”? Sure some customers will object but I bet most won’t. Those who are venturing out in the early stages after the stay-at-home order is lifted are special customers. They are there to enjoy the camaraderie and unique dishes of restaurant dining. And they are most likely to understand the need for special pricing. Retail stores can have similar pricing to cover the increase cost of keeping customers and employees safe and healthy. Be sure you explain the pricing changes in all the ways you communicate with customers.
What About The Non-compliant Customer?
No matter what business you are in there are customers you are better off without. Be sure your employees are skilled at dealing with non-compliant customers. Really, this is nothing new. Bars have asked unruly drunks to leave. Improperly dressed diners are refused service at restaurants. Shoppers who are rude and offensive are escorted out. Underaged customers are refused tobacco products. Now we have a new set of rules to promote the wellbeing of all of us. Be polite but firm with those who would spoil the experience for your good customers. And you can blame it on the president, the governor or the city council if that makes it easier.
What You Can Do Right Now
- Decide what changes are needed to operate at this time
- Communicate the new rules widely
- Train your employees to be empathetic in their customer management
- Evaluate the product mix and pricing to be profitable