The ‘Next Normal’

Seven Ways to Connect With Customers Now

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Are you working on your “Next Normal” for your business? You should be. Going forward, how you interacted and marketed to customers in the past may not work the same way it used to. There is a “Next Normal” that is slowly making its way to the surface.

Right now is the perfect time to consider how you're going to be working, communicating, marketing, interacting, and serving your customers. The goal of this article is to help you begin thinking about that now before you start back up full swing. Here are seven things to map out and plan on changing.

One: Demonstrate Empathy

These are trying times for everyone. People all around you are suffering from financial, mental, and health setbacks. If there was ever a time to show you care about other people, the time is now. Every gesture and outreach you make will build goodwill for you and your company in the future. There are only three questions you should be asking: How can I help? What do you need? Are you ok? 

This phase may last a bit, so be careful coming on too strong with your marketing and sales approaches. Sell and market your company like you are ATTENDING A FUNERAL (all caps intentional). If you wouldn’t do something there, don’t do it in your normal sales effort. Otherwise, everyone will look at you like you have three heads and walk away. Some may be visibly upset that you're not here for them in this time of need and blast you on social media. You may have already seen a few companies get flamed online. Don’t join that club.

Two: Reduce Physical Interaction

Yes, this means you. Despite  the warnings from health experts and doctors, plenty of people are still bopping around like the coronavirus doesn’t exist. Personally, our family is limiting all interactions with everyone, especially any commercial enterprise. However, we still have to occasionally go to a store for groceries or other supplies. In many businesses, workers are not wearing masks or gloves. There’s not a visible cleanliness routine.

It’s a societal effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus contagion during this pandemic. The end is not in sight. Frankly, it’s freaking me out a little bit to see so many people carelessly unconcerned for the wellbeing of others. This also means that if your business demonstrates better care and concern for others by constantly cleaning and disinfecting, it’s a huge win. Have all employees practice social distancing. Gloves and masks are mandatory. Encourage correct behavior from all of your employees. You have to do it, too. People are watching.

Use your phone and document how you work. How you clean. What your employees are wearing. Sometime in the future, we can all go back to being slobs, but right now is not the time. Everyone needs to be a germaphobe. (Virusaphobe? Is that even a word?) Remember, if there is a lack of communication in how you do things, people will make up their own story about what you do. Your job is to show them you’re on top of it and you care about their safety and health. Prove it to them.

Three: Reconnect With Intent

Before the pandemic started, what was your purpose and mission? It may seem like you’ve lost your way recently. While businesses are certainly cratering into the ground, there are sales opportunities, marketing opportunities, connection opportunities, and networking opportunities out there. You’re not simply sitting at home and binge-watching Tiger King are you?

Downshift into a lower gear and get started again. Devise an “Achievement Plan” for what you intend to do. Today. Tomorrow. By the end of the week. Write this stuff down. What’s important to your business? Reconnect with your shop by determining your daily intention on what needs to happen. Then, dedicate the necessary actions to achieve what’s on your list. It sounds simple. Remember, for the most part, people are better planners than doers. It’s easy to make a checklist. Harder to start knocking items off of it.

Four: Get Small Wins

It's really difficult to think about where we might be six months or a year from now. I know this because I’m focused on it just like you are. But, progress only happens when we move forward. Let me introduce you to the concept of “stacking." Stacking small wins is a great way to achieve a larger victory because it may seem easier. For example, start with trying to engage with at least one customer, supplier, employee, or industry colleague a day.

Call them up. Remember, we’re leading with empathy so no selling. Just ask one, or all, of these questions: How can I help? What do you need? Are you ok? When you have consistently connected with at least one person a day for about two weeks or so, up the ante. Make it two people a day. Then maybe three. Why is this important? Getting small wins has a cumulative effect. Over the last 30 business days or so, I’ve spoken with an average of about 10 people a day. Some days more, some less. That’s a network of more than 300 different companies, in all areas of business, not solely our industry.

My perception of the business environment is different than yours as I’m constantly seeking out the latest from all corners of the globe. The talking heads on TV are not relaying the information that I’m getting. The street-level view is much different. This is important, as these small wins in communication are helping me understand and comprehend the challenges and fears that people have. Call your customers. They want to hear from you.

Five: Communication Technology

The days of customers coming to your shop may be over. At least for a bit. Currently, no one is traveling anywhere. What I mean is that the “Next Normal” may be centered on your communication technology. Are you using Zoom or video at all? Skype? People want a human-to-human connection. We miss it. How many families and friends are using technology now to have video get-togethers? More companies than ever before are pushing out webinars and live chats. Shameless plug here – have you tuned in to the “Q&A with Alan & Marshall” live session that I’m hosting on my Atkinson Consulting Facebook page? You should.

Why is this resonating with people? Frankly, we miss the fun and interaction of chatting with people. I know I do. It seems weird, but I can’t wait for the day when I can get out of my house and go hug some folks. My point is this: what are you doing to use the technology that’s available to connect with current or potential customers? Inaction won’t create the future you desire. You don’t need permission. What are you waiting for?
Create an action plan that uses communication technology to connect with your customers. Run some tests. Goof it up. Learn how to do it. Laugh your way through it and have fun. Soon, you might think that “how did we ever get by without this?”

Six: You Can’t Sit On the Sidelines

A good number of business owners are freezing in place with a “wait and see” attitude right now. That’s dangerous. Sure, there’s a fog of uncertainty that has swooped down upon everything. Life is a mess right now. If you’re waiting around for things to get better or your government check to land before you do anything, you’re wasting precious time. Time you will never get back.

Now is the opportunity to get creative. To experiment. And most of all, to demonstrate value. You need to be connecting with people and helping them solve their problems. The decorated apparel industry has always been a resilient force in business. We’re seeing that now with fundraising apparel programs for small businesses or companies pivoting to the protective mask need. Start moving out of this malaise by taking action and creating a path out of the pandemic event.

Seven: Your New Business Policies

If there ever was a time to get 100 percent of the money for your orders before doing anything, the time is now. When I speak with shop owners who didn’t fully implement this policy before because of fear or pushback, it seems like everyone is pivoting to this without any trouble whatsoever.

Why? The pandemic crisis is the bad guy. If you’ve had trouble before shifting to 100-percent payment upfront, throwing the coronavirus under the bus for your new payment plan works like a charm. “Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all orders must be paid completely before work starts”. Easy as pie. But wait, there's more! That’s not the only thing your shop needs to consider. Are you allowing customers in the door? Right now, most shops are locked down tight, but eventually, we’ll open back up. What’s your policy? Are you checking forehead temperatures for customers, staff, vendors, and other people before letting them inside? Who is doing that?

What about guaranteeing dates? Currently, inventory warehouses and freight carriers are a mixed bag of precision and confusion. They “kinda know," but aren’t sure. Get some clarity on your policy on this, as you know how customers can get if something is late. Finally, I would be asking more questions than ever before. It's fantastic that someone is placing an order, but make sure you have all the facts and details straight. Especially if you’re operating with a limited staff, or are not familiar or knowledgeable as you should be. Confusion invites an argument later. Be clear in your direction and instructions. 

Bonus: Positivity wins! While it's certainly easy to be negative these days, that isn’t going to get you very far. Stay positive. Be positive. Act positively. Help spread smiles. We need it.