woman paying for her purchase at a boutique
From maintaining consistent, customer-focused communications to offering incentives, there are several ways business owners can rebuild loyalty and engagement among clientele. — Getty Images/RyanJLane

Whether it's due to public health concerns, strict in-store capacity limits or less disposable income among their customer base, it's not surprising that many small businesses have lost some momentum in their customer relationships throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a recent poll from MetLife and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the majority of small businesses (86%) are fully or partially reopened, but 70% still concerned about financial hardship due to prolonged closures.

To get your business back on track, it's important to focus on rebuilding customer loyalty and trust right now. Even if you stayed connected with your customers via social media and/or online service offerings while you were closed, they may still be wary of going out and patronizing your business in-person.

If your business is ready to welcome back its loyal customers, here are some tips for rebuilding your relationships and encouraging people to engage with your business again.

Provide incentives for engaging with your business

Your business may have provided special offers like discounts and gift cards during the shutdown. Now is the time to double-down on incentives that will drive business while making customers feel safe and important.

"Remember, the economic impact of recession has impacted both businesses and consumers," said Greg Traverso, CEO of travel company Metamo. "[We] provide a special loyalty offer to customers traveling with us. For example, we are upgrading all our travelers to private small groups through June 30, 2021. We want people to feel safe and welcome during this unprecedented time, while also feeling that they can experience the world and travel when they feel comfortable doing so."

[Read: 5 Ways to Retain Your Customers During the Coronavirus Outbreak]

Maintain your online communications

If you ramped up your social media and email marketing during the pandemic to stay in touch with customers, work to keep that activity going. Dr. Marianna Weiner, DDS and cosmetic dentist at Envy Smile Dental Spa, said clear, communicative emails have helped her maintain patient relationships, even when their reopening plans got delayed.

"The initial emails were just explaining our situation and what the ideas were for improving accessibility to our office," said Dr. Weiner. "After we … had procedures in place, we sent another email, including a cute animation, to further explain the protocol set in order to ensure safety amongst our patients and staff. I found this not only made the overall check in process easier for everyone, but our patients actually enjoyed receiving updates from us."

Richard Lin, founder and CEO of Thryve, also recommended keeping your customers updated by documenting your journey throughout the pandemic. He emphasized the importance of telling your story and communicating with your customers frequently in a genuine and honest manner.

"[Journaling] your process combatting COVID-19 helps build empathy with your customers," Lin said. "People appreciate the struggle and are always willing to help, [especially those] who've been part of your business from the very beginning."

No matter how you're communicating with customers, your goal always should be to make them feel comfortable and knowledgeable about your business and its products/services.

"Staying in touch is the most effective way to make sure those … goals are accomplished, no matter what the circumstances," said Dr. Weiner.

It is always better to give than to receive and, now more than ever, we need to be there for our clients in ways that will pleasantly surprise them.

Greg Traverso, CEO, Metamo

Stay true to your brand and put customers first

All relationships, including those with your customers, are built on trust. Building trust involves putting the needs of others first, said Travaso.

"Companies with an already loyal customer base … have to remember not to change who [they] are and not to forget who helped [them] along the way," he told CO—. "When we put others first, we gain harmony within ourselves which then reflects back from our clients because they see we are genuine. It is always better to give than to receive and, now more than ever, we need to be there for our clients in ways that will pleasantly surprise them."

[Read: 8 Ideas to Foster Customer Loyalty When Reopening]

Keep a pulse on your customers' evolving needs

The businesses that have survived and thrived throughout the pandemic thus far are the ones that have pivoted to meet their customers' changing priorities. This strategy is just as relevant now that many businesses are reopened, and you must continue to listen and adapt if you want to draw people back in.

"Understanding [customers' changing] needs and offering relevant products along with convenient and safe fulfillment methods will allow businesses to retain customer loyalty," said Carlos Castelán, managing director of The Navio Group. "As an example, local restaurants that have been able to survive and grow have been able to quickly shift to offer customer-friendly online checkout as well as increased their delivery or pickup options to meet the shift in customer behavior."

Throughout the pandemic and beyond, said Traverso, business leaders need to listen and learn from their former loyal customers — not the other way around.

"We need to discover their needs and help as much as we can," Traverso said. "This goes beyond offers or discounts. We need to encourage customers to stay true to their own mission. Ask them questions. Listen. Learn. Dig into what makes us most human when re-engaging customers."

[Read: 6 Tools to Build a Loyal and Excited Customer Base]

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 October 02, 2020