Whether your burning desire during lockdown has been for a cheeky pint at the pub or a much-needed chop at the hairdressers, we have at least seen some wishes come true as pubs, cafes, museums, galleries and hairdressers and other outlets re-open their doors to customers. Added to which, the Chancellor has announced 50% off restaurant bills in August to encourage us to ‘eat out to help out’. So is this enough to make us venture out of our lockdown cocoons, and what should we expect when we do?
Even though restrictions have eased that bit more in the UK, it’s likely to be some time before things are ‘back to normal’. According to UK research conducted in April by GfK, 39 percent of interviewees think it will take between six months and a year. In more recent research by Kantar conducted in the G7 countries – France, Germany, Italy, UK, Canada and the USA – 37 percent believe that it will be 2021 before things get back to where they were before; and 39 percent believe that the easing of the lockdown has not had enough emphasis upon people’s health (rising to 45 percent in the UK).
Clearly, we’re in favour of the economy opening up but many have ongoing concerns about how quickly things will, and should happen. It’s not surprising therefore, that in Kantar’s most recent survey completed on 6th June, 40% of G7 respondents said they will visit cafés and restaurants less than they did before the lockdown. Although we have no separate UK figures for that question, we can assume from the data that this also applied in the UK. It will certainly be interesting to see how the measures announced by Mr Sunak this week, impact on this air of caution.
Of course, hesitancy to return to pubs, restaurants, shops etc. is understandable, whether it’s driven by concerns about safety and distancing, conscious consumerism – ‘I can cope with less’, a desire to support local businesses, a reluctance to queue, or even ‘it won’t be the same experience, so I’ll stick to online ordering instead.’ Plus, changes in circumstances such as more leisure time, new hobbies and financial concerns, have impacted on the behaviours of all of us.
Consumers may be spending more now digitally – but they’re also spending more mindfully.
In physically re-opening their doors to consumers, many businesses have focused on the functional: safety measures, how to maintain social distancing, managing queues outside, installing screens at till points, hand sanitiser stations – the list goes on.
And these will go a good way to reassuring customers in the first instance, helping to overcoming health concerns. But these are minimum standards that all should be looking to deliver. The businesses that will re-build their physical footfall the fastest, will be those who: strive to maintain their customer experience; ensure every visit embodies their brand values; and look for opportunities to connect with customers and build trust.
At Lime, our experience of working with brands to elevate their customer experience and ensure their staff deliver sector-leading customer engagement every visit, has proven the difference that well-motivated, empathetic staff can make to your strategy.
So we ask you to be mindful – distancing does not mean staff have to be distant. In fact, quite the opposite; as your customers return, make sure your staff know how to effectively engage and communicate with them. Demonstrating empathy and being alive to customers’ changing needs will forge connections for the future.
Train your teams to understand that now, when the physical environment has shifted and become dominated by barriers and ‘restrictions’, their interaction with customers has to go the extra mile to compensate. Instil your staff with the confidence to engage in what is, after all, an alien environment for them too. By giving staff simple techniques to make all customers feel welcome, you can make the experience pleasant – even enjoyable – for everyone.
Customers will not return if service is poor, but they will almost certainly recount their experience to friends and family. But, remind customers of the experience they love and expect from your brand and, not only do you have an opportunity to cement trust and loyalty and drive positive word of mouth, you could also attract a whole new audience to your brand because of it.