A Micro Approach to Stopping Covid-19 Killing Your Business
Posted on May 16, 2020
Merely three months after the World went into lockdown under the threat of Covid-19, countries are already rebooting their economies. All the while, the same pandemic remains on the loose, while no international coordination or planning exits. We’re all now herds in an abundantly risk-fraught cattle drive.
It’s billionaire moguls in Australia, the UK and the United States, like Rupert Murdoch and Kerry Stokes, who are pushing their local business and retail lobbies onto the 24-7 airwaves. Both men own or influence troubled media conglomerates and in Australia last week, Murdoch lost a billion dollars to his own cable company, Foxtel—a monopoly no less—whose lifeline hinged on the country’s National Rugby League. Stokes’ Seven Network broadcasts the similarly shelved Australian Rules Football. Both sports have seen their 2020 seasons suspended till now.
But let’s face it, for most business owners across many industries, the Covid-19 pandemic has hit them hard. And for good reason, it’s a contagion unparalleled in living memory. It’s meant scaling back economic activity sending global unemployment into the tens of millions. Monetary easing and government-sanctioned loan deferrals have upended commercial finance. The unbelievably negligent misapplication of Just In Time manufacturing (JIT) in the world’s supply chains has overshadowed it all.
I graduated into the JIT culture of the late 1980s. My first Human Resources role saw the trial of what were then called JIT Cells (much like the controlled clinical trials we’re going through with Covid-19 treatments today). In them, manufacturers took the lead from 1960s Swedish time and motion studies testing the theory’s merit.
JIT did cut costs but in a way we couldn’t then foresee. Today, we call it Neo-Conservatism, Privatisation or Globalisation. And as the 1990s subsequently swept through recession after recession, JIT kept inventories low. That was until its progenitor, Japan, collapsed in a financial morass of its own, a disaster from which it has never recovered.
And when the capitalist economies of the West began running their JIT supply lines through China early this century, they too came crashing down when Covid-19 took the Communist regime’s pride out of the picture.
It’s easy to blame Covid-19 for the world’s economic pain. It’s inescapable. But when looking for a solution we need to acknowledge that underlying the current recession have been two decades of stagnation in the retail sector borne from the loss of manufacturing to China. When you close significant factory ecosystems, cities and their disposable incomes tend to go with them.
But this article isn’t about fixing the world’s macroeconomic malaise. We need to keep it strategically in mind, but we also need to talk about something closer to home.
How can you get your business up and running again without Covid-19 destroying it altogether? And to answer that, we can implement a few solutions common to nearly all.
Regain consumer faith—Show that you’re COVIDsafe
The most important thing you can do right now, particularly if you’re a brick and mortar store—but this applies to service centres too—is show a professional “COVIDsafe” face.
You need to attract every dollar of foot traffic into your premises. And the way you do that, is by making it blatantly clear that when those feet enter, you care about their health and safety every second they’re there.
Are your staff wearing masks? Are they wearing gloves where appropriate and changing them after touching cash? Are interfaces being disinfected before customers use them? Are you clearly marking regulation-compliant areas where customers can wait their turn or be served? Are you ensuring 1.5 metres between customers in your isles? Are you minimising customer contact with goods and ensuring your staff take extreme care maintaining inventory condition? Are you limiting time per person in store?
And here’s the crux: Are you then communicating everything you’re doing in this way through a large, clear “Welcome” message in your window to lure your dollar-holders inside with a fit-out that wows them when they see it’s true? Do your traditional and online media advertising reflect it? Does your website convey it?
We’re talking about proactive public relations in its purest form and those who land it will take a clear patronage advantage over those stuck in mindsets just months old.
Get an email address from every customer
Over the past couple of decades, business lobbies and industry associations have turned a blind eye to the misuse of email and social media as tools of spam. Now, you’re suffering for it when email, these past months, could have been your lifeline.
Email could have been your vehicle for what it was initially born to do. Communicate: to ensure your customers will stick with you through hard times.
This is your chance to turn that around by gaining an email address from every customer who visits you in store—or contacts you online—with the clear quid pro quo:
Trust us with your address and we’ll only use it to tell you what we’re doing to ensure you can shop COVIDsafely with us—no spam, no guerrilla marketing. And we want you to tell us what your concerns are about shopping with us too.
It’s just simple two-way customer engagement. Abuse it at your peril. Do it right and relationships will develop for pay off, as customers become fans who then become advocates too. Get it wrong and your reputation will suffer. Now’s the time for professional service. Quick buck gimmicks will not cover your rent while the economy slips further into recession.
Put your reputation above everything
All it will take to destroy your reputation is for your business to become a source of Covid-19 spread. One city corporate head office; one famous restaurant; one popular shopping mall—and it’s over for everyone.
Cram diners into your cafes, pack shoppers at your registers, fail to clean your merchandise, let your staff work while sick—all it will take is one community infection tied to you, to close you forever.
Two McDonald’s stores, as of writing, in Victoria—already earning the headline, “Hundreds of McDonald’s workers in self isolation”—aren’t going to sow confidence in the Golden Arches’ drive-thrus. Yesterday, we also learned of a Myer department store in a large shopping mall closed to a staff infection. Myer had only begun growing profit in 2019 after a decade of struggle.
Become the source of a Covid cluster and your brand is likely finished. Therefore, pay heed to everything you do on the shop floor and behind the scenes.
If your casual waiting staff were using the same cloth to partially wipe tables at your eatery in pre-Covid-19 days, your patrons will not re-frequent you if they see it today. Now’s the time to take staff training and supervision seriously. Take every customer comment and complaint at face value and act on them.
Neglect this and your goodwill—your business—is gone. In the next couple of months, the truth will finally cotton on that the hoaxers’ blasé:
Give me liberty or give me death!
Doesn’t hold rhetorical sway against a pandemic organism.
And that’s pretty much the final message here. The world is barely three months into its response to a pandemic without treatment or cure.
Let your bravado take control as governments acquiesce to loosened reigns at the behest of tycoons and you’ll help bring the entire global economic edifice crashing down with them.
Here’s the ultimate tip: People will only spend money with you if they are alive and well. And alternately, if you become Covid sick, what does it matter how much money you take from them while your lungs fall apart whether or not you die?
Be safe—communicate your unrelenting care for COVIDsafety—then act safely—and you could just survive what’s going to be at least another year-long ride in hell.
We are nowhere close to being out of this mess yet, and if you think governments are pushing forward too early out of fear, you’re right. Except that it’s you and not their mogul backers who are on the frontline.
© 2020 Adam Parker.