An American Printer Commentary
By Andy & Julie Plata
As the harshest rules from the lockdown start to fade, beleaguered business owners are looking forward to reopening. Smart managers realize that they won’t be going back to business as usual.
The pandemic took us all by surprise, so, understandably, most businesses approached it reactively rather than proactively. Most executives hate to do business that way, but they didn’t have much choice. Unless authorities deemed them an essential service, they simply had to lock their doors and hunker down.
Most state governments viewed printing companies as essential. However, that didn’t make life any easier for them. They got to continue operating but faced a high-pressure environment with supply chain disruptions, increased disinfection expenses, and staff reductions and infection risks. They were pushing out vital hard copy communications on tight deadlines. Some even found themselves pressed into service making masks or printing spare parts on their 3D printers.
There’s a Ray of Hope Emerging
As the quarantine lifts, there’s a ray of hope emerging. People are getting out of the house more often, going back to work, and even socializing again, within limits. Now is an excellent time to take the situation into your own hands and get back to the proactive mode we all prefer.
How will the new marketplace look? A major initial challenge is that, even if your business has been hectic, many of your clients may have been shut down and feel a need to reconnect.
Taking some time for reflection about your client relationships is a good idea right now. They’re your clients for a reason. They chose to do business with you, and most, if not all of them, will stick with you if your company’s actions make them feel safe. Ask yourself what the best approach to reaching out to each of them would be and make a reconnection plan.
Then, approach each of them in the way they like doing business with you. Make the conversation about them. Ask how they’re coping. Get a feel for their needs and how the pandemic has changed those requirements.
Stay ‘Top of Mind’ with Each of Your Clients
Let them know that you’ll be overcoming all difficulties and coming back stronger than ever. That will give them some reassurance. Set the stage for resuming business with them. That ensures that your services stay ‘top of mind’ with each of your clients. Jill Griffin is an expert on customer loyalty, and she offers a few tips about this in her recent article in Forbes.
You’ll also need to give some thought to your company’s new health and safety rules. Then put together a series of short messages outlining safety procedures like whether visitors will have to wear masks, how to enter and exit your premises, and how to access your staff. Those short messages can be used to keep your customers updated through a series of emails.
Regular updates will help customers realize your company is acting for their safety and comfort when working with you in the future.
At the same time, ask about your clients’ safety measures. Contact them to discuss any changes they’ll be putting in place around accessing their facilities.
- Will you be able to sit down with them in person going forward?
- Will masks or other personal protective equipment be required?
- Are there any touchless delivery specifications?
- How will their receiving area operate when you deliver shipments to them in the future?
They’ll appreciate you having the foresight to ask these questions early on. You might even give them some planning ideas they haven’t thought of yet, like the ones in this Inc. magazine article.
Planning for, sharing with, and informing customers and prospects is an excellent way your company can stand out from competitors.
Be the Catalyst to Rebuild a Sense of Connection
Another great way to reconnect might be to hold a virtual focus group with your key accounts.
Invite them to a videoconference, explain how you plan to reopen and get their feedback. As always, spend more time listening to their needs than talking.
Learn from your clients’ needs and give them a chance to learn from one another. People need to rebuild their sense of connection, and you can be the catalyst for that. The time and effort you invest will pay off in the emotional connection you build with your clients.
Engaged customers are loyal customers, and now is the time to plan how to build that engagement.
Don’t Forget Your Team
You can also do the same with your employees.
- What ideas do they have for reconnecting with clients?
- How do they feel client needs have shifted during the quarantine?
- What ideas do they have to serve clients better?
- What can the company do to go the extra mile to exceed customer expectations?
Nothing like the pandemic has ever happened before. Smart managers know that successfully getting back to business is going to take all the expertise they can gather.
Digital Interaction Options
Now is also the time to think about how to enhance your client interaction online. You probably already do a lot of that. Still, as the American Chamber of Commerce points out, the pandemic has reminded us that we have virtual and digital communication tools that we haven’t been using to their full potential.
Can you offer an online chat service for customer service in your call center? How about serving clients via Twitter or Messenger? Now that we’ve finally forced ourselves to learn how video conferencing works, are there times when meeting by Zoom, Skype or Facetime works better for clients than calling on them in person, even after that becomes an option again?
Do Business with Them the Way They Like to Do Business with You
Customers are used to connecting online now, and you need to do business with them the way they like to do business with you. You can introduce clients to your new online communication channels by offering them a coupon or a discount for trying them out.
You can also stay in touch with customers and add new ones by enhancing your company’s website. Are there sections you could add to describe your new safety procedures and lines of business? You could also start a blog to introduce your team members, new service offerings, and trends in the marketplace.
The way we interact with clients and prospects is going to change as we shift from a quarantine mentality to one of vigilant physical distancing. What will never change is the need to maintain solid business relationships with clients.
The ideas we’ve shared with you are ways to blend the best of the old with the best of the new. You can maintain that personal touch while respecting each client’s need for safety and space by adopting new communication approaches.
Like your company, our OutputLinks Group team is learning more about this new normal every day. In future articles, we will be sharing what we have learned through our own experiences and from readers, like you, sharing their experiences with us. We hope this forum can help you find your way in the uncharted territory that lies ahead for all of us. Communication is key.
Empowering the print message for the digital age,
Andy & Julie Plata
Co-CEOs, American Printer, and the OutputLinks Communications Group
The OutputLinks Communications Group provides senior decision-makers and technologists around the world with strategic information and services that drive their company’s objectives. Our extensive range of service options can help businesses of all sizes and industries turn the challenge of reopening into strategic opportunities to attract and retain model customers and drive profits.