customer making a purchase at a small business
From full transparency about planned changes and requirements to training employees to carry them out, there are several ways business owners can manage customer expectations. — Getty Images/monkeybusinessimages

From limited capacities and social distancing requirements to mandatory face coverings and staggered work schedules, the post-COVID-19 world looks very different for consumers and employees alike. With rapidly-rising caseloads in multiple parts of the country, it's more important than ever that these new health and safety protocols are communicated and followed.

Businesses that have recently reopened their doors are now faced with the responsibility of managing customer expectations and ensuring everyone respects the rules. Here's how business owners from a variety of industries recommend enforcing your new policies while still providing the best customer service possible.

Remind customers the rules apply to everyone

In most states, businesses have only been allowed to reopen under certain conditions, including strict capacity limits and health screenings. While some customers may scoff at these requirements, Heather and Ben Freiser, co-owners of Beginnings Bar and Restaurant, are reminding patrons that their personal views shouldn't affect the safety of employees and/or other guests.

"These new regulations are not restaurant policies — they're temporary laws," said the Freisers. "If [customers] make light of them, the establishment can be fined and possibly lose their liquor license."

[Read: 4 Business Owners on How They're Reopening Their Businesses Post-Coronavirus]

Paul Miller, managing partner and CPA at Miller & Company LLP, said it's important to apply these new standards to everyone and not make any exceptions to the rules.

"We are completely compliant with the highest government standards and no client gets a pass," he said. "They MUST follow the rules. When they come to our office their temperature will be taken. They will not meet me in our main office but an adjacent space where only myself and the client will meet. We have only received positive feedback."

Be transparent about changes, challenges and delays

If your customers don't know the rules — or the reasoning behind them — they're less likely to follow those rules. That's why Zoriy Birenboym, CEO of eAutoLease.com, recommends complete honesty and transparency with customers before they come into your store.

"To make sure your customers don't have any issues or feel surprised, be 100% transparent with them," said Birenboym. "That way, comfort level and trust goes through the roof."

This rule of transparency also goes for any potential delays or supply chain shortages you may be experiencing.

"Your customers want to know how you'll continue to serve them, what's new or different and whether there will be supply or delivery issues," said Alex Azoury, founder and CEO of Home Grounds. "They appreciate the truth. This means you need to be upfront when you anticipate a potential problem, instead of apologizing for it later."

"It won't hurt to be upfront to your customers about your struggles and how things may change," added David Foley, founder of Unify Cosmos. "This won't surprise them all of a sudden that you're switching things up, and it helps draw out understanding and empathy."

[Read: 8 Reopening Strategies Businesses Are Embracing]

Your customers want to know how you'll continue to serve them, what's new or different and whether there will be supply or delivery issues.

Alex Azoury, founder and CEO, Home Grounds

Train employees to be helpful and answer questions

Customers are still adjusting to the realities of post-pandemic retail shopping trips. Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group, advised designating certain employees to help shoppers navigate your store, in addition to posting clear signage throughout the premises.

"While signs help in some instances, it is most effective to have employees guide customers through new shopping protocols and direct traffic," Castelán told CO—. "New procedures vary from retailer to retailer, so assigning employees is helpful to reset and help manage customer expectations."

Yaniv Masjedi, CMO at Nextiva, agreed, noting that businesses should tell customers how to best share their questions and concerns.

"Customer expectations become easier to manage if customers know how to reach out to your business when faced with a problem," said Masjedi. "Educate customers about the best practices to relay their sentiments to concerned employees, who can take note of their problem for management."

Set reasonable expectations

Even if your business has the resources to continue performing at the highest level, it doesn't mean your vendors and suppliers can do the same. Therefore, it's important to be realistic about what's possible and set customer expectations accordingly.

"Set expectations at a reasonable level, which you can then strive to beat," said Jessica Rose, CEO of Copper H2O. "The risk of setting expectations higher is that you may well fail to meet them due to matters that are out of your control. It is better to under-promise and over-deliver than to inflate customer expectations [and] fall short."

To this end, Caroline Podgurski, co-owner of BirdRock Baby, said her company has temporarily removed its expedited and international shipping options for online orders — but is still expediting orders anyway, at no additional charge.

"The shipping carriers are stretched so thin right now that they are unable to consistently meet the fastest shipping timelines," said Podgurski. "Rather than continue to collect money from customers on shipping upsells, we are expediting all orders at our usual standard shipping cost and hoping to delight customers with packages that arrive ahead of schedule."

Make it easy for customers to provide feedback

As the pandemic evolves, so must your business's policies and procedures. Things may continue to change in the coming months, and while communicating these changes to your customers is essential, it's equally critical to invite feedback.

"Meet people where they are [and] listen to what they have to say," said Chris McCuiston, CEO and co-founder of Goldfish Swim School. "Providing avenues for feedback, questions and concerns … underscores our commitment to our members' well-being. This has not only strengthened our culture, but also helped us prepare for an even brighter future."

[Read: How to Effectively Communicate Your Reopening Plans to Customers]

For more resources from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce:

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published July 01, 2020