The pandemic has made life and business difficult for small business owners everywhere. The degree of difficulty varies significantly and depends primarily on the amount of physical proximity and interaction required in order for the business to be functional. Nobody signs up for these times, but there are a number of actionable steps business owners can take to build long-term customer loyalty, relationships and profitability.
1) If liquidity and short-term money is sufficient, business owners have an opportunity to focus on their longer term strategic planning. During “normal times” this activity is frequently postponed as day-to-day time-sensitive operations take priority. This is a great time to review and adjust the 2020 business plan as well as the three- and five-year plans. If it’s in the budget to create new positions within the organization, and hire people to fill them, it could prove to be rewarding and timely over the long haul.
2) It’s critical to go the extra mile for employees and let them know that you personally, and the company, are available for support. Communication is the key. Video conferencing with employees is an important way to maintain much-needed human connection while social distancing. Do not underestimate the value of the personal connection with your employees; when times are difficult, they need to know you’re accessible and ready to help. Employees will always remember how you made them feel, and you want to be known as the one who lifted them up when they were feeling dejected. A famous and eccentric billionaire once said that you don’t need to take care of your customers, you only need to take care of your employees. Happy employees will gladly take care of your customers.
3) Take market share. Has there ever been a better time to go on offense? It’s not easy because survival and maintenance must come first. But if those two essentials are under control, marketing campaigns to expand your brand could be both timely and powerful. Your competitors may be on their heels and unprepared for turmoil. If their customers sense that, they may be open to a relationship with a new service provider. Now could be an ideal time to think creatively and pursue business development opportunities.
4) Call all of your clients. The importance of this simple action cannot be overemphasized. All clients need to know you’re feeling optimistic and ready to assist them once you’re functional again. Conference calls, webinars, educational content and promotions can all be effective touch points. People may not react or participate, but that’s OK. Staying visible and engaged is the key. Depending on the nature of the business, sometimes a simple phone call to check in with your customer can be very well received. A no-purpose phone call expresses your humane side—something that most customers want to see more often.
5) Don’t forget humor. It’s important that we all laugh and understand that difficult times can also be fun. It’s crucial that this be done in good taste, of course, because there are many people who are destitute and have lost loved ones to the virus. A lack of sensitivity is unacceptable. But finding humor during unconventional times, and amidst massive uncertainty and divisive opinions, can bring people together. Remember that if people are laughing together, they are not aggravated, stressed, bitter or depressed in that moment.
Jeffrey Swett is a financial advisor and senior portfolio manager at UBS and leader of The Swett Wealth Management Group in Boston. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of UBS Financial Services Inc. Member FDIC/SIPC.