Customer and Employee Safety Doesn’t Have to Equal a Bad Experience
Despite the long post, I’ll start with a quick tip to businesses small and large regardless of the market conditions: Make it easy to do business with you!
Oh, and to that end, your messaging should reflect this!
Despite the continued, often confusing government restrictions, there are plenty of brick-and-mortar businesses experiencing relatively good results amid the pandemic. They’re seeing good consumer traffic and enjoying profitable days, weeks, and months.
Certainly, some businesses will never reopen, and some are still closed or partially closed based on state and local restrictions. However, for those allowed to conduct business, the difference between success and failure may very well come down to how they communicate this to their customer base and how easy they make it for these same customers to transact business with them.
To explain what that might look like, it’s really just two steps:
- Tell people, “We’re open, and we can’t wait to serve you!”
- Make it ridiculously simple for people to be served by you.
Notice, of course, I didn’t mention safety or COVID or pandemic in either step. Transacting business in a way that keeps your employees and customers safe is non-negotiable; however, constantly beating everyone over the head with your “commitment to the safety of our customers and associates” sounds hollow (because it often is).
Create and maintain a safe environment for all, though also recognize the need to satisfy your customers. When we get back to something close to the pre-coronavirus normal (if we do), you want to be sure that your safety efforts were successful without chasing away those trying to buy what you’re selling.
In other words, make it ridiculously simple to do business with you.
Relatively speaking, it’s easy to tell people you’re open and ready to serve them. Making it ridiculously simple is the hard part. Of course, it doesn’t have to be.
You just need to look at your business the same way a consumer would, and then ask yourself, “Is it easy to do business with us?” (Adding, “and keeping it fun” would also be a welcomed touch for those who’ve suffered through months of stay-at-home orders.)
One example of making it ridiculously simple has to do with your business hours. Did your business change its hours in response to lower demand or the need to reign in costs? Setting a uniform opening and closing time for each day of the week removes consumer confusion that might have them doing business elsewhere.
For example, our local Walmart store – previously open 24 hours – changed their business hours to 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. … seven days a week. Of course, they could open later or close earlier on some days to make or save a few dollars, but the consistency in their hours removes potential consumer confusion.
McDonald’s provides another great example of making it simpler for customers: limited menu options. While some might look at McDonald’s reduced choices in the current environment as a potential roadblock for customers, their limited menu speeds up the drive thru and allows them to serve more customers more efficiently.
Oh, and while both McDonald’s and Walmart have plenty of safety signage and messaging throughout their respective establishments, there’s nothing (to me anyway) that feels like I’m being shouted at, or that comes across as insincere or condescending.
Airlines and COVID Restrictions
Speaking of coming across as insincere or condescending…
Most major airlines, on the other hand, are not only overdoing it with their safety messaging, they seem to be working overtime to make it harder to do business with them. Again, don’t misunderstand me: Transacting business in a way that keeps your employees and customers safe is non-negotiable. However, it’s possible to be safe without enacting business rules that drive away business.
Let’s look at Delta Airlines as an example.
As a Delta frequent flier, I can tell you no business has wasted more time and money beating me over the head with how much they care about the health and safety of their customers and employees. I’m glad they say they care, but my experience with Delta is that they’re a good airline that spends too much time telling you how great they are, and too little time actually being great.
Pre-coronavirus, I continually sat in Delta seats with sticky, dirty armrests and seat trays, garbage left in the seat pocket, and all sorts of disgusting crud visible on the floor and (especially) in the seat rails.
Of course, if you dare to complain about any of this, you’re provided a robot-like apology and an assurance that “Delta does everything in its power to ensure a blah, blah, blah.”
While they’ve always seemed insincere to me, these days Delta seems to also be doing what it can to make it harder to do business with them.
For example, once I book a flight, feel free to tell me you require masks and that you’ll provide one. Screaming this in advance makes some people hesitant about flying. (Yes, many – perhaps most – people want to hear that everyone is required to wear a mask onboard their flight. However, this can be accomplished with a simple link on a statement like, “Delta is doing everything to make your travel safer. Click Here to learn more.”)
Like many fliers, I was forced to cancel flights because of stay-at-home orders at the beginning of the pandemic. Additionally, Delta cancelled or moved some flights, making it impossible for me to get where I needed to go on time. Of course, Delta will tell you these cancelled flights have all been credited to your account, but if you’ve tried to use your credits (as I have), you’ll find some of the credits cannot be selected, and dollar amounts are not always posted.
After trying multiple times to get these credit issues rectified, my belief is I will simply lose these hundreds of dollars; because Delta seems to be doing what it can to make it harder for me to do business with them.
Scaring customers before they book, bombarding them with insincere “We Care” messages, and making them jump through hoops to do business with you is not the way to create raving fans. When air travel returns to something close to normal, those who had a bad experience with an airline during the pandemic will look for alternatives.
For the Safety of Our…
In an effort to reduce costs, Delta and other major airlines have also “temporarily” removed food and drink options from their flights – including in first class. They tell you they’ve done this for the safety of their customers and crew. Of course, safety is in the eye of the beholder, I guess.
They’re either peeing on us and telling us it’s raining, or they are among the most incompetent business people in the world.
Today, Delta hands out only bottled water and bottom-tier snacks in first class. These rations arrive sealed in a Ziploc bag… origin unknown. How do we know the person loading and closing these bags is practicing good hygiene?
Contrast the pic above with the factory-sealed food packs Delta used to sell and ask yourself which one is likely safer to open, touch, and consume.
Of course, by not providing a factory-sealed meal in first class or even a can of beer, Delta’s not saying they care about your safety, they’re saying they’re too stupid to figure out a way to prepare these things safely.
This makes many of us question whether they’re smart enough to even run an airline, given that every local restaurant has figured out how to prepare food and beverages for customers safely.
If a business made it hard to do business with them; but when you decided to purchase their goods or services, they also went out of their way to make the experience as miserable as possible, why would you want to business with them again?
Delta is thinking about ways to cut every penny, and I get that. However, you cannot save your way to growth. By making an already stressful business transaction miserable, airlines like Delta are ensuring they won’t maximize their ROI in the future.
Make it Fun?
The question every business should ask is simply, “Can we provide the same level of safety and make it fun?” Surely, Delta is not thinking this way, but this doesn’t mean your business can’t.
Just look at your current efforts to keep everyone safe. Are they effective? If the answer is yes, then you can skip to the next question. If not, then you shouldn’t even be open for business.
Assuming your safety efforts are effective, the follow-up question to ask is, “Where/how can we improve the customer experience without jeopardizing safety?” In other words, “Can we provide the same level of safety and make it fun?”
Hotels and COVID Restrictions
There’s so much confusion and contrast within and between states, travelers aren’t always sure if they’re even allowed to travel to a given destination. If you’ve tried to book a hotel recently with either Marriott or Hilton, you know their websites will quickly pull you into a world so confusing it’s likely you’ll abandon your travel plans.
What’s worse is that neither of these chains do anything to relieve the confusion around traveling during a pandemic.
“Customers should review government guidance to confirm eligibility to travel & stay at hotel. See travelguidance.marriott.com. Reservations will not be honored where prohibited.”
Of course, when you click on this link, you’re taken to a page that lists the states alphabetically. When clicking on a state, you’re dropped on that state’s (hopefully) current restrictions. Good luck reading through these rambling, everchanging proclamations often written in a strange legalese, and being able to determine conclusively if you’re even allowed to travel to that state and stay in a hotel.
Shouldn’t the local hotel know whether you can travel and stay there? If so, shouldn’t they publish the current guidelines right on their own hotel site? Somehow, local Mom & Pop establishments can handle this. Somehow, car dealers can handle this.
Marriott and Hilton, apparently want their customers to be trained attorneys, capable of reading and discerning any and all government proclamations and laws. This, when they could simply translate the current restrictions in terms the rest of us can understand and feel comfortable enough with to spend money with their hotel chain.
Make it ridiculously simple to do business with you.
On top of the confusion their booking systems cause, these chains (as I discovered this week) are inconsistent enough from hotel to hotel to turn little inconveniences into often maddening scenarios. So far this week, I’ve stayed in three Marriott hotels in two states (sit down restaurants are open in both states):
- Hotel One: No in-room coffee; no community coffee.
- Hotel Two: Only in-room coffee; no community coffee; hotel restaurant closed.
- Hotel Three: No in-room coffee; only community coffee; hotel restaurant open for breakfast only.
The explanations from these hotels’ staff all included variations of “… for the safety of our guests …”
Confusing, of course. It seems in-room coffee is a threat to my safety in two hotels, but not the other; while community coffee could give me the coronavirus in the first two, but not the third? Likewise, breakfast is a safe meal, but lunch and dinner should be avoided?
Additionally, none of these hotels provided any notice of these restrictions at check-in; these were left for me to discover on my own. Imagine if these hotels – all part of the same chain – were consistent with their offerings and communicated these in advance to guests?
Imagine if they made it ridiculously simple to do business with them?
Car Dealers and COVID Restrictions
America’s car dealers are a resilient bunch. Despite the prediction of their demise famously splattered across the February 19, 1996 copy of BusinessWeek magazine titled “This Guy is History – Angry Consumers are Forcing a Revolution on the Car Lot,” most dealers were stronger and healthier than they’d ever been ten years later.
Then, the recession that began in 2007 led to a 37% decline in new vehicle sales by 2009. If this happened in any other retail industry, it’s likely half or more of the outlets would’ve closed. Not so for America’s new car dealers.
They’re still here; still profitable.
Ironic, isn’t it? While BusinessWeek (now called Bloomberg Businessweek) and all other magazines are either dead or dying, we still have tens of thousands of new and used car dealers doing better than ever. Unlike magazines and newspapers, America’s automotive retailers adapt as they overcome obstacles.
Whatever it Takes
Great car dealers have a “whatever it takes” attitude. And while buying a car can still feel like a chore at some dealerships, the fact is those dealers who are showing success today are letting everyone know it’s easy to do business with them.
“We’re open, and we can’t wait to serve you!”
Dealers showing success during the pandemic aren’t creating 500-word “we care” messages from the CEO and turning those into feature-length documentaries about safety. They’re not flashing warning signs on their websites about COVID-19.
They’re leaving the bulk of the safety conversations where they belong: Person-to-person. On the phone, via chat, text, email, and even in person – at six feet, of course.
…and, they’re making it easy to do business with them. Oh, and every dealership I’ve visited during the pandemic is still safely offering free coffee to their guests.
Today’s buying experience at most dealerships is demonstrably shorter than it was even a year ago. Successful dealers are adapting to the pandemic and shortening their processes. Additionally:
- They’re encouraging buyers to do some or all of the work online.
- They’re offering contactless/touchless/touch-free buying and servicing.
- They’re providing free pickup and delivery in their service departments.
- They’re offering at-home test drives.
They’re making it ridiculously simple to do business with them. The question for your business is this: Are we making it ridiculously simple to transact with us?
We’re Thrilled You’re Here!
One final thought that seems lost on the airlines and hotel industry is to be thrilled when customers want to do business with you.
Business is certainly down for virtually everyone; therefore, when someone wants to buy what you’re selling (cars, meals, travel, etc.), you should be absolutely thrilled to see them. When you’re thrilled to serve customers, you’re more likely to find ways to reflect this in your messaging and your business practices. To paraphrase what I wrote earlier, this could very well be the difference maker for those who thrive and survive during and after the pandemic.
“We’re open, and we can’t wait to serve you… and we’re going to make it ridiculously simple to do business with us.”
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