Back in March, my company required everyone to begin working from home. By the end of that first week, the stay at home order was put into effect and dine-in establishments, retail, gyms, etc. were essentially shut down. During this time of great uncertainty, there were several local businesses that found a way to pivot quickly.
Overnight, the local French bistro and bakery set-up an e-commerce site that allowed its customers to purchase family meals online for pick-up or delivery. They appealed to their customers to continue to support local businesses to keep their staff employed via Facebook live videos, and the community responded. In those early days, the delivery service was new, and it was obvious they were working through their new business model. But, the community was understanding.
When the bistro introduced ‘donate a meal’ options to feed the hospital workers, fire departments, and police departments, it gave the community another way of supporting their business, while also providing customers with the opportunity to donate to the front line and essential workers.
Another business that quickly responded to the new world of COVID was the local toy store. While the owner already had a website and active Facebook presence, a toy store relies heavily on creating a sense of wonder and learning for children through in-person interactions. Without being able to open doors to its smallest customers and their parents, the owner quickly pivoted.
Leading up to Easter, the owner promoted custom Easter baskets. Parents could provide her with a budget for each basket, what their kids were interested in and she would compile items meeting that criteria. As a parent, this was awesome! It took the pressure off of trying to figure out what to do for my kids for Easter. And she even dropped everything off at my house (donning mask, gloves and disinfectant wipes) where the kids couldn’t find the goodies before the big day!
What’s truly inspiring about these businesses is they were able to creatively find ways to sustain the quality of their products and their core business, while introducing new elements to their business models. Customers were also a bit more understanding that their local restaurants and stores were trying new things to stay afloat, so the tolerance for a less than optimal experience for the new things increased.
As we start to emerge from our stay-at-home hibernation, the local businesses that innovated and asked their customers to be a part of their journey to weathering the storm have created a greater partnership and trust with their patrons. However, as more businesses begin to reopen, I see the tolerance for a sub-optimal customer experience to reduce. To combat this, local businesses can do several things:
- Be transparent when trying something new with the business model
- Solicit customer feedback on new offerings
- Respond through your engagement channels (social media, website, etc.) how feedback is being used to make the experience/offering better
Through maintaining a partnership with your local customers, you strengthen the relationship and continue to evolve your customer experiences.